The COVID-19 pandemic forced employers to stop in-person interviews and move to virtual interviewing. Now that interviewers understand its efficacy, it's likely to remain part of the hiring process from now on. It eases scheduling conflicts, saves money, and broadens access to talent and job opportunities.
This article outlines how to prepare for a virtual interview and provides tips, tricks, and best practices.
What is a virtual interview?
A virtual interview takes place remotely using video conferencing technology or a phone. While similar to face-to-face interviews, there are adjustments you need to make.
For instance, it's harder to maintain eye contact, read body language and facial expressions, and there are more things to worry about like your Internet connection, webcam, microphone, and background.
The added complexity is why preparation is a must for virtual job interviews.
How to prepare for a virtual interview
Follow these steps to prepare for your following virtual interview:
1. Prepare as you would for any job interview
Interview basics still apply for remote interviews. Just because you're sitting in front of your computer doesn't mean you shouldn't prepare. You'll have the best chance of getting hired if you don't rely on being able to look up answers or rely on notes.
Research the company website, news coverage, and read employee reviews. You need to be able to answer common interview questions like "Why do you want to work here?" and "Why are you interested in this position?".
Next, read the job description carefully. Look out for skills, responsibilities, and expectations the hiring manager has included, and write down your relevant experience. Use your experience to form the basis of your answers to behavioral interview questions. We'd also recommend familiarizing yourself with the STAR method as it'll help you provide compelling, structured responses.
Finally, if you know who your interviewer will be, research them too. LinkedIn is a great place to start but look out for personal blogs, interviews, and other social media accounts.
2. Choose your location
Prioritize lighting, camera angle, background, audio quality, and Internet stability for virtual interviews. The best place to take an interview from home is a quiet location, with few distractions and great light.
Choose a clean background so the interviewer can focus on you and not what is around you. If you don't have a dedicated home office, a bedroom or kitchen table can work well.
For lighting, it's best to use a key light or ring light as you can control the lighting. Otherwise, use natural light or a lamp to bounce light off the wall in front of you.
Once you've got your background and lighting sorted, think about the framing of your shot. A good rule of thumb is to have your eyes at the two-thirds level of the image. Generally, this means putting your camera just above your eye level angled slightly down.
Good framing focuses the interviewer on you rather than your background and makes it easier to maintain eye contact while talking.
Audio is another thing that most candidates overlook. Audio quality is a huge component of how you present over video, so it's best to use earphones or headphones rather than your computer's built-in microphone. Earphones also make it easier to hear your interviewer and focus on them.
Finally, if you live in a shared space, ask the people you live with to be quiet during your interview.
3. Test your technology
Virtual interviews require a camera, microphone, video conferencing software, and a reliable Internet connection. That's why it's essential to check technology is working before your video interview.
At least a day before your virtual interview, ask a friend or family member to conduct a mock interview with you. Mock interviews allow you to test your microphone, camera, Internet connection, and whether the location you've chosen for the interview works.
It's also a great way to familiarize yourself with the software you'll use in the interview. Make sure to download any updates for the video conferencing software and your computer's operating system to ensure it doesn't reset during the interview. Double-check your video framing as different video conferencing software tends to crop the video differently.
On the day of your interview, charge your computer's battery, make sure your Wi-Fi is reliable and put your devices on do not disturb. A ding or a buzz from your phone can ruin your flow and distract the interviewer.
Related: Zoom interview tips
4. Dress to impress
You should expect virtual interviewing to be as formal as a face-to-face one, so choose an appropriate outfit. If you're unsure, professional business casual attire is a good standard as it'll make you appear confident and excited about the opportunity.
5. Don't forget about your body language
While virtual interviewing makes it harder to communicate and assess body language, it's still important to use it to come across as confident and attentive.
Sit up straight, pull your shoulders back, and look into the camera when you're speaking. It's counterintuitive, but you need to look at your camera and not the person on your screen to maintain eye contact on video.
If you get an interview question you can't answer, make sure you stay composed, collect your thoughts, and answer as best you can.
Even on video, body language is an essential cue for the interviewer so find ways to show that you're actively listening, excited about the opportunity, and confident in your ability to succeed in the job.
6. Build a connection
Establishing rapport is much easier when you interview in person as your enthusiasm, body language, and early small talk can help you build a personal connection with your potential employer.
It's still essential to build a connection when you're interviewing virtually, and it will help you stand out from other candidates. One of the best ways to do this is to research the company and your interviewer heavily, so you can find common interests or talk about where the company is going and why you're excited about the opportunity to join.
7. Be authentic
Virtual interviews are a rare opportunity to sell yourself in a relaxing, familiar environment entirely under your control. Use the opportunity to show the interviewer who you are, why you're the best person for the job and your passion for the company.
Recruiters look for candidates who understand the company culture and are a good fit for it, so make sure to use your body language, facial expressions, and research to convey why you're authentically passionate about the opportunity.
8. Follow up
After your interview, you need to send a follow-up email to thank the interviewer for their time and reinforce why you're the best fit for the position. Follow-up emails also allow you to answer any additional questions the hiring manager may have.
Make sure you mention something you found interesting from your conversation to show that you actively listen and have soft skills.
Tips for nailing a virtual interview
- Have a clean, uncluttered background: You don't need to rearrange your room. Use a spot free of distractions. A cluttered environment will pull attention away from you. If necessary, a simple virtual background can help.
- Invest in lighting: Recruiters need to be able to see you and your body language when you're in a virtual interview. For a simple fix, avoid having a light source behind you and light yourself from the front. Proper lighting ensures the interviewer can see you and your face.
- Don't forget about audio: Video has two significant elements: picture and audio quality. While lighting is important, audio is as important, if not more. Several studies have shown that if the video's audio quality is terrible, people tend to react negatively toward the video content as a whole. Audio quality is why it's best to use earphones or headphones with an external mic rather than your computer's built-in microphone.
- Frame your video properly: The interviewer wants to see you, not what's behind you, so frame your video correctly. A good rule of thumb is to have your eyes at the two-thirds level of the image.
- Test your Internet connection: A poor connection makes it near impossible to have a good interview, no matter how much you prepare. To ensure your Internet is stable, ask the people you live with to avoid using it while you're interviewing.
- Master the platform: Become an expert in whatever video conferencing platform your interviewer plans to use. If you haven't used it before, download it ahead of your interview and ask a friend or family member to conduct mock calls. Not only will this help you get comfortable with the technology, but it'll also help you prepare for any issues that are unique to the platform.
- Keep notes handy, but don't rely on them: It's common for interviewers to use behavioral interview questions, which is why it's essential to prepare for behavioral interviews and have examples of your most impactful work. Create a printout of your STAR method answers that you can glance at during the interview. However, make it your goal to use them sparingly, as it can distract the interviewer if you're constantly referring to your notes.
- Stay calm: If you're feeling overwhelmed or need to take a moment to think about a question, the interviewer will understand. Just say, "Can I take a moment to prepare my answer?" The hiring manager will appreciate your ability to think under pressure.
- Practice your pace: It's better to speak a bit slower than average when you're interviewing over video. Speaking slower ensures that what your saying isn't missed if your Internet connection temporarily slows, and it can help you appear more confident.
- Move your body: When we speak to people in real life, we tend to gesture with our hands and shift our body language to support what we say. However, we tend not to move as much on video.
- Look at your camera, not your screen: It's counterintuitive, but maintaining eye contact on video means looking at your webcam and not the person on your screen.
- Ask questions: Hiring managers expect you to have questions, so make sure you prepare. Asking questions shows you have a genuine interest in the interviewer, their inquiries, and what it would be like to work at the company. Read our guide on the best questions to ask in an interview if you need inspiration.
- Find common interests: Most companies will tell you who you'll be interviewing with ahead of time. You have their name, so you can and should, Google them. Look at their background and social media accounts to see what they're interested in and bring it up in your conversation. Engaging with your interviewer as a person is one of the best ways to stand out.
- Show up on time: Log in to the video conferencing software a few minutes early. Showing up on time is one of the easiest things you can do to start your interview off on the right foot.
- Dress for success: Make sure you look polished and professional. Dressing well helps make a great first impression with your interviewer and helps you feel more confident.
- Practice common interview questions: Try to anticipate the interviewer's questions and practice your responses. For example, there's a good chance the interviewer asks questions like: "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?", "Do you have any questions for me?" and "What is your greatest weakness?"