How to nail an online job interview

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If you apply for a new job over the next six months, chances are you’ll have to do an online interview via video call. 

So if you want to be primed to show yourself in the best light, you need to add a few extra things to your job interview preparation to-do list. 

We’ve broken the process down into four steps to help you boost your chances of impressing the person, or people, interviewing you, and convincing them you’re the right person for the job.

1. Taking control of the technology

You won’t be able to concentrate on how you are coming across if you’re worrying about using the technology involved in a virtual interview process. 

So ask the company what programme they plan to use and make sure you understand it and that it works on your device (a laptop is generally a better choice than a mobile phone).

If it’s new to you, why not ask a friend or relative to download it to and check that your audio and video are working properly? Then check your internet connection, and if necessary, ask other members of your household not to use it during your interview.

To avoid any audio problems, wearing earphones with a built-in microphone can also be a sensible move. And during the interview itself, remember to look at the camera as much as possible.

“Try to look at the webcam camera rather than the faces on the screen,” said service design manager Richard Thompson, who got his job at a large telecoms company towards the start of the first lockdown. “It’s harder to do, but you will look far more engaging on their screen.” One way to make this feel more natural is to shrink the video call window and place it next to the webcam on your device.

Top tip:Elevate your device to eye level – for example by placing it on a pile of books – so you can look directly at the camera without slouching.

2. Managing your environment

Unlike a face-to-face meeting, an online interview gives the interviewer a chance to see into your home – so make sure they like what they see. 

An unmade bed, an overflowing laundry basket, or an untidy kitchen table are all big no-nos. 

Where possible, try to avoid distracting them with background details of any kind by setting your laptop or tablet up to show you against a plain background such as a wall. Then consider what lighting you have in your chosen spot.

The aim is to be well lit – without looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights – so take advantage of natural light when you can, and try to position two sources of light (table lamps are also fine) in front and slightly to either side of you.

Top tip: Before sitting down to do the interview, remove the risk of any other distractions by closing any doors and windows, putting your phone on silent, and letting anyone who lives with you know you’re not to be disturbed. 

3. Practising your on-screen technique

Practising using the technology is not the only preparation you should do for an online interview. 

As with any job interview, you also need to have a good idea what you want to say, for which doing it online has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages include that you can use your laptop to record yourself doing your spiel, so when you review it you can see exactly what the person on the other end of the line will see.

As the interviewer can only see what’s in front of your camera, you can also stick notes and reminders on the wall behind your device to make sure you say everything you want to during the session. However, the camera accentuates any nervous tics or habits, so it’s even more important to keep your composure during a virtual meeting. Role-playing the interview with friends or relatives should help with this.

Top tip:You want to come across as poised but enthusiastic, so avoid reading from a long, written statement.

4. Making a good first impression

Even if you have spent most of lockdown dressed in jogging bottoms, it’s worth taking as much care over your appearance for a virtual interview as you would for an in-person appointment.

Dressing professionally will demonstrate that you are taking the process seriously. And even if you only expect the interviewers to see your top half, putting on work trousers – or a skirt – and shoes will also help you feel the part. “In some ways, it’s easier to control what impression you make in an online interview,” Thompson added.

“It’s a relief not having to worry about how firm your handshake should be, or what small talk you should make in the lift. “However, I would highly recommend still wearing formal clothes; they will make you look better and will probably make you feel better too.”

Top tip:When choosing what to wear, it’s worth avoiding stripes or busy patterns, as these do not look good on screen.

In summary

Preparing for a virtual interview is not that different to preparing for a face-to-face one.

However, as the process relies on video-calling technology, it’s vital to ensure you are comfortable using the relevant programme.

The other main things to consider include:

  • Dressing professionally is still a must.
  • You need to consider the backdrop to your call.
  • It’s important to check your connection and equipment.
  • You should still practice what you want to say.

Further reading

Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor.

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