Guest Writer: Duke University Career Center
Pivoting from an in-person interview to an online interview from the comforts of your own home can bring a new set of challenges and preparation. How do you prepare your technology? What about your background? And oh, there is no handshake so, how do you connect? Don’t worry, you are not the only interview candidate asking these questions and, with the six steps below you will be well prepared and well on your way to making a stellar online impression.
1. Know your Technology
Make sure you spend plenty of time practicing on the software or app that is being used as part of your interview. This is critical to calming nerves and worry so that you can focus on other aspects of the interview.
Test your microphone/speakers as well as your camera. This will also give your internet bandwidth a test. If you find your connection is not as strong as you would like (image freezes, voice goes in and out) then start by checking your Wi-Fi signal. Is there another space you can interview in with a stronger signal? If not, can you plug-in with a hardwire into the internet using an ethernet cord? Despite our reliance on Wi-Fi, a hardwire internet line is really the fastest internet option if your Wi-Fi seems inconsistent.
In addition to internet bandwidth, have a back-up for audio. You may try to connect to audio through your computer speakers but, if they don’t work the way you anticipate, have an extra pair of headphones that have a mic as a back-up. Also, be prepared with call-in information in case you need to switch to the phone for your audio. The key here is to anticipate and be prepared for potential technical issues to show the employer that you can easily switch to a working solution if problems do arise.
If possible, ask a friend or family member to practice with you using the online system. Do this multiple times with them calling you or giving you a meeting link so that you can experience the sign-on process including how long it will take your video and audio to connect. Being comfortable with your technology and the platform you will be interviewed on shows your potential employer that you are flexible during this ever changing time, but also that you have tech skills and know-how; a key skill set that is valued in every industry.
2. Check your Environment
While you are getting comfortable with your technology, pay attention to your environment. Here are the things you want to find out:
- What does your background (the space behind you on-camera) look like?
- Remove pictures, items or clothing that would create a less than helpful distraction during your interview. If you are set-up in front of your closet, close the closet doors. If you are in front of or near the door to a room, close the door and be sure to post a sign for any friends or family members not to disturb you.
- Blank or empty walls are usually ideal to reduce visual distractions.
- Do not sit on the bed during your interview.
- Are you visible to the camera?
- Pay attention to lighting. Windows or lamps near you are helpful in providing light. Avoid windows behind you because they can be too bright, causing the camera to adjust and making you harder to see. Pay attention to any shadows that might hide your face or cause a distraction in your background.
- Pay attention to angles. If you are seated above your camera, it will appear that you are looking down on everyone. Avoid this as much as possible. Ideally, your camera should be at eye level. It will make it easy and more natural for you to simply look straight ahead. You may need to add a box or a couple of books underneath your laptop to get it to eye level.
- Are you able to hear and be heard?
- In addition to checking your sound with the technical prep, check your volume and alternative audio options. Be sure to test your headphones (with a mic) to make sure you can hear and that your voice comes through clearly (no voice distortions).
- Voice distortions can be common if your internet signal is slow and trying to catch-up. Your image may not align with your audio, your responses may be sped up or you could even come across as a chipmunk impersonator. You may also hear a fuzzy, static like voice.
- While logging out and logging back in can often fix these issues, review the technical suggestions above if you consistently run into these problems.
- What other noises or distractions come across the camera?
- If you have friends, roommates or family members to contend with during an online interview, do yourself a favor and let everyone know in advance (with plenty of reminders) that you need quiet time on the date/time of your online interview.
- Post a “Do not disturb/Quite please” sign on your door prior to the start of your interview.
- Be mindful of pets and appliances. If you know your dog generally barks around Noon when the mail arrives, do your best to plan around this including a treat as a distraction or asking a friend or family member to take the dog out, on a walk or drive, during this time. Also, avoid using loud appliances like the TV, washer or dishwasher, etc. While background noises like this may be common or almost imperceptible to you, they will come through your audio and be new to your interviewer. Do your best to avoid these if at all possible.
- Silence or turn off your cell phone. Vibrate is not an option; you can hear a call vibrate through your computer mic/speakers.
3. Consider your Presence: Body Language and Dress
Once your environment is set, spend some time thinking about how you want to make the best impression possible. While some of these things are the same as an in-person interview, they are also slightly different.
- Body Language is critical to standing out during your online interview. While we would normally shake hands, we can’t do that online.
- Make eye contact, this means looking in the camera (not the image of the person on the screen).
- Sit up straight and maintain an open posture. Crossing your arms may come across as not interested or rude.
- If you are distracted by the image on the screen, some platforms will allow you to move the image around or change the image views (check this in step #1). If this is possible, move the thumbnail image just underneath your camera. This will keep you looking at the camera and the image at the same time.
- Dress the same as you would for an in-person interview.
- Business professional attire that fits well and you are comfortable in will keep you looking sharp online while also increasing your confidence.
- Avoid dressing only the top half. By fully dressing in your business professional attire, you are also adjusting your headspace to the importance and formal nature of the interview. Additionally, if something unexpected occurs during your interview and you do need to stand up (it can happen), you won’t have the added embarrassment of being in your pajamas or sweatpants.
- Remember: unexpected things in an interview may not always hurt your chances of getting a job offer but, your potential employer discovering you are in flannel pajama pants most likely will.
4. Prepare in Advance: Research and Practice
Just because you will be online does not mean you can search or type while you are in your interview. Just like any other interview, research the company in advance, prepare responses using the STAR method in advance, and practice as much as possible. During an online interview is not the time to google information about the company you are interviewing with or the time to search for ideas for question responses. The only thing you should be doing while online is interviewing.
- Do prepare in advance as you normally would with the addition of practicing online using the platform you will be using for your interview. This includes…
- Researching the position, you are applying for and the company you are applying to.
- Identifying your accomplishments, impact, skill sets and similar/related experiences to highlight how you fit the role and the company.
- Do have a copy of your resume and your STAR stories, if helpful for you to reference for key talking points.
- Being able to show how your skills and experience connect with the job and the company is key to moving forward in an interview process and/or getting a job offer.
- Do have a list of questions to ask the employer (you can print this out for easy reference).
- Do have blank paper and pen to write names of those on the interview, notes or follow-up questions.
5. Genuinely Connect
As with an in-person interview, do your best to be yourself. You may need to be more expressive to get your personality across and highlight your fit with the company. This may include smiling more (in addition to the eye contact discussed earlier). It is also okay to talk about shared interests that may not be directly related to the job role. For example, you may find that you and the interviewer have a common connection with a volunteer organization or a hobby and want to discuss that for a little bit. Also, don’t be afraid to laugh or share your sense of humor where appropriate. This shows that you are confident and comfortable, and can help relieve some of the pressure for everyone.
As always, within 24 hours, follow-up with a thank you to everyone you met. Keep it brief and be sure to let them know you appreciate their time. Include something specific for each person whenever possible. For example, “It was great to talk with you about unique methods for using social media to engage customers and increase sales.”
While there is a lot to consider when preparing for an online interview, these initial steps will get you started. As with in-person interviewing, preparation is key. Prepare your technology, prepare your environment and prepare yourself with responses, examples of your work and skills, body language, dress and a willingness to genuinely connect with those you meet. All of this will help alleviate nerves and worry while boosting confidence so you can ace the virtual interview.