Husnara Begum head & shoulders profile photo

Husnara Begum

Most of us are likely to favour in-person interviews over virtual ones as they tend to be easier, especially when trying to strike a rapport with the person(s) firing the questions. But with the Covid19 pandemic still dictating how we go about our daily lives and many employers still operating remotely, chances are any interviews you’ve got coming up will be done via Zoom, Teams or Webex.

If that’s the case for you, follow these simple tips to smash virtual interviews:

Prepare for your interview as if you’ll be doing it in person. First and foremost, follow all the usual guidelines regarding how to conduct successful face-to-face interviews. Thoroughly research the hiring organisation and go back through your CV/application form to remind yourself what’s in it. Ensure you’re clear about the key messages you want to portray, including main motivators for applying and the achievements you’re most proud of that are relevant to the job you’re interviewing for. And don’t forget to use recent, specific and memorable examples to back-up your answers/reasons.

Sort out technology well in advance of the interview. As I’m sure you already know, most virtual video platforms can be opened using your internet browser but I’d recommend downloading the relevant app onto your laptop or other device in advance and then testing by calling a friend or family member. Related to this, remind yourself of relevant usernames or passwords and if your memory fails you reset it and run a test. If you cannot get Zoom or Teams to work then have a Plan B in place. I recommend using headphones and a microphone (most headphones have built-in microphones) during the interview to reduce feedback/background noise. But remember if you’re planning to use bluetooth headphones they are fully charged and indeed working!

Decide where to take the call. If your internet speed at home is slow then make arrangements in advance to do the call from a different location. Avoid doing the call in a public space, especially if there’s likely to be a lot of background noise or an unreliable connection. Related to this, if you’re planning to do the call from home let your flat mates know so noises and other distractions are kept to a minimum. Also, be aware of your background, including tatty posters, an unmade bed, washing-up etc (an alternative is to use a virtual background) and ensure lighting is set to a good level (you want the partners to be able to see you – that includes facial impressions).

Save date and meeting link in your diary. Remember when saving the date and time of your interview make allowances for time differences (if any). I had a candidate turn up one hour late for his interview for this very reason. Simple I know, but it can happen to the best of us, especially if you get distracted when saving the meeting in your calendar. Also, store the dial-in details in your diary as well. It is will save you running around like a headless chicken looking for the link minutes before the interview. Again simple but it’s even happened to me recently in the context of running a live webinar!

Look the part. Dress for the interview as if you’re doing it in person. This will not only create a positive first impression but it also helps you to focus / get in the right mindset.

Setting up the call. Set your laptop/tablet in the correct angle so the interviewer(s) can see you from waist upwards (hopefully, you will have tested positioning of devices in advance!). Avoid sitting too close to the screen as you don’t want the interviewer(s) to only see part of your face or worse still the wall behind your screen. This still happens to me when I do virtual calls with clients and forget to have the camera facing in the right direction!

During the call. Striking a rapport / creating a positive first impression during a virtual interview typically takes a little more effort than meeting in person.  As such, it’s very important to think about your body language. Remember to sit upright (lean forward when speaking), make plenty of eye contact (focus on keeping your eyes on the camera – not the view from the screen in front of you) and smile. But don’t overdo it and avoid flapping your arms around too much or fidgeting with your hair, tie or jewellery.

Avoid reading from your notes. During virtual interviews you’re more likely to get away with reading scripted answers as you can have them saved on your screen without the interviewer(s) being none the wiser. However, unless this technique has already worked for you, I’d recommend limiting any notes to bullet points. The risk of reading from a script is that your answers will sound forced and unnatural. Also, what happens if the questions you have prepared answers to don’t come up? It may throw you off course.

Make the conversation flow. Wait until the interviewer finishes speaking before you start answering the question, otherwise you’ll end up talking on top of each other – trust me, I’ve been there more than once. Pauses always feel a lot longer than they are.

Politely flag technical issues that may arise during the interview. Hopefully, with advance preparation all will go smoothly on the day. But if you’re experiencing a technical glitch such as a slow connection, poor sound quality etc then do not be afraid to ask the interviewer(s) to repeat the question. If issues continue, politely mention it and suggest trying to start the call again. And if it all goes belly up try not to catastrophise – the partners will understand.

Finish on a polite note.  Again the same rules used for face-to-face interviews apply here.  Remember to have some questions lined up for the interviewer(s) and finally wrap up by thanking them for their time and if appropriate ask about next steps.

Good luck!

Husnara Begum, associate editor and career coach

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