Online interviews – love them or hate them, due to the coronavirus, they’re the new norm. So, how do you deliver the perfect online interview?
Over the last decade, I’ve conducted hundreds of online interviews with international applicants and, in that time, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, I thought that I’d write this short article to share ten tips that will (hopefully) put you well on the way to delivering the perfect online interview…
- First Impressions
First impressions are incredibly important. Research suggests that the impression we make in the first few seconds can act as a filter through which all of our subsequent actions are assessed.
Now, in a physical interview you get your chance to make a first impression the moment you walk through the door and into the interview room but, in an online interview, it can happen even faster! If you’re using a platform such as Skype, then your profile image is often displayed before the video connects – now, I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times a NSFW (not safe for work) image has popped up in that initial moment of connection. And, rightly or wrongly, when an unsuitable image pops up on our screen we make a judgement about the person we are about to talk to before we even see them.
So, ensure you control your first impression in this kind of situation by setting your profile image to a recent professional portrait photo (of yourself!).
- (no) Technical Difficulties
Another part of the impression you make when it comes to an online interview is how you handle the various technical aspects. Again, rightly or wrongly, you can be judged negatively if you suffer technical issues during the interview process – especially if those issues are things that should be under your control. Things to consider are:
- Are you in the best place in the house for a strong Wi-Fi signal? The last thing you want is to be dropping in and out of the call because you’re positioned in that far corner of the house where the Wi-Fi barely reaches.
- Do you know how the platform works? Whether it’s Skype, or Zoom, or MS Teams, or some other video platform, make sure that you’ve experimented with it in advance. Some platforms (for example, Zoom) require you to download a browser plug-in and you don’t want to be messing around with this and end up being late for your interview. Equally, experimenting allows you to understand the functionality of the platform and make sure you’re properly prepared – for example, if you need to share your screen, can you do this quickly and efficiently?
- Are you using headphones? If not, please do. Have you ever experienced a video call where you could hear an echo of your voice because the person on the other end had you on speaker? It’s not good, and it seriously interferes with the ability of the person who is speaking to concentrate. Using headphones eliminates this problem; while using headphones with a microphone will give you far better sound quality than if you’re using the internal microphone of your PC.
- Dress to Impress
Just because it’s an online interview doesn’t mean that you can skip making an effort when it comes to what you wear. Dress to an appropriate level for the job you’re applying for (which is to say, the dress code expectations of – say – the game industry are likely to be different than the dress code expectations of – say – the investment banking industry).
At this point, can I just say that – even though only your top half is seen – it’s important to be properly dressed from the waist down. I once had an interview with an applicant, who was (seemingly) smartly dressed but – halfway through the interview – their cat knocked something over in the kitchen; whereupon they jumped up from their computer to reveal they were only wearing a pair of boxer shorts.
In fact, I’d advise you to go one step further and put on some work shoes and dress as if you’re about to step into a physical interview. Why on earth would I do that, Oliver? Well, it enables you to get into the right frame of mind; you’ll feel more formal and professional because you’re dressing more formally and professionally. Trust me.
- Make a Scene
Almost as important (maybe, as important) as how you look is how your background looks. Avoid cluttered and untidy rooms, in fact try to ensure that you have a blank wall behind you rather than the contents of a room. Also, make sure that the room is well lit and it doesn’t appear that you’re enveloped in gloom.
In addition, try to ensure that you’re fully able to focus on the interview – set your phone to silent, turn the doorbell off (if you can), and make sure that you’re not going to be disturbed by pets or children or roommates during the course of the interview.
- Eyes on the Prize/Camera
It’s important that you keep your eyes on the camera, not only when you’re talking but also when the interviewer is talking to you. It’s very easy to end up looking at the screen or even worse, to let your attention (and gaze) drift elsewhere in an online interview because you don’t have the same feeling of presence or attention that you have in a physical interview. It takes effort, and practice, to talk to the camera. My advice is to try to record yourself in advance so that you can get used to talking to the camera.
- Enthusiasm Needed
In an online interview, we miss out on a huge number of body language cues that we normally rely on in-person to tell us whether or not someone is interested when they are talking with us. So, how do we deal with that? Well, it means that in an online interview you need to raise your enthusiasm a notch to ensure that you come across in a positive and energetic manner. But, you also need to make sure that you demonstrate your enthusiasm for what the interviewer is saying – demonstrate that you are interested by maintaining focus on the camera (see previous point) and occasionally reacting to what is being said (a head nod, leaning in towards the camera a little, a smile, etc.).
Again, my advice here is practice by recording yourself and then critically evaluating how you seem on camera. It is a specific skill, so you can improve this by just becoming more familiar and practised with the process.
- Cheat (if necessary)
There frequently comes a moment in an interview when the interviewer says something along the lines of “talk us through your CV” or “talk us through your responsibilities at your current job” and you find yourself a little lost trying to remember exactly what you wrote in your CV. Thankfully, during an online interview, you can cheat a little. Sticking post-it notes along the top of your laptop screen is a good way of having all kinds of useful information to hand without your eyes seeming to stray away from the camera.
- Take Notes
Having a pen and paper to hand to make notes is a lot better than typing on your keyboard and making notes on the PC. Quite apart from ensuring you take away important information, taking notes (at an appropriate moment!) gives the impression that you are interested in what is being said and are paying attention.
- Have (good) questions
Now, this tip is useful whether you’re in an online interview or a physical interview. You see, there usually comes a point, when the interview is almost wrapped up, that the interviewer asks if you have any questions for them. Don’t be the person that says ‘no’ at this point.
Why? Well, asking questions shows that you are interested. But only if they are good questions.
Now, I could probably write an entire article on what are good questions to ask but, for the sake of brevity, I would suggest the following three are a good starting point:
- Ask if you’ve answered all their questions sufficiently. Wait, surely this is cheating Oliver? No! This is not only a great way to see if you were unclear or insufficiently detailed in anything you said, but also an opportunity to improve the impression they have of you by adding extra detail to a question that maybe you didn’t answer perfectly the first time around. I’d suggest saying something along the lines of “I have a couple of questions but, first, I just wanted to ask you if I answered all of your questions sufficiently, or whether there was anything you’d like me to clarify or explain in more detail?”
- Ask something that demonstrates an understanding of the company and the industry they operate in. You’ve done your research (hopefully), you know a lot about the company from the outside, but now you have the chance to ask a question that gives you some inside information. Try to avoid asking for corporate secrets – asking for the KFC secret recipe, for example, is probably not going to go down well (and even less well if you’re interviewing at IBM!). Instead, ask about the company values, or who they view as their biggest competitors, or where they see the company being in three years time (an interesting spin on the question you’ll often get asked yourself!).
- Ask the interviewer what they most enjoy about working for the company. Interviewing the interviewer, eh? But, seriously, it works. Not only does it give you their perspective on the company as a place to work, it also gives you a chance to bond a little with your interviewer. Suddenly, they’re no longer just an interviewer – they’re a person who’s shared something with you about what makes them happy.
- Be Thankful
Another tip that works for both the physical and the online; when the interview finally winds up and you’ve answered all their questions (and they’ve answered yours), make sure that you thank them. Be sincere and demonstrate your enthusiasm; say something along the lines of “thank you for your time, and the opportunity to interview with you today; I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you”
I hope you find these helpful – let me know in the comments if you think of any good tips that I’ve missed and I’ll add them in the next version I do of this!