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Recruiting Wisdom

The Candidate's Guide to Prepping for a Virtual Interview

min read

In light of the recent COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing protocols, firms are turning to virtual interviewing over traditional in-person interviewing. While face-to-face engagement is typically the preferred method for hiring, it’s imperative that companies take the right measures at this time to ensure the health and well-being of all parties.

The silver lining is that there are a wealth of virtual meeting technologies (Google Hangouts, Zoom, Webex, etc.) making it easy to conduct interviews while honoring social distancing protocols.

4 virtual meeting providers

If you are a candidate on the job search, here are a few tips on how to optimally present yourself during virtual interviews.

Before the Interview

Even though interviewing from the comfort of your own home sounds convenient, you want to take this method as seriously as you would an in-person meeting. 

Below are a few recommendations on getting yourself set up for success. 

1. Review the interview instructions beforehand and test your technology

Most likely, the recruiter will send over step by step instructions on how to join the virtual interview. To avoid the embarrassment of technical difficulties, test the internet bandwidth of the location where you plan to interview by video calling your family or friends and having a mock conversation.

Can you hear the other person clearly? Is the video crisp as you move your body? You will want your interviewer to hear every little piece of valuable information you have to say and not be distracted by a robotic and choppy experience.

Also, if you plan to use ear buds or a headset, test your accessories carefully. Most often when recruiters conduct a virtual interview, they comment that the candidate's audio is the problem. Audio problems usually arise when a candidate is using Bluetooth headphones, but their computer is set to use the computer microphone. You can check your audio set up in System Preferences on the navigation bar from your Desktop. 

Mac OS Audio settings
Use Input level to determine how much noise your mic is picking up.

2. Find a quiet space

Two keywords: complete silence. Even as I write this blog from home, I can hear the humming of the refrigerator right next to me. Computer microphones do not discriminate, and they will pick up every little sound in your space.

Put the fur babies in another room, turn the TV and music off, tell your housemates to give you quiet time and go into a room that will be 100% disturbance free. Not only are the sounds in your home distracting to interviewers but so are the pings and chimes from your devices. Silence all notifications that may be picked up by the microphone. Put your phone somewhere out of view If your phone was to buzz. You don’t want your interviewer seeing your eyes drift away to check out who’s calling.

Finally, be mindful of the echo in the room. Opt for a room that mutes echos, like a room with a big rug or plenty of furniture, so the interviewer doesn’t have a sound feedback issue on their end.

3. Lights, camera, action

Make sure there is ample light in your room so the interviewer can clearly see your face. Be aware of glares and dark spots. Your goal here is for the interviewer to be able to see your face and lips clearly, just in case a little lip reading needs to take place. Good lighting can make your connection appear to be higher quality because the camera is able to better display your image. Plus, bright light will help you come across cheerful because good light brightens the mood. 

Woman in poor lighting and good lighting
See the difference? Image courtesy of ClickNewz.

4. Consider the view

An in-person interview allows the interviewer to read your body language, facial expressions and subtle tone changes. A virtual interview will only capture a portion of those things.

Position yourself so that your head is at the top of the camera frame and your shoulders are at the bottom. Opt for a solid background with perhaps a small piece of art behind you. If your background is too plain, it will wash you out. If the background is too busy or distracting, you risk losing the attention of your interviewer.

Well Positioned Video Chat
Cultivitae blog shows an appropriate positioning. The site also covers ways to create professional video interview backgrounds.

5. Dress to impress

Don’t let the virtual format of your interview cause your professionalism to slide. Come to the interview dressed as you would if it were in-person. If you would have worn business casual to the in-person meeting, do the same for the virtual meeting. Although dressing from the top up might be fine for conversations with your peers or classmates, be wary of doing this on a formal interview. In the off chance you have to get up from your computer screen to go to the restroom or quiet your housemates, you don't want the interviewer to see your favorite Scooby Doo pajama pants.

6. Show up (a little) early

If your interview starts at 11:00am, log on by 10:55am. Check to make sure your camera is on, positioned in a view you favor and the audio is working. The last thing you want to do is have the interviewer waiting on you because you showed up late or failed to double check the technology was compatible with your device.

Make it a priority to get there early so you have a few moments to gather your thoughts and take a deep breath before the interview gets started. However, sometimes with virtual interviews, firms might be using a single video chat room for multiple interviews. As such, don't log on 20 or 30 minutes early -- 5 to 10 minutes is plenty!

7. Take notes and write down your questions on a piece of paper.

It may sound archaic that I am recommending jotting ideas down on paper instead of using a note taking application on your computer. However, writing things down will keep you from surfing the web during your interview, which can be problematic for a few reasons:

  1. You might accidentally exit out of the interview
  2. Your interviewer might think you are looking up answers to their questions mid-interview.
  3. The sounds your keyboard makes when typing can be heard by the interviewer, which can be disruptive to your interview.

Having any notes and questions jotted down in advance will make you look organized, prepared and excited for the opportunity. 

Taking notes at a desk
Stick with good ol' pen and paper for this, trust me.

During the Interview

It’s go time. It’s 5 minutes before the interviewer will jump on, your tech has been tested, you’ve carved out the next hour to be undisturbed, and you are ready for your interview. 

Take a few deep breaths, pull out your notes and keep these suggestions in mind:

1. Smile

Smiling may feel uncomfortable on a video chat. If you feel goofy smiling yourself, think: do you see it as weird when other people smile on video chats? Most likely, the answer is no! 

Smiling is a great way to make an emotional connection and build a relationship, which are two key desired outcomes of a successful interview. 

Woman smiling at her desk in front of a computer
Smile, it's good for you :)

2. Don’t fidget

Find a comfortable spot, and stick to it. Fidgeting can make you seem nervous, and it is distracting to the interviewer. To ensure you are putting your best self forward, sit up straight, look attentive, and give the interviewer your 100% undivided attention.

3. Speak clearly and slowly

It’s human nature to talk quickly as we get nervous. When we talk quickly while using a virtual meeting software, we run the risk of an internet glitch chopping up words. Even with extremely good internet bandwidth, slight delays can occur during your conversation.

Pausing in between thoughts and answers will allow your interviewer the chance to hear all of your words and ask follow up questions and engage in the conversation.

4. Have everything you need within arm’s reach

Glass of water, check. Kleenex, check. Notebook and pen, check. Preparation notes, check.

Checklist of items

It’s not advisable to get up from your seat during a virtual interview. Strategically place every item you think you would need during the interview around your computer. 

5. Steady your gaze

There are only two places you should be looking during a virtual meeting. The first place is in the eyes of the other person and the second is right into the camera.

A common practice used during in-person interviews is to gauge a person’s eye contact and correlate that to how truthful they are being. When people lie, they tend to break their eye contact and will look up, down and around.

Understandably, virtual interviews can be awkward, and breaking eye contact is a way of easing the intensity of the interview, but try your best to avoid it. Eye contact is engaging and humanizing.

After the Interview

You made it! The interview is over. Before you let out an audible “Yes! Nailed it!” check to ensure the virtual call has ended.

GIF of a girl nailing it
Image courtesy of GIPHY.

Close out of all open windows, and double check nothing is still recording. Now, relax and take a breather. If you are participating in back-to-back interviews, as some companies do to simulate in-person round robin interview formats, be ready to hop right back on.

If your interviews are completed, take a moment to send a quick thank you note to your interviewer. If you don’t have their contact information, send it to the recruiter and ask them to forward it along for you.

Modern technology allows most businesses to continue to thrive while keeping our safety and health at the forefront. Every organization must respond to the unique situation in their local community.

As the current situation surrounding COVID-19 unfolds, businesses are doing what they can to pivot quickly without negatively impacting the business. Modern technology allows a lot of businesses to continue to thrive while keeping our safety and health at the forefront.

All this is to say that any in-person interviews you scheduled upcoming will probably be converted to virtual interviews. We hope you use this guide to prepare!

Christina Wells

Christina is dedicated to ensuring candidates and firms stay safe amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.

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