Virtual online interviews are becoming more popular every day, and they come with some considerations that their in-person counterparts don’t. That means that, as an interviewee, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with how to prepare for a video interview so that you have the best chance at making a good impression and getting a job offer.
How to Prepare for an Online Video Interview
From carefully selecting the clothes you wear to testing out lighting, here are some of the best virtual interview tips you can use during your job search.
1. Dress for Success
You should dress for an online interview the same way that you would for an in-person interview — and that includes wearing work-appropriate pants since you never know when you may need to stand to adjust your computer or close a door.
Make sure your clothes are clean, wrinkle-free, and professional, and style your hair, beard, and make-up as you would for an in-office interview.
Virtual interviews don’t necessarily mean that you can dress more casually or forego general interview norms. Err on the side of caution and opt for a professional look for the first round of interviews at least. Once you have a feel for how the people interviewing you dress or present themselves, you may be able to take the dress code down a notch.
2. Set Up Your Software
There are a variety of online interview platforms to choose from, such as Zoom, Google Meet, Google Hangouts, Skype, and Microsoft Teams. Be sure to ask which platform the hiring manager or recruiter plans to use so that you can set it up and familiarize yourself with it beforehand.
If you need to create an account, do it well in advance and ensure that you can log in and access the platform.
Download any required software in advance to ensure that it’s compatible with your computer, operating system, browser, and peripheral hardware such as your headphones, webcam, and microphone.
Make sure that all your key software is up-to-date and ready to use so that your computer doesn’t restart while you’re halfway through answering a question.
3. Have Hardware Ready
You’re going to need to use some hardware for an online job interview, like headphones or earbuds, a microphone, a laptop or computer, a webcam, and a keyboard and mouse. You may even choose to use a headset.
Check Bluetooth connections, charge wireless devices, and complete any software or system updates. Ensure your Internet connection is strong and interview in a room with a good Wi-Fi signal.
Many online interviews have been interrupted, delayed, or even cut short by dead batteries and lost connections, so triple-check that your hardware is in working order.
4. Balance Your Background
Before the video interview, choose where it will take place carefully. Consider what’s behind you, like a blank, white wall versus a cluttered dresser or kitchen table. Ensure that there are no controversial posters, pictures, or inappropriate items within view, and clear off the desk or table around you to make sure nothing that shouldn’t be seen makes it into the frame.
Whenever possible, choose a neutral, low-traffic area so that the focus can be on you and your professional skills instead of whatever is behind you.
5. Look for Good Lighting
Lighting is everything when it comes to how presentable you look in an online interview. Hiring managers and recruiters need to be able to see your face, and poor lighting can make that difficult.
Test out the lighting in the room you plan to interview in beforehand to make sure that it’s not too bright or too dark. The most flattering lighting comes from a natural light source in front of you, so, if you can, set up your laptop or computer in front of a window. If that’s not possible, avoid sitting where the light is directly behind you or directly overhead as it will make your face look shadowed and hard to see.
If you’re having trouble, try setting up a soft lamp or two behind your screen and turn on your webcam to see what it looks like. Throw on your interview outfit for good measure and experiment with different lighting until you find a setup that works.
6. Be Aware of Body Language
You need to be aware of your body language in any job interview that you do, but it’s especially important during a video interview.
Make eye contact, and try not to focus on your video feed instead of the interviewer’s. It can be distracting to have a live stream of yourself on your screen but it helps to treat it like a regular face-to-face interview, where your answers should be directed to the hiring manager or recruiter. Be mindful of when and how you take notes and answer interview questions so that you aren’t looking down while someone else is speaking.
Sit in a comfortable chair at a comfortable height and prop your laptop or webcam up on some books or a box so that it’s at roughly eye level. Avoid fidgeting or moving around too much by getting everything set up beforehand and choosing furniture that you’re comfortable using for an hour or more at a time.
Practice answering difficult or inappropriate interview questions so that you don’t freeze when asked on camera. Because virtual interviews rely on less sensory information than their in-person counterparts, more of the focus will be on your facial expressions and body language, making it even more important to be mindful of how you respond to awkward or uncomfortable questions, like how you felt about your last boss or why you have a large gap in your resume.
7. Avoid Interruptions
Interruptions are hard to avoid when you live with others, but an interview is an essential part of the hiring process that could land you a job, and an accidental disturbance can make a bad impression. Do your best to keep any interruptions to a minimum by:
- Choosing a quiet, low-traffic space to do the interview in
- Closing or locking the door to keep out pets or children
- Setting your phone to silent mode
- Turning off any Bluetooth speakers or devices
- Closing unnecessary browser tabs or apps
- Notifying any family members or roommates of when your interview starts
It’s also OK to schedule your interview during a time when you are the least likely to experience interruptions, like when your kids are asleep or your roommate is at work. If a suggested time doesn’t work for you, ask to move it to a time that does and offer a few different options for the interviewer to choose from.
8. Consider Time Differences and Dates
With so many people working remotely, it’s common to interview with hiring managers and potential employers who are outside of your time zone. Clarify interview times by asking which time zone your interview will take place in so that you don’t unintentionally miss your video conference because of a misunderstanding.
For example, if you’re located in New York and you’re being interviewed by someone in California, you’ll be working with a three hour time difference, which means you could end up missing your interview entirely unless you confirm whether the time you agreed upon was in Pacific Standard Time or Eastern Standard Time.
It’s also important to note the date by writing it out. Some people write dates differently, especially internationally, which can be confusing if they can be interpreted in multiple ways. For example, 04/03/21 could be shorthand for either April 3, 2021, or March 4, 2021. To avoid confusion, confirm the date by writing it out: Thursday, March 4, 2021.
9. Make a Cheat Sheet
One of the biggest benefits of video interviews is that potential employers can’t see anything offscreen, which means you can write out some notes to help you along.
You might choose to make notes about details such as:
- Company details, such as the year it was founded or sister companies
- The names and roles of people in the interview
- Rehearsed answers to common interview questions
- Numbers related to your professional achievements or projects
Keep it in bullet form and use it as a reference only. You don’t want to be caught reading off notes word-for-word instead of making eye contact.
If you aren’t well-versed with video calls, do a practice run. Set up your computer and interview space, try on your outfit, and rehearse your answers. See how well your microphone and webcam hold up and adjust your speakers, camera height, light source, and anything else that feels off.
Ask a friend or colleague to practice with you through a video feed so that they can give you feedback about what they’re seeing and hearing on their end.
11. Have a Backup Plan
Technical difficulties happen all the time and are often out of your control. Perhaps the video conferencing software you were going to use is down, or someone’s computer decided to go on the fritz. Whatever the problem, make sure that you have a backup plan. This could mean you switch to a phone interview or use an app on your phone for video conferencing instead.
Make sure you’re ready for potential issues by charging your phone, downloading the app version of the software you planned to use, and ensuring your permissions will allow it to run. Consider having a spare microphone or headset handy just in case.
12. Use a Professional Login and Email
Many video conferencing platforms will need you to either create a username or provide an email address to log in or receive an invite. Make sure that whatever you choose is professional and appropriate because it will likely be visible to everyone participating in the interview.
If you already have an account for the video conferencing application, and you don’t want to share that username or email address with a potential employer, create a new one and send that instead.
Don’t get creative or clever. Stick to something basic, like a combination of your first and last name.
13. Organize Materials
You may need a notebook, pen, charging cords, or other materials handy during your online job interview, and digging through a desk drawer or leaving the screen to search for materials isn’t a good look. Alternatively, you don’t want to have to scramble to search through files on your computer looking for a document, either.
Gather, prepare, and organize any materials you may need in advance and have them ready to go before your interview.
14. Arrive on Time
As with any job, it’s essential to show up for your interview on time. Because it may take a few minutes to set up your computer, log on to the video platform, and connect with everyone, be ready at least 15 minutes before your interview is scheduled. This gives you extra time to smooth out any technical difficulties and ensure your lighting and background are good to go.
Be sure not to actually join the interview until just before it’s scheduled to take place. You don’t want everyone to have access to a live stream of you rehearsing questions and adjusting your chair before your interview begins. And it’s possible that the interviewers will be using the same channel to interview another candidate in the time slot before yours, which you don’t want to be seen dropping in on.
15. Send a Follow-Up Email
After your online interview, send a follow-up email to the person who interviewed you. It’s a simple way to show your appreciation for the opportunity and may even get you ahead of other job seekers who skip this step.
In your follow-up email, you can:
- Thank the recruiter or hiring manager for their time
- Encourage your interviewer to ask any additional questions
- Clarify when a hiring decision will be made
- Offer to send samples or complete an assignment
Don’t ask any questions that have already been answered, and try your best to keep it short and sweet. You can always follow-up again later to check in or ask for an update.
Wait to connect on LinkedIn until after you have received a hiring decision. Regardless of whether you receive an offer, it’s completely acceptable to connect with a hiring manager or recruiter professionally after going through the hiring process.
Although there are ways you can optimize your performance in a virtual interview, like preparing software and creating a cheat sheet, you can still use your existing job search experience to help steer you in the right direction. Make eye contact, watch your body language, and highlight your professional experience and accomplishments to show recruiters and hiring managers that you’re the right person for the job, regardless of how you’re interviewed.