Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced us into social isolation, online job interviewing was a rising trend. It’s also one that presents a different set of challenges than talking in person — especially if you have not previously met your interviewers.
From surprise technical difficulties and fewer nonverbal communication cues to — in the worst-case scenario — Zoom bombing, a handful of problems can arise when you sit down for a virtual interview.
Below, we’ve rounded up eight online job interview tips to make sure your video conference goes as smoothly and effectively as possible — all of which stem from decision-makers on the other side of the desk.
Landing the Interview
First, of course, you have to get the interview, which means shaping up your résumé.
“The accuracy of your résumé is absolutely critical,” said Carlos Adame, adjunct professor in the online Master of Science in Human Resource Management program at USC Bovard College.
“Just tell the truth. If you’re not qualified, don’t try to pretend that you are. Be honest and transparent,” added Adame, who serves as chief human resources officer for Providence, a leading health care provider. Seasoned recruiters appreciate honesty and transparency and can easily spot inauthenticity.
Most of the time, your résumé will be a prospective employer’s first impression of you, so make it a good one.
“Typos are a definite no-no,” Adame said. “Use spellcheck, but also have someone else take a look.”
Even one typo or grammatical error can get you disqualified for a lack of attention to detail.
Getting an objective eye is important because, after spending so much time writing and revising, “you just can’t see things after a while. So get a friend, colleague or even a professional résumé writer to help hone it down and check language choices and formatting,” he noted.
Setting the Scene
No matter how much technology advances, some things never change.
For example, even though you do not have to travel to your interviewer’s office, you should still be a few minutes early, said Roberto Blain, a Bovard College professor who is also CEO and co-founder of Cerulean Leadership.
“Being late to an interview is the kiss of death,” he said. “Recruiters feel that if you can’t even be on time for something as important as an interview, where you are trying to make your best impression, you may not be relied upon to be on time once you’re hired.”
He suggests downloading Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams or whatever app the company uses and testing it in advance, especially if you’re not used to the program. And make sure whatever device you’re using is fully charged or plugged in.
Dress as professionally as you would for an in-person interview — while knowing that different industries expect different styles of attire.
“If you come to an interview with a cool startup in a three-piece suit, they’ll show you the figurative door,” added Blain, whose company specializes in strategic planning, organizational culture change, leadership development and talent management.
Body language is just as important during an online job interview as it is in person. So sit up straight and look into the camera as much as possible.
“I realize that’s hard to do because you want to look at the screen to see the interviewers’ body language,” Blaine admitted. “But keep making eye contact with them because it’s distracting to talk to someone who’s looking away.”
You should also pay attention to your own nonverbal cues.
“A smile is infectious and contagious,” said Eryn Mack, who, in addition to teaching at Bovard College, directs Culture and Organizational Effectiveness for the investment firm TruAmerica Multifamily.
A number of cutting-edge companies are already using artificial intelligence in their selection interviews that scan interviewees’ faces for cues including facial expression and eye contact, which may point to biases and other predictors, Blain noted, citing a recent story in New Statesman Tech.
“While still controversial, it is likely that facial recognition algorithms will increasingly play a role in organizational selection processes, so it’s important to smile and look directly into the camera to the best of your ability,” Blain added.
Since you won’t be interviewing in an office — not counting the one you may have in your home — make sure your setting is as tidy, well-lit and quiet as possible. Silence your phone and turn off your computer’s notifications.
Of course, real life can intrude in the form of chatty children, barking dogs or outside mowers. If that’s the case, you may want to ask a friend or family member to babysit — or pet sit.
“Don’t panic if your pet or child walks in,” said Jamie Latiano Jacobs, Bovard College faculty member and co-founder of the firms High Performanceology and GigTalent, as well as a former president of the National Human Resources Association. “People understand.”
You should also mute your audio when the interviewers are talking to keep them from being distracted — and to keep your focus on what they are saying.
As the interviewers may be working from home as well, you might see an errant cat pop up or hear a gardener’s leaf blower from their end. Again, that’s just real life interrupting, so don’t let it fluster you.
You can also use nonverbal ways to subtly let interviewers know about your personality and interests. For example, Zoom, Teams and other corners of the online world enable you to create custom background effects.
“But don’t use anything too exotic,” Blain cautioned. “That serene background in Bali may have recruiters feeling that you have vacations in mind over hard work. A more appropriate background would be a professional office setting with a bookshelf behind you.”
Mack agrees: “Be mindful of your background,” she said. “Try to avoid anything that might distract the interviewer from understanding what you have to offer.”
Keep their attention on you — and your focus on winning that job.
“My number one tip for an interview is to answer the question,” Adame said. “That may seem basic, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a very simple question and gotten a long, rambling response that didn’t even answer it.”
He emphasizes that there’s nothing wrong with occasionally asking the interviewer if the question was answered satisfactorily: “Don’t overdo it, but ask, ‘Did that answer your question?’ or ‘Is there anything I can clarify?’ if you’re not sure.”
You should also be succinct yet throughout, according to Adame. That is, once you’ve answered the question, stop and let the conversation proceed.
“There’s nothing worse than the person who keeps talking and talking,” he said.
On the other hand, don’t remain silent if the interviewer uses the common practice of a “pregnant pause.”
“This means they are waiting for you to fill in the blanks,” Blain explained. “Don’t let the pregnant pause turn into uncomfortable silence. While recruiters want to drive the interview, they also want to know that an interviewee can tell their story efficiently, effectively and concisely without constant prompts.”
Doing your homework about the organization is vital not just to impress potential employers, but also to let them know you actually want the position.
“Getting as much information as you can shows interest and that you have the initiative to be a successful employee in a virtual environment,” Jacobs advised.
Look at the company’s website and get familiar with its mission, vision and values, products and services, and leadership team. Learning about company strategy can earn you bonus points, so find a way to weave that knowledge into the conversation. Most importantly, make the connection between your own personal mission and vision with the organizational mission and vision.
Otherwise, your impression may be less positive.
“It can be really off-putting if someone has not done their due diligence,” Mack noted. “Too many people say, ‘I just want to get this job’ versus ‘I want to be part of this team.’ So making it known that you’ve researched the company shows a level of commitment.”
Adame suggests asking about team resources, company culture and what the interviewers like most about working there.
You should not, however, ask about salary or benefits too early on. Instead, keep questions and comments focused on your interest in the company and what you feel you can accomplish for them.
In the wake of COVID-19, Adame recommends candidates should definitely ask what the work arrangements are and whether the position is fully remote or a flexible work from home role.
Finally, be prepared for the dreaded catch-22 question: “What are your weaknesses?” It is important to be ready for that question because it is so often asked. Many interviewees stumble here, giving the impression that they do not know their development areas or are not self-reflective.
“You have to give them something,” Blain said. “So be prepared to say something that puts you in as positive a light as possible. The answer to that question often makes or breaks an interview. You may want to consult a seasoned recruiter on this one, as they are quite familiar with all the pat answers and non-answers that will not serve you well.”
Even in the virtual realm, courtesy remains important, so thank the interviewers for their time and follow up with an appreciative note that reaffirms your interest and motivation.
While emailing or instant messaging might be fine, Adame encourages candidates not to overlook the power of an old-fashioned letter.
“I actually got a handwritten note the other day, and it just blew my mind,” he said.
Learn more about the online MS in Human Resource Management program at USC Bovard College today.