How to prepare for an online interview
Never mind the interview questions, there’s a whole assault course of practicalities to think of if you’re being interviewed remotely!
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation!
But don’t fear, a little preparation can go a long way and in lots of ways, an online interview can be easier than a real-life meeting….
So, we’re relying on technology to meet up and we’ve all got used to it with family Zoom meetings, Microsoft teams for home schooling and WhatsApp drinks with friends, but don’t be too blasé about “hopping on” to an online interview. This time it’s different… like it or not, you are being judged, and often not on your capabilities.
Create an Impression
So, let’s have a look at the impression you’re creating.
What impression will the interviewer(s) have when they log on? We’ll accept the fact that there will be a few seconds while audio kicks in and people settle in. What are they looking at? What are they hearing? Here’s a few things to consider.
Where is your monitor located? What is the background?
It is neutral or “busy”? Is it messy or neat? Does it create an impression? Be very aware of this. Sit in front of a plain wall if possible and be wary of what’s behind you. If your monitor is facing into the room, be aware of a messy kitchen, unmade bed, or anything at all that will distract the viewer and give an impression of you. If it’s a wall behind you, is there artwork on it, a family photo, a religious image, or even a mirror? I was on a webinar lately and the speaker had a very plain background, but even so, I could see something floral and I was distracted wondering if it was a trendy lampshade or a fancy storage box! Maybe that’s just me!
To green screen or not to green screen? Or choose a background picture or not?
My advice – not! Yes, the Golden Gate bridge may look nicer than the magnolia wall in your spare bedroom, but in an interview? I’d choose magnolia every time. Plus, it can go badly wrong, If you’re wearing green, you’ll be a floating head!
Show yourself in the best light possible (literally!)
Natural light is good. Where I have my laptop, I am facing a window, so the light is normally good, but depending on the time of day, the background can be dark, so I usually put the light on too. Not such an issue at this time of year, but when it gets dark earlier, be conscious of fading light in the evening. You may start out with great light at 4pm, but if the interview runs to 5pm, you could then find yourself in darkness! I fell foul of this a few months ago when recording a video. You could see it was much darker by the end!
Presenting yourself. What do you wear for an online interview?
My general advice is to prepare for an online interview in much the same way as you prepare for a face to face one…including your appearance. Your attire will say something about you and what you wear will depend on the industry you’re in and the job you are going for. So neat, clean and smart and (do I even have to say this??) fully dressed! For ladies, go easy on the accessories and make-up, and for gents, clean shaven (if you aren’t a beard-wearer!) and neat hair. In some circumstances it’s fine to be a bit more individual and show your creative flair. And another question… to suit or not to suit?? Guys, would you wear a shirt and tie and ladies a jacket?? Very, very generally speaking at this time where a lot of people are at home, and when the sun is shining, it may not be strictly necessary to “suit up” and I don’t think people would expect it, but if you are interviewing in a more traditional, conservative industry or at high executive level (law for instance, or C-suite executive) you may feel it is appropriate to get out the business suit. If in doubt, better too formal than too casual.
Do a dry run
If the interview is over a platform that you haven’t used before (or even if it’s not) do a dry run with a friend to make sure you know what to do. It also helps you see what’s in your frame and prepare the setting. Mute until you’re sure you are ready, but don’t forget to unmute. I was on a webinar recently where they had some technical issues getting started. Unfortunately, it took 20 minutes to resolve, meanwhile about 200 people were waiting. We were treated to a lot of background noise, huffing and puffing and a choice expletive!! Not a great impression!
Look yourself in the eye
Seeing yourself on screen, whilst some people hate it, is actually one of the advantages of an online interview. It will keep you aware of your mannerisms and facial expressions. Remember to smile and stop scratching your nose! In face to face interviews we don’t have this insight and you could be doing things that you are not even aware of. An old boss of mine used to tell me that I always played with my necklace when I was concentrating on something and I wasn’t even aware of this habit. You may need to place your monitor at a higher level (e.g. on a stack of books) to get a good angle. Try not to look down on the screen (hello double chin!). Have the camera at eye level for the most flattering angle.
Prompts and notes
Another tip, and an advantage of online interviews, is that you can have notes or post-its around to remind you of things to do/say. Obviously, I don’t recommend reading off a script, but a couple of post-its can help. Stick one to your monitor to say “Smile” or “STAR” to remind you to use the “star” technique when answering questions to ensure that you don’t go off on an irrelevant story that doesn’t answer the question. Or maybe a reminder of a question you wanted to ask.
Control your environment
Make sure you’re in a quiet room, with the door closed and turn all other devices off or mute them. Yes, even the dishwasher or everyone will be distracted wondering where that beeping is coming from. Make sure that children and pets are looked after and if needs be, put a sign on the door telling people to keep it quiet. There are some things that you won’t be able to control like your neighbour deciding that’s the moment to cut the lawn, or the magpie squawking in the back garden (which did happen to me when I was recording a video and I had to abandon the project!) so it might be an idea to close the windows for the duration (unless you’re melting!)
Cover all eventualities
Have a glass of water and a tissue nearby (just in case!) If you’re very nervous or prone to being clumsy, have your water in a lidded cup in case you spill.
Charge up and back up
And make sure your devices are fully charged or connected to a power source and that you have a telephone number so you can make contact with someone if the worst happens and your internet or your technology crashes. If you’re on a laptop, make sure your phone is charged too in case the online call crashes and they want to move to telephone.
Relax! It's your time to shine!
Remember that there are a whole lot of stressful interview issues that you don’t have to navigate in an online interview that you might in a face-to-face interview.
You don’t have to worry about getting there, finding the venue or the bus not turning up on time.
You don’t have to worry about getting caught in the rain and arriving bedraggled.
You don’t have to worry (as much) about your appearance. I once had to buy a clothes brush on the way to an interview as my coat decided to deposit fluff all over my suit!
You don’t have to worry about forgetting something as you can leave prompts for yourself.
You don’t have to worry about where to put your handbag or tripping up on the way in. I had bought new high-heeled shoes once for an interview and had to be very careful of my step!
And the nightmare of many the interviewer – you don’t have to worry about the clammy handshake!
So, relax and enjoy the interview – you’ve got this!