5 tips for virtual interviews

The other day I was listening to a client telling me about her interview. It had gone well but she said she needed tips for dealing with virtual interviews. I asked her to be really specific, she sighed and said she felt different with it not being face to face. As we explored this she explained to me that she felt like you logged on, did the interview and then at the end the meeting ended. There was no chatting with the receptionist as you waited to go in. There was no walking you back to the reception or showing you around the office. It all felt colder, more abrupt.

Building rapport online

It got me thinking about how we build rapport with people in interviews, particularly right now when many interviews are being conducted via online video call. The truth is we have to build rapport with people all the time – in person and online. One way we do this is via small talk. Traditionally at an interview, the interviewer would ask how your journey had been or you might comment on the beautiful picture behind the reception desk. You can still do this in a virtual interview; choose a simple, small topic of conversation – if you’re British, you might choose the weather!

We also build rapport by using body language cues. This is often easier in person but it is still possible to read someone’s body language via video. During a virtual interview, try to mirror the same things you would be doing in a room with someone. Sit up straight, but nod and lean forward a bit when you agree with something. Tilt your head if you’re interested and smile when something is funny. These visual cues go a long way when reading how someone is feeling, so your interviewer will know when you agree with something or have something to add. Hopefully, their expressions will be apparent, too, so both of you can mirror each other’s positive body language, making it easier to connect and build a relationship.

Preparing for virtual interviews

When it comes to job interviews, I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t get nervous, especially if they really want the job. As a career coach, I offer mock interviews where I prepare some common questions and we go through them and then I offer feedback on the answer and if needed, help the client answer more effectively. We might also work on confidence – both in delivering the answer and in remembering their strengths! Often we go through some specific questions that the client is worried about answering e.g. tell me about yourself or what are your weaknesses being two of the most common ones people fear!

The standard rules of interviews still apply – prepare, dress appropriately, answer the question and research the organisation. However, there are other preparations that need to be made for interviewing online:

How do you want to present yourself?

One of the bonuses for doing a virtual interview is that you can be in the comfort of your own home. It also means you can get a little too comfortable, especially, if, like many of us, you have been working from home for many months, possibly with the kids. So make sure you shut the door/windows, silence any notifications/kids/pets and take ten minutes before the interview starts to calm yourself and get in the right headspace.

What can you see behind you? There are many memes flying around the internet of people caught out by inappropriate items (and people!) in their backgrounds. Find somewhere neutral and uncluttered. I would avoid the virtual backgrounds for interviews too.

Take a moment to think about where you’ll be sitting. I do much of my work at our kitchen table but the chairs are hard and uncomfortable if I have to sit for more than half an hour. Sitting on my bed is more comfortable, but for an interview, probably too comfortable! Think about light too – the best advice is to sit facing a window so that you get the best light on you. You may need to have a strategically placed lamp or two.

It’s not about needing to have a perfectly curated space – because, let’s face it, that’s just not always possible – but more about being aware that your background will help build a picture of you.

Phone a friend

In the same way that a mock interview can help someone prepare and practice their answers, so a call to a friend can help you practice with the technology. Make sure that you have the correct version of the platform you will be using, maybe have a backup option on another device. Try using it a few times if you are unfamiliar with the technology. Get your friend to tell you if they can hear a squeaky chair or see anything odd in the background! Can they hear you? Do you want to wear ear/headphones? Does that change the look/feel for the person on the other side of the camera?

One of the most difficult things about video calls is where to look. Most people look at the screen so they can see the other person, but this means that they aren’t often looking at the camera. This is akin to avoiding eye contact – a key element of interviewing. During a practice call, have a play around with where you look and how it comes across to the other person. If using my laptop I tend to minimise the window and put it as close to the camera as possible so that I can see the person whilst still looking at the camera.

If you can, record the practice session and play it back to yourself. I know it might feel a bit uncomfortable but it will help you see where you use filler words or if you sound flat. As you practice you will gain confidence, half the battle for an interview. In my experience, both personal and professional, it is enthusiasm which gets people jobs, not just their skills.

If it’s not working correctly or you’re unsure, contact the organisation in advance to ask. You might also want to agree to a plan B in case, on the day, technology fails, as it sometimes does. Make sure you have swapped alternative contact details.

Focus on the positives

Despite throwing up some new challenges, virtual interviews cut out some of the usual stresses of an interview day (as well as some of the costs!).

A big advantage of doing an interview online is that you can write down your key points and stick them to your screen, out of the interviewer’s line of sight! I would recommend writing down three/four succinct bullet points to remind you of situations where you have shown your relevant strengths/skills, had a difficult situation to deal with and something you are proud of. You don’t need to get too specific – they are not there to read verbatim, just to prompt your thinking if needed.

If you need a portfolio or presentation, make sure you have it ready to go. Or if there are any documents you might need to send, have them handy and know how you will send them.

In addition, there is no journey to cause you anxiety about being late. Not only that but, once the interview is done, you’re already at home and can relax, go for a run or jump straight into your PJs again!

Remember you’re not alone

Although it feels like the norm, doing virtual interviews is all new and a bit odd for a lot of interviewers too. Chances are, they’ve also been worrying about technical issues and whether someone will wander into the room mid-call!

The same is true for the other candidates. You’ll probably compare your interview to what you may have expected from a face-to-face interview but, in reality, you’re being compared to other people’s virtual interviews, which probably all had a few frozen screen moments or dogs barking in the background.

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