The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented shifts to the ways that organisations traditionally operate, how job applicants are interviewed is a relevant example. The method of online interviews was becoming increasingly popular in the years prior to the pandemic, but the shift to online working has accelerated the adoption of the method and it looks as so it's here to stay!
Don't panic! There are many upsides to online interviews, I mean who wouldn’t want to complete a potentially a daunting scenario in the comfort of their own home? However, there as some downsides too...most prominently potential technical problems, but these can be anticipated and mitigated against.
Due to the above, let's discuss how you can prepare for online interviews and truly ACE them!
There is one overarching theme to the following tips...
Practice. Cliché, right? No! Growing up, as I understand the world more and more, I've realised that cliché sayings (practice, give 110%, think outside the box) are the most useful.
Josh Kaufman highlights the importance of practice to be able to go from “knowing nothing to being pretty good”. We're all reluctant to practice but you cannot become "pretty good" without practicing, receiving feedback, refining approaches, and subsequently practicing again. This is hard to do. Learning something new means being clumsy at it initially, making mistakes, course-correcting, and trying again. It’s uncomfortable...but essential.
In my opinion, there are 10 main tips (of course combined with practice of them) that will allow you to properly prepare for online interviews and increase your chances of being hired.
- Remove all distractions
Simple tip to start, ensure you remove all distractions around you, you don't want your cat walking across the screen and interfering with the conversation! Turn off your phone notifications, ask people in your house to be quiet for the duration of the interview, etc.
- Set up your surrounding environment
During the interview, you're telling your story...ensure your environment helps portray this! Storytelling isn’t just about what you say. It extends to your setting. What does your environment and presentation reveal about you? How does it reflect on your personal brand? This is element people often overlook. Pay attention to it, and you will stand out.
Find a spot that is simple and free of distractions (like a blank wall or one that has a few pictures hanging on it). If your background is too cluttered, it will pull the recruiters attention away from you. It's been proven that unconscious biases were less likely to creep into the decision-making process when candidates had a clean backdrop. You can even choose a simple virtual background instead of propping yourself in front of a messy bookshelf, if you do though, ensure it is professional! Ninety-seven percent of the recruiters we spoke to preferred virtual backgrounds of office settings over beaches, mountains, or outer space.
Make sure where your sitting isn't too but also stay away from overhead lights during the interview if you can. If possible, try to settle down near a window with your face towards the light. You always want to put your best foot (or in this case, face) forward!
- Dress professionally
I'm very much a believer of wearing what you feel comfortable in but just remember that your goal is to look professional. You don’t need to wear a suit jacket — that would look awkward under the circumstances — but you don’t want to wear a hoodie either. Studies also show that people feel “most authoritative, trustworthy, and competent when wearing formal business attire.”
- Test the equipment you are using
The last thing you want is to be unsuccessful due to something you could have managed/prepared for! Technology could cause exactly this, so ensure your comfortable using whichever method your prospective employer prefers!
Once you’re comfortable with the program you’ll be using, it’s a good idea to test your internet connection as well as your audio and sound capabilities to make sure everything works properly. Poor internet = poor communication. To ensure your internet is working at optimum speed, ask family members or roommates to log out while you’re in your interview. If you don’t trust your Wi-Fi, connect by plugging in your local area network (LAN) cable. You can also test your connection through a simple Google search for “Internet speed test.”
Find a friend or family member that you can conduct a practice run with on the selected platform, it will help you familiarise yourself with the interface and functionalities – no more..."oh by the way you're on mute!"
- Log-on early
Being on time is really being about 10 minutes early. For a virtual, first-time interview, you may want to make sure you are ready to go 15-20 minutes early. If this sounds like a lot, just remember: In a normal interview, you would probably be getting ready, driving, parking, and finding the right room before the interview.
In this situation, setting up the computer and logging in is essentially the parking part of your interview process. Make sure everything works and then you can hang out until about 5-10 minutes before the scheduled time.
- Prepare some notes
Keep notes handy, but don’t refer to them too often: During job interviews, it’s standard for recruiters to ask candidates for examples of their most impactful work. Don’t let this unnerve you in the moment. Create a printout or Word document of notes with crisp bullet points highlighting a few things you want to share. Sort your projects under two or three headers, for example: accomplishments, research, and voluntary work.
Don't make it more than one page of notes. You don't want to become overwhelmed trying to read them in the moment and appear distracted. The goal is to refer to your notes minimally. Use them only to remind you of points you have already practiced.
Prepare for the most common interview questions and ensure you're up to date on the latest news about the company.
- Be engaged
Like power poses, using engaged body language during the interview is going to help you answer with confidence and energy. If on camera, use hand gestures, particularly if sharing personal reflections, it could be an idea to move your hands close to your heart. Even if the call is just over the phone, the right posture will help you sound more friendly, open, and sure of yourself.
On the flip side, slouching can cause you to feel tired and want to be done. Crossing your arms or your legs will look like you aren’t fully engaged and can cause a kind of mental block that makes it hard to really take in the information.
Speak to the camera. Television anchors use a teleprompter to make “eye contact” with the audience. Can you imagine watching a 30-minute program where the host is talking to his notes the entire time? Well, that’s exactly what you’re doing if you’re talking to the screen and not the web camera. Remembering that speaking directly to the camera is difficult, so schedule practice sessions with a friend or family member.
When answering questions, use the STAR Method:
- Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details of your example.
- Task: Describe what your responsibility was in that situation.
- Action: Explain exactly what steps you took to address it.
- Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved.
Using this method of answering interview questions allows you to provide concrete examples or proof that you possess the experience and skills for the job at hand. You'll be able to share examples of how you successfully handled situations in the past.
Slow down the pace of your speech. It’s natural to speak rapidly at an in-person meeting because you can read a host of non-verbal cues and recognize when to keep quiet or let someone else have the floor. Those cues are hard to read in virtual settings. Although it might feel odd, slowing down your rate of speech will make it easier for your listener to follow the conversation. It also makes it less likely that you’ll interrupt the interviewer. A bonus of speaking more slowly is that you’ll use fewer filler words like “ums” and “ahs” that many listeners find annoying.
Prepare by doing some research on the company and industry. Try to think of five good questions that aren’t about salary or benefits (you can have those, too, but they are too easy. They don’t let the interviewer know you’ve done your homework and your serious about the job.)
You want to think up five in case some of them are naturally answered along the way. Most interviewers ask at the end if you have questions and having two or three questions to ask will show you’ve put thought into this.
- Follow up
Within 24 hours of the interview, send an individual thank you email to everyone you met. Not only will it show you value their time, but it provides you the opportunity to resell yourself and express the unique strengths you bring to the role or share any talking points you forgot to address.
If there was something specific you bonded over, mention that in the email so you stay top of mind. Or if an interviewer brought up a particular business challenge, use the follow-up to propose potential solutions. Just keep the email concise; you want your note to leave a lasting impression, not immediately end up in the trash.