COVID-19 has impacted a lot of things—including how we restrict face-to-face interactions. Many interviews are now taking place virtually, especially in the early stages of the talent search.
In recent years, online job interviews have become more popular and many companies, including Hilton, are regularly using technology to conduct preliminary interviews. During the pandemic, job interviews for nearly every stage of the hiring process became the norm.
While online interviews are similar to traditional, in-person meetings, they have some major differences that candidates should be prepared for.
How are Virtual Job Interviews Different?
If you are preparing for a job interview (and especially if you’ve interviewed in the past), you may be wondering how virtual interviews differ from in-person interviews.
Job interviews have always been daunting for employees of all experience levels because they include a fast first impression and could put you on the spot to prove yourself. There is an even higher chance for things to go wrong if your prospective employer wants to chat face-to-face online.
Not only do you face potential connection issues or tech problems, but it can be harder to read someone virtually. You will have to change some of the things you think about during the interview. For example, women won’t have to worry about whether they should wear flats or heels, but they will have to worry about sitting in a space with adequate lighting.
You may find the format is different as well. Depending on the type of online interview you are participating in, there are some instances where you are just recording your answers instead of conversing with a live person on the other end. This can be stressful for some candidates. Just remember that being brave enough to take the plunge and show initiative during an unfamiliar interview process is already a positive step in the right direction!
Going through an online job interview for the first time can be scary, but we are here to help! Here are 15 tips to help you succeed:
1. Do a Test-Run With Your Computer
In this day and age, technology can be overwhelming and with online interviews especially, you need to feel comfortable using whichever method your prospective employee prefers (Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc.). Once you’re comfortable with the program you’ll be using, it’s a good idea to test your internet connection as well as your audio and sound capabilities to make sure everything works properly.
Pro Tip: Before logging on, ask the interviewer what the format is. Here are a few questions to ask to make sure you’re prepared:
- Is it an audio interview or both audio and video?
- Is there someone on the other end of the video or are the questions pre-recorded?
- If they are pre-recorded, how many chances do I get to record my answer?
- What do I do or who do I call if I start having technical difficulties?
Then, find a friend or family member you can use that platform to connect with. For platforms like Zoom and Skype, they are pretty user-friendly, but it helps to feel familiar with the interface before you get on with your employer and realize you are trying to respond and still muted.
2. Pick the Perfect Spot for Lighting
Make sure it isn’t too dark but also stay away from overhead lights during the interview, if you can. If possible, try to settle down near a window with your face towards the light. You always want to put your best foot (or in this case, face) forward!
- Natural (window) light is best because it gives the best (most accurate) color.
- Turn off any overhead lights if you are able to sit by a window because they will add a yellow or blue tint (depending on the kind of bulb).
- Light on your face will highlight your eyes and facial features.
- Lighting from above or behind will cause strange shadows on your face and a frizz halo out of your hair.
- Lighting from behind or the side will cause a glare, making it difficult for the interviewer to see you.
- Lighting from behind or the side can also cause a glare on your screen and make it hard for you to see the interviewer!
Pro Tip: Scope out a good spot to conduct your online meeting the day before to make sure you’re not rushing around before the interview. Make sure you have a stable table for your laptop. You don’t want it bouncing around or wobbling during the interview. You may need to use a box to lift the laptop up so that it gets from just below your shoulders to just above your head for a perfectly framed interview shot. If you are using a tablet or smartphone, use a device tripod to hold it steady.
3. Forgo Virtual Backgrounds
You may feel tempted to pick out a cute background on the platform, but don’t! Backgrounds are distracting and unprofessional for a first-time meeting. In fact, you want to choose the most professional area of your home for the interview—feel free to stage it just for the interview!
Pro Tip: Once you’ve identified the places that offer the best lighting, you will want to carefully examine the backgrounds to choose the best spot. Remove any clutter. Avoid odd things in the background like a bed or toilet. It may seem obvious, but sometimes people just don’t really think about the first impression their home is making.
Books can make you look smart, tactful home décor can give the appearance of being put together and artsy pieces in the background can make you look cultured. A blank wall is even acceptable because it keeps the focus on you.
4. Remove Distractions
Silence anything that could interfere with your conversation, including your phone and email notifications on your computer. It is rude to be interrupted during an interview unless you have an emergency situation that your potential employer is already going to be aware of.
Pro Tip: Make sure no one else is around when you are completing your interview, including pets. Interviewers have seen cats walk across the computer screen and close the session, half-clothed people walking across the room in the background or hear children screaming in the next room. Don’t jeopardize your career by not being prepared! If you can’t ensure people aren’t going to interrupt you, it might be best to either take your interview to another location or make sure your roommates (or family) can plan to be gone for the day.
5. Log on Early and Test Setup
Being on time is really being about 10 minutes early. For a virtual, first-time interview, you may want to make sure you are ready to go 15-20 minutes early. If this sounds like a lot, just remember: In a normal interview, you would probably be getting ready, driving, parking and finding the right room before the interview.
In this situation, setting up the computer and logging in is essentially the parking part of your interview process. Make sure everything works and then you can hang out until about 5-10 minutes before the scheduled time.
Pro Tip: ALWAYS act like your interviewer can hear and see everything you are doing. Getting in the habit of feeling “watched” during the session will help you not do something strange because you forget people are in the room or don’t realize your camera is on. From the moment you log in until the moment you close the screen, just assume they can hear and see everything.
6. Sit Up and Dress Professionally
Even though you’re not meeting your interviewer in person, make sure to dress for success and sit up straight. First impressions matter and your appearance can really make or break yours.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to smile! Whether you are talking to an actual person or recording your answers, smile the way you would during an in-person interview. Wear clothes that are flattering and fit the job you are interviewing for. When in doubt, dress up rather than dress down (especially for virtual interviews!).
Not only will sitting up and smiling make you look more professional and engaged—they will actually help you feel more powerful and energetic! Good posture makes you feel more confident, puts you in a better mood and communicates openness.
7. Calm Your Nerves
Practice your main talking points if you’re nervous and remember to slow down—it can be easy to talk over people on online calls. You may need to be slightly louder and more emphatic than you would be in person, since the screen is going to reduce a little bit of the impact you would have in person.
Pro Tip: Even though this particular interview is hosted online, don’t forget to review your traditional interview skills. You’ll want to have answers prepared to some of the more common interview questions and examples in case they ask for specifics.
Before the interview, try standing in power poses to channel your nerves into feel-good energy. Science has shown that these poses can help you think on the go and perform well under stress.
8. Look Your Interviewer in the "Eye"
In the online environment, eye contact is important—even though it isn’t true eye contact.
Instead of looking at the person on the screen, look directly into the webcam and stay engaged. It can be tricky to look at the camera when you see a person on the screen. But, looking at the screen will make you look like you are staring down (since screens are usually below cameras).
If you’ve taken a selfie before, then you probably know the deal. But, somehow, video is harder.
Pro Tip: If you are uncomfortable, put a picture of someone you know up by the webcam. This way, you feel as though you're chatting with a friend. If you have a webcam on a stand, you can even place it in front of the person’s face to make this a little easier.
9. Listen Carefully
It’s easy to miss something important during an interview. It’s also sometimes very difficult to interrupt without an embarrassing mess of overlapping sound bytes.
Avoid weird situations by jotting down keywords or short reminder phrases if you want to remember a point or circle back to ask a question. Try not to let your note-taking interfere with the flow of the interview. If you do miss something that was said, make sure you ask.
Pro Tip: Sometimes devices have speakers that don’t get very loud. You may want to consider connecting your laptop to external speakers or even headphones to get clearer sound. If you have any gaming or podcasting microphones, using one could really improve the quality of your voice for the call.
10. Use Engaged Body Language
Similar to the power poses, using engaged body language during the interview is going to help you answer with confidence and energy. Even if the call is just over the phone, the right posture will help you sound more friendly, open and sure of yourself.
On the flip side, slouching can cause you to feel tired and want to be done. Crossing your arms or your legs will look like you aren’t fully engaged and can actually cause a kind of mental block that makes it hard to really take in the information.
Pro Tip: Make sure you are sitting up straight with your shoulders back and head up. This is something you will want to practice when you are getting your spot picked out. Make sure that your computer or camera is positioned at eye level, so you don’t have to lean over or duck down to get in the frame. You may need to place it on a box or stand to get it to the perfect height.
11. Don't Rely On Notes
While you might take a few notes of your own during the interview, don’t write down a list of things you want to say. Too many notes will be awkward and make the interview seem forced.
Pro Tip: You won’t want to have detailed notes, but you will want to have a few questions jotted down so you are prepared. You may even include some stats or competitor notes that you saw in your research.
Don’t feel like you need to rush into answers. Give yourself a second or two to breathe before answering the questions. Not only will the short pause give you a second to organize your thoughts, it will ensure you aren’t cutting in on top of the interviewer. Remember, when you are nervous, you are more likely to go faster than when you are comfortable, so slow it down!
12. Be Yourself
You want to come across as genuine and authentic during an interview. This is your opportunity to express yourself off paper. Your resume already got your foot in the door, now you get to show who you are as an individual.
Being overly stiff is a pretty common response to nerves. Try to loosen up your mindset and take cues from your interviewer. When you choose your outfit for the meeting, for example, try to dress professionally without squashing your personal style.
Pro Tip: Knowing who you are as a professional is really important. Stop and think deeply about your personal strengths, weaknesses and traits. You can even make a list ahead of time to get your thoughts organized. These are likely going to be questions asked during the interview anyways. When you have a better feel for what you want to communicate, you’ll be better enabled to let your strengths naturally shine through.
13. Make a Connection
Nerves may make you naturally focus on yourself. Knowing that is probably going to be the case, make sure you pay special attention to the interviewer. Try to pick up on cues from him or her—making a personal connection over interests, hobbies or even the weather can help you start building that professional relationship.
Pro Tip: Just like you thought about your background, the interviewer may have as well. You might be able to spot something of interest behind his or her desk. You may prefer to talk about the weather.
14. Write Down 5 Questions Beforehand
Prepare by doing some research on the company and industry. Try to think of five good questions that aren’t about salary or benefits (you can have those, too, but they are too easy. They don’t let the interviewer know you’ve done your homework and your serious about the job.)
You want to think up five in case some of them are naturally answered along the way. Most interviewers ask at the end if you have questions and having two or three questions to ask will show you’ve put thought into this.
Pro Tip: Ask questions that show you would be an engaged and valuable member on the team, ready to get to work as soon as you are hired.
15. Follow Up Afterward
Showing your interest and dedication can go a long way in convincing a hiring manager you are the right person for the job. While you don’t want to be aggressive, desperate or obnoxious, you don’t want to come off as passive, apathetic or lackadaisical either!
Before the interview is over, ask when they will likely get back to you. If they don’t get back to you by the named day, try waiting another day or two before reaching out.
Always follow up with a brief thank you a few days after the interview. Reassert how interested you are in the position and how much you appreciated their time.
Pro Tip: Most of the time, sending an email is going to be the best way to connect with an employer because it is less demanding—they can read it in their free time. Keep your contact short and include how much you appreciated interviewing with them. Don’t use a generic boilerplate email. Personalize your “thank you” follow-up so that you come off as genuine.
Bottom line: Don’t stress too much! Online conferences are commonly used in the first round of candidate interviews because they save the company time and money. They help level the playing field for applicants. The good news is that there is (more than likely) going to be an in-person interview in the next round, giving you the chance to meet your prospective employer in person.
And the best part of an online interview? You don’t need to worry about a firm handshake!
*Article originally posted on November 20th, 2017 by Sara Shine. Updated 4-2021*