In recent years, many companies have made the transition to a remote workforce. This has happened for a variety of reasons: perhaps the company realized they could cut costs and even boost productivity by allowing employees to work from home, or maybe the change was a response to situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.
In any case, just as the actual work has taken to digital spaces, so too has job recruitment. Virtual interviews are increasingly common, and though the questions might remain the same, there are some technical changes that job applicants should review in order to have a successful interview.
What Is a Virtual Interview?
A virtual interview is one that takes place remotely, as opposed to in person. This might mean that the interview is conducted over the phone, but these days video conferencing and other online communication tools, such as Zoom and Skype, are increasingly common.
And now that much of the world has moved to a remote workplace, regular team meetings are now taking place through virtual platforms, as are job interviews—which means both employers and job applicants are learning to adapt.
While virtual interviews might feel different from traditional, in-person ones, there are steps you can take to prepare yourself and ensure you make a great first impression (even through a screen!).
How to Ace Your Online Job Interview
These 8 steps will help you prepare for and ace your next virtual interview so you can expand your horizons and find jobs in other locations, or become a happy member of the WFH task force.
1. Test your technology.
Technology can work miracles, but it can also come with plenty of complications. If you’re doing a video interview, make sure that your connection is stable so you can avoid awkward glitches, frozen screens, or other issues related to your video. This might require you to try out different spots in your home to see where the connection is strongest.
Most video conferencing tools allow you to test your sound and video, so definitely take advantage of this before your meeting so you can troubleshoot any issues, if possible. You’ll want to check for feedback and other common issues that can affect the quality of your audio.
If the interviewer specified a platform that you don’t have or are not familiar with, make sure you download and install it well in advance so you can practice navigating it. If there are video tutorials, check those out as well so you can feel comfortable using the software once it’s time for your interview.
2. Set up your space.
Once you’ve identified a place where your internet connection is strong enough, think about your surroundings, especially what will be in your background.
If possible, choose a room with optimal lighting. If the room has a window, face it (as opposed to having it behind you). If the room doesn’t have natural light, or if your interview will take place in the evening, allow yourself plenty of time to play with your lighting or arrange lamps so you’re ready to go for your call.
You don’t need a designated home office to conduct your virtual interview. You can use your living room, kitchen, or bedroom—just make sure whichever room you choose is tidy and free of distractions. It’s hard to convince employers you’re on top of things if you have unfolded laundry and dog toys strewn everywhere, so invest some time in getting your space organized.
Finally, before your interview, be sure to silence your phone and turn off the television, or any other background noise that might be disruptive.
3. Dress the part.
Just because you won’t be physically meeting the interviewer doesn’t mean you don’t have to dress the part!
Dress as you would for any other job interview—the standard advice is to dress one step above the position you’re applying for.
And while you can place greater emphasis on your outfit from the waist up—since that’s likely all your interviewer will see—don’t do what this news reporter did and think you can get away with no pants! Uncomfortable stilettos or dress shoes may not be necessary, but being fully clothed definitely is.
You never know when you’ll have to reach for something, or stand up unexpectedly and expose your “business casual” as… well, even less than casual.
4. Limit distractions.
Given the fact that many states and countries have recently mandated stay-at-home orders, most employers are pretty understanding about the fact that children, spouses, or roommates may be at home while you’re doing your interview, and that we’re all just trying to balance work life with home life in the same space.
However, even if the employer is (hopefully) understanding, distractions and interruptions can easily throw you off your game and leave you flustered.
Inform the people who live with you that you’ll be in an interview and should not be interrupted. Politely ask that the area around you be kept as quiet as possible during that time. If you have pets, you may want to keep them in another room during this time.
5. Prepare as you would for any interview.
You may not shake the recruiter’s hand, but aside from that, you can expect many aspects of a virtual interview to be the same as those for an in-person interview.
Make a list of job interview questions you expect to be asked. These can vary based on the industry and position you’re applying for, but they’ll probably also include the standard “tell me about yourself.” You should also list a few good questions that you have for the employer.
Take time to prepare some answers for these common questions, and do some research if necessary. For more help preparing, check out our post on job interview tips!
6. Check your body language.
Body language is a powerful force when it comes to in-person interviews, and since virtual interviews limits our ability to communicate physically, you’ll have to think carefully about the few things that will shine through.
Start with your posture. Sit up straight, with your shoulders back, and do your best to look confident. (It helps to have a comfy and supportive chair!)
Eye contact is also as important in virtual interviews as it is in person. However, it’s important to remember that if you want to make eye contact in a video chat, you have to look into your webcam, not at the face you see on the screen. This can feel a bit unnatural at first, but you’ll get used to it with practice.
Another tempting habit to avoid is frequently checking your own appearance on the screen. It’s nice to have it there so you can see what your audience is seeing, but don’t get fixated on your hair or teeth.
7. Be yourself.
As with regular interviews, one of the most important things you can do is be yourself. Job interviews serve both the employer and the applicant: both parties want to find a good fit, so landing a job by being inauthentic might lead you to an unpleasant experience down the road.
Embrace the fact that you’re in a familiar environment (most likely your home), and not waiting in a cold, foreign building.
Let your personality shine through with your humor, facial expressions, and body language. If you see a chance to make a connection, perhaps about a hobby or interest mentioned by the employer, do it! Life is more than just work, after all, and the recruiter will find it helpful if they can catch a glimpse of who you are as a person.
8. Follow up!
Another thing that’s no different for virtual interviews? The importance of the post-interview follow-up!
It’s considered good practice to send a follow-up email within 24 hours of your interview to thank the recruiter for their time and let them know that you’re available in case they have any questions.
If you don’t have their email, you can reach out to whichever HR representative helped coordinate the interview with you. And if more than one person interviewed you, send an email to each of them.
Why Do Recruiters Use Virtual Interviews?
Both recruiters and jobseekers alike can benefit from virtual interviews. For recruiters, it allows them to access the best talent from all over the world, without requiring companies to spend time and money on travel.
For jobseekers, there are similar gains, as they can apply for a job in another location without having to travel until they know they’ve been hired (or, if the job itself is also remote, they may never have to!).
Put Your Best (Virtual) Foot Forward
Virtual interviews might seem like foreign territory at first, but you can overcome that anxiety by studying these tips and practicing them at your next interview.
And remember, the most important thing you can do is come prepared and be yourself, so you can find the job that’s right for you.
Do you have any tips for virtual interviews? Share them in the comments below!
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