Online job interviews are here to stay and, like other virtual meetings, we embrace them or we risk missing out. Even before coronavirus, employers were experimenting with various recruitment methods and interview formats, to find the most cost-efficient and the fairest procedure for assessing who would thrive in and bring value to the organisation.
While of course there are disadvantages to being interviewed online, there are also many benefits for canny candidates to reap.
Practical preparation for an online job interview
Find out as much as you can about what to expect. Making sure you’ve got all the information you need to give a good interview is as much in the interviewers’ interest as it is in yours, so don’t be afraid to ask. What platform do they use? How many people will be interviewing you? How long will the interview last? Is there anything specific you need to prepare? The more you know in advance, the more in control you will be.
Cyberspace is neutral territory. The downside to this is you don’t get the opportunity to experience what the company feels like (so you need to ask more questions – see below) but the significant upside is you can explore in advance at your leisure, so that on the day you feel at home there.
If you’re going to be interviewed via Zoom, for example, and you’re not familiar with it, download the free version and practise with your friends. Check all your equipment is up to scratch, particularly the audio. Don’t let an interviewer have to strain to hear you!
Once you’re comfortable with the video software your prospective employer uses, work out a back-up plan, such as another device or resorting to WhatsApp, or even the telephone. This way, if the technology fails and your interview flounders, you can be pro-active in restoring communication.
Other factors to consider when preparing for an online interview include your environment (lighting, background, camera angle), what you’re going to wear and eliminating distractions (both external and within your computer).
Prepare and rehearse your answers
As with an in-person job interview, practice and rehearsal make all the difference. Even if you don’t know exactly what you’re going to be asked, you can make an educated guess as to broadly what questions will come up.
Put yourself in the interviewer’s position. Given what the job entails, what do they need to know about you to help them decide you’re the best candidate? Find examples and anecdotes to back up and illustrate what you’re saying: the most effective answers are ones that show, rather than just tell.
The crucial element here is that you’re not going to be writing an exam, you’re going to be talking to someone. If you spend the interview spouting buzzwords, you will not make the impression you’re hoping to. Equally, if you sound as if you’re reciting scripted answers, you risk the interviewer losing concentration. Don’t get hung up on trying to work out the ‘right’ answers; instead, focus on demonstrating your strengths. Let your energy, enthusiasm and personality shine through in your voice, your face, posture and demeanour. Convey your value.
One advantage of being interviewed online is that you can have notes out of sight of the camera – bullet points, pictures or whatever works for you, to remind you of points you want to be sure to get in.
Prepare your questions too
It’s always a good idea to research the company you’re applying to work for, so you can ask questions that show you’re aware of its specific objectives, its corporate views, the specific challenges it’s facing.
Beyond that, if you’re being interviewed online and thus not gaining the insight that a visit to the organisation’s premises would give you, you may want to ask about the culture. An interview is a two-way street and it’s important you find out enough to gauge whether you’d be happy working for this company.
Psychological preparation for an online job interview
If you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming job interview, the first thing to do is to settle down to some serious practical preparation. The more you know about the company and what to expect at the interview, and the more clearly you’ve thought out possible questions and how you’re going to answer them, the more in control of the situation you’ll be and therefore the calmer you’ll feel.
Alongside the practical preparation, it’s useful to start getting into a positive frame of mind, long before the day of the interview.
Focus on the value you’ll be bringing to this job. This isn’t the time for false modesty: if you don’t demonstrate you can perform in the role, you can’t expect the interviewer to divine it. Of course, this isn’t the time for boasting either, so work out how you can strike the right notes. Tuning into the right level of confidence and self-belief will help you do that.
At the interview, you need to present yourself as a safe pair of hands, someone who copes with adversity and maintains clear thinking and good humour. The potential social awkwardness of an online encounter, with video glitches, delays on the audio and who knows what interruptions and distractions, offers plenty of scope for showing grace under fire.
Be positive throughout the interview process. In daily life, a lot of people bond through a game of Ain’t It Awful?, but this doesn’t work at an interview. In a virtual interview, there’s usually less smalltalk than there is face to face anyway, but remember to focus on solutions and to keep looking on the bright side.
After the interview, however you feel it went, emailing to thank the interviewer(s) is polite and smooth. Stay positive! No apologies, only grounded enthusiasm. This is an opportunity to stand out from other candidates, so use it wisely. Keep your message brief but make it sincere and authentic. If the interviewer senses you’ve copied a template, your email is worse than useless.
If you don’t get the job, reflect on the interview process and be honest with yourself about whether you could do it better next time – be clearer, more positive, more confident.
Be philosophical and don’t take rejections personally. So much goes on behind the scenes and often jobs are filled in ways that have little to do with candidates’ abilities or how they present themselves at an interview. Where it is based on interview performance, in the vast majority of cases, particularly online, the problem is not that the candidate couldn’t do the job, it’s that the candidate failed to demonstrate that he/she could do the job.
If you can learn from the experience, do. However, just because they don’t offer you the job, it doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong. If you’re not well suited to the role and the company culture, it’s much better you don’t end up working there. This is a lucky escape!
Stay positive and move on. Hone your online job interview technique so you’re ready when the right job for you comes up.