How to prepare for an online interview: Post COVID

August 19, 2020

Lockdown restrictions might be easing, but many companies are still choosing to carry out online interviews. This presents an interesting challenge to job hunters. While you might think that an online interview would be easier – after all, it would be difficult to be late for this – there are different challenges ahead.

Online interviews are going to be a lot more popular in 2020 and beyond. If you want to make the best possible impression in an online interview, we’re going to share some of our top tips. Here at Nolan Recruitment, we’re no stranger to online interviews. When candidates can be from anywhere in the world, it’s not uncommon to interview them on Zoom or Skype. 

So as the world adjusts to this new normal, we’re passing on our top tips to help you succeed. From preparing your space to preparing your mindset. With the right preparation, you can make an online interview work in your favour.

Clear the room

You should only ever do an online interview behind a closed door. You don’t want to risk someone walking in and throwing you off your game. Let everyone in your home know that you’ll be doing an interview and leave a note on the door if you have to. Once you have chosen a suitable place, think about your surroundings. 

What’s in the frame?

Open up your computer webcam and think about what you can see around you. Positioning yourself against a plain wall could be the best strategy, but this isn’t always an option. If your only choice is a bedroom, don’t panic. Just make sure you make your bed if it has to be in the shot. Hide any dirty dishes before your interview. And finally, be wary of mirrors or mirrored surfaces. These can reveal reflections of things you might want to keep hidden.

Get dressed for a real interview

We all joke about not wearing any trousers during video calls, but don’t risk this in an interview setting. Get ready in the same way you would for a normal face-to-face interview. Also, think about how your clothes and makeup will appear on camera. Some patterns “strobe” on webcams and could be very distracting. Some makeup will look more pronounced on camera, so you might need to tone it down. Before you connect with the company, always do a test run to make sure you are projecting the right image.

Place your camera at eye-level

Place your camera at eye-level

If you’ve ever video called with your grandparents, you’ll be familiar with the “up-the-nose” shot. Avoid this by placing your camera at eye level. You should also make sure that the interviewer’s screen will be the biggest display while yours is much smaller. This will allow you to check that nothing is amiss without becoming distracted by your own image. Interviewing in front of a mirror would be very revealing and also very distracting.

Check your camera and microphone

Technical problems can crop up without warning, so try to ward them off by testing your camera and microphone before the call. It’s often a good idea to wear discreet headphones for your interview as this will prevent an echo on the call. Hearing an echo of your own voice can derail your train of thought and make it nearly impossible to keep talking.

Optimise your lighting

If you have a bright light source behind you, this could leave you completely in shadow. And if you have harsh overhead lighting, this could lead to extreme shadows on your face. Many laptop cameras will try to shift focus and balance the light automatically. Often the best solution is to close windows and blinds to prevent the light from changing. If you are determined to project the best possible image, a ring light could offer the perfect solution. These are inexpensive LED lights that offer a soft and gentle glow. Consider buying or borrowing one of these to put yourself in the best possible light.

Stop all other streaming devices

Slow internet speed could increase the delay between you and the interviewer. This can create awkward situations where you are talking over each other and struggling to hear answers. Before your interview, make sure you ask all inhabitants in your house to avoid using the home WiFi. This will leave the bandwidth free for your call. Some devices might be using the internet without your knowledge. This includes things like smart assistants and smart TVs. Switch everything off to be safe.

Put your phone on silent

Put your phone on silent

Treat the interview as you would any other interview and turn your phone on silent at the start. Running across the room to silence a call could throw your entire interview into disarray. Keep your phone beside you and make sure it is silent or switched off. If you are easily distracted by notifications, turn it upside down. Remember they will be able to see your eyes glancing down, so even if your phone is out of shot, you can assume the interviewer will know exactly what you are doing. 

Keep everything to hand

You should have a printed and annotated copy of your CV and cover letter to hand. You should also have a pad of paper and a working pen. And finally, you should have a glass of water. If you’re clumsy or prone to interview jitters, be careful about keeping your glass of water near the computer. Use a water bottle for extra security. As you’re in your own home and have complete control over your setting, use this to your advantage. You could have important stats, points you want to mention and questions to ask all printed and within reach. Just be wary of shuffling papers and letting your attention drift from the interviewer.

Be mindful of your body language

You might be on a video call, but your body language still matters. Sit up straight in your chair, look directly into the camera and try not to play with your hair or clothing. Keeping your hands on the desk in front of you or holding a pen can help you to feel more natural and at ease. It’s easy to forget that you’re on camera during an online interview. Every glance and smile will be under scrutiny, so be careful about seeming to be distracted or complacent.

Practice your answers

An online interview will likely follow the same format as any other interview. Read up on popular interview techniques such as the STAR method to help you formulate your answers. Look at the job description and find examples of your work that will demonstrate each of the core competencies. You should have notes in your interview, but not so many that you appear to be reading from a script. Keep it natural and use your notes as a cue.

Be prepared for delays

Video calling is a flawed technology. Be prepared for delays, interrupted audio and glitchy images. Remain professional throughout and stay calm if things aren’t going right. If you can’t hear something, simply ask them to repeat it. If you still can’t hear, ask if you can wait a moment while the line clears up. Another helpful tip is to leave a little more time than you think before you start talking. Remember there is a delay, so you could end up talking over them if you try to jump in at every silence. 

Be careful of non-verbal communication

A nod might not be picked up over video call, so always use verbal communication to answer questions. Many video conference platforms will also have a feature that will adjust the volume of the participants based on who is making the most noise. So if you chime in with a “yeh”, “uh-huh”, “absolutely” after everything that is said, you will find it nearly impossible to hear what is being said. So in this way, non-verbal communication can be helpful to prevent the video call quality suffering.

Prepare questions

Prepare questions

As with any interview, you should be given the opportunity to ask questions at the end. Preparing more questions than you need will help you out if some of the questions are answered during the interview. Remember that an interview is a two-way street, and you should aim to find out as much about the company and the role as possible. They might decide you’re a great fit for the role, but you might decide that the opportunity isn’t right for you. 

Be empathetic

A cavalier attitude towards the pandemic and current working conditions could go down like a lead balloon if you happen to be talking to someone who has been directly impacted by Covid-19. Be empathetic towards the situation and take a genuine interest in their wellbeing. You can expect that every online interview in 2020 will start with a breakdown of how everyone has been coping. Everyone has been impacted by this virus, and some have had to bear the brunt worse than others. Show your empathetic and caring side by enquiring about their wellbeing and find out how others in the company are coping.

Ask how the company is coping

It’s not unreasonable to want to know how the company has fared during the pandemic. With a recession on the horizon, it’s normal to question if the company is in a good position before you accept a role with them – particularly if you would be leaving an existing role for this. Be professional and courteous, but don’t dance around the topic. You’re not asking to see the financial records, but you do need to know if you’re joining a sinking ship.

social distancing plans

Ask about future social distancing plans

If they aren’t conducting interviews on-site yet, does this mean that your role could start as a remote role? Find out if and when this is expected to change and how the company plans to handle the transition. Show that you are keen to get back into an office, but only if this can be achieved safely. There are some perks to working from home, so you might also wonder if some of these benefits will carry over into a post-COVID world. 

Be aware of your mental state

The pandemic has affected us all in different ways. Being isolated and away from our usual work environment and our family can make small life events seem a lot more stressful. Take note of your mental state and take the steps you need to address your wellbeing. If you’re isolating alone, make sure you have someone you can call after the interview to debrief and put it all in perspective. If you are struggling and need to reschedule, try to give as much notice as possible. 

Still follow up

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t met them in person, you should still follow up as you would with any other interview. A follow-up email shows that you are still keen on the opportunity and that you are professional and courteous. If you are applying for a role that is client or public-facing, this extra level of courteousness could be just what the company is looking for. It might seem old fashioned, but it is still good business practice to follow up after a job interview.

Visit the premises before you accept an offer

If you are selected for the role, ask if you can visit the premises before making a final decision. Some companies look excellent online, but they are operating out of a dingy warehouse with a shipping container for an office. If you’re happy with this setup, great, but make sure that you are aware of what you are getting into before accepting a job.

As a leading engineering & technical recruiters, we’ve helped candidates navigate many different types of interviews – including online interviews. If you’re nervous about the process or simply want more advice about how to present yourself in an online interview, get in touch today. We can guide you through the process and give you the confidence you need to succeed

Nolan Recruitment is a Specialist Engineering Recruitment Agency. One of the UK's best Engineering & Technical Recruiter

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