Virtual Interviews: The Final Frontier

By Brian Sullivan


As children of the 1980s, my brother and I watched our fair share of Transformers, ThunderCats, and other Saturday morning cartoons filled with futuristic and fantastical technologies. We were also introduced to the voyages of the Starship Enterprise by our dad through the Gene Roddenberry original Star Trek series. The world of Captain James T. Kirk and his brave crew was one filled with all the wonders of science fiction possibility: lifeforms on other planets, warp drive travel, and being able to communicate in real-time with others through a video monitor. The future would be bursting with amazing technology!


While we can’t yet ask our own Scotty to beam us up, or fire photon torpedoes to clear traffic from our daily commutes, the invention of the internet has opened a world of possibilities, including the development of virtual web conferencing and videotelephony. The technology has been around for the better part of a decade now, but it was never used in an interview setting, at least not to any large degree. With the changes that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic, employers got creative with recruiting and began utilizing services like Zoom, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams to conduct interviews from a distance.


Nowadays, it’s safe to assume most people have used one of these platforms (or one of their competitors) to connect with friends and family during the pandemic, but the software’s application (pun intended) within the applicant selection process may be a new frontier for many. In this edition of R&W Group blog, we hope to establish some best practices to nail any type of online interview that might be asked of you. Let’s get started!



How Should I Prepare for a Virtual Interview?


Before I started with R&W Group in early 2019, I had been through a few job searches over an 8-year period, and had only ever done one (1) virtual interview. In my first year here, I prepared dozens of candidates for interviews, and only three or four (3-4) of them were conducted virtually. All of that changed in mid-2020, as a global pandemic raged on, well-past the initial predictions of a few weeks, with no sign of reprieve in sight. Many employers needed to start up hiring processes again, but in a way that was safe for them, their current employees, and those interviewing to join the team. Presently, the overwhelming majority of our clients schedule virtual interviews. So how do our candidates prepare for them?


The first thing to be aware of, while you might do virtual game nights or happy hours using one of these programs, a virtual interview is not a casual ordeal. It’s nothing that you need to be stressed about, but you should prepare for it just like you would for an in-person interview. While mapping your commuting route or figuring out parking isn’t necessarily applicable, being sure you have the appropriate links and login information for the meeting is important. You will also want to “arrive” 5-10 minutes early so you can resolve any last-minute technical glitches that might arise (more on the tech aspects in a bit).


Just as with an in-person interview, you will also want to dress professionally, be well-groomed, research the company and the role ahead of time, bring a notepad to jot down important details, and prepare some questions for your interviewer ahead of time. While a candidate can benefit from many aspects of a virtual interview (such as being able to choose an ideal interview location, not have to commute to an office, and not have to block out as much time from their schedule) getting too comfortable is always a possibility you’ll want to avoid.


Where Should I Do My Virtual Interview?


We’ve established that a virtual interview is just as serious as an in-person interview, and should be prepared for as such. Now, it’s time to pick the right place for the interview to occur. A candidate can find success from their living room, a quiet picnic table in the park, or even the front seat of their car (provided it is parked during the interview), but there are some critical elements to consider.


First, a virtual interview is similar to a phone interview, so background noise should be minimal. Most employers are pretty understanding of a dog that barks once or twice, or a child audibly laughing from the next room for a few seconds, as many have been working from home for months with similar distractions. However, they will be less impressed if you conduct your interview from a dog kennel or at a daycare facility with constant noise. This can also be distracting for you but, for the interviewer, in addition to disruptive, it can also be seen as disorganized, unprofessional, or even disrespectful of their time. Other common offenders for a noisy interview are heavy traffic, nearby construction, a television set/ radio, a cellphone vibrating or ringing like crazy on the desk next to you, or a partner/roommate completing chores like vacuuming or unloading a dishwasher. Find a place that is quiet so you can hear your interviewer, they can hear you, and they will feel you are genuinely invested in this meeting and their company.


Virtual interviews have many unique elements too. You’ll see one another like you would in person, but you’ll select your own interview space like a phone interview. The unusual intersection of these two aspects can create some unexpected unforced errors. Finding a setting with limited visual distractions (especially going on in the background where your interviewer can see) is just as important as minimizing auditory distractions. Many of the loud situations we discussed also have a visual component, like seeing bright yellow construction vehicles driving around outside your window, the changing colors of a TV show in the next room, or your roommate’s face from over your shoulder as s/he reorganizes the fridge in the kitchen behind you. Other visual distractions could also include very vibrant artwork (especially if it has less-professional images or language on it), flickering lights, or a very messy room. In particular, that last one might give your interviewer the wrong idea about you and your organizational capabilities. The best setting for your online interview is one that is quiet, and where the background behind you is either a plain wall, or a something neutral like a houseplant or bookshelf.


You Said There Was More Regarding Technology... How So?


By their nature, virtual interviews rely heavily on technology. Because of this, you’ll want to ensure your situation is optimal. For example, don’t choose a setting with a weak WiFi connection; find a location with good internet connectivity. You will also want to be sure your device is updated well in advance of your interview, as sometimes computers choose to update on their own, and it’s never at an ideal time. A fully-charged device would seem like common sense, but those simple things are often the ones we overlook when preparing for an interview. Along the lines of visual and auditory distractions, close any unnecessary browser windows as a way to keep yourself more engaged. Logging in early will give you time to troubleshoot and resolve any technical issues that might otherwise negatively impact your virtual interview, giving you a chance to fix them without your interviewer knowing a problem ever occurred.


While you have options for where to have your virtual interview, when you start considering someplace quiet, visually neutral, and with good internet signal, you’ll quickly see that some locations just make more sense than others.


Any Other Tips to Help Me Be Successful on a Virtual Interview?


Yes! Once you have the most critical aspects of your interview worked out, the next thing to consider is lighting. Lighting is rarely ever the reason a virtual interview goes poorly, but finding good lighting always helps to enhance the experience. Too little lighting, and your face will be hard to see on camera, appearing as a shadowy entity. Too much lighting, and you will also be hard to see, but mostly because of the glare. Finding the Goldilocks just right amount of light will help you look your best, feel your best, and will convey the attention you put into selecting a terrific interview location.


On the topic of looking your best, there are some easy things to do to help with that. Wiping off the lens of your camera can help clear the image. It also helps with lighting, because most webcams have lighting receptors, and fingerprint smudges or dust can interfere with collecting an accurate reading, making the room appear darker or brighter than it actually is. Looking at your webcam will also mimic eye contact. Most of us will look at our screens, either to look at our own image to make sure our hair looks good, or at the interviewer’s image because that feels normal. However, by looking at the camera, it will appear as those you’re looking right at the interviewer.


Good posture projects confidence, and one way to force yourself to do that in a virtual interview is to place large textbooks, cookbooks, reams of copy paper, or phonebooks (child of the 1980s, remember?) under your laptop, raising its height and forcing you to look slightly up at your webcam, instead of leaning forward when it’s table-height, giving you both the slouch as well as the dreaded webcam double-chin. This can obviously be overdone if you’re feeling strain in your neck, but an extra 8-12 inches of laptop height usually does the trick for most people.


Lastly, if you take the time to prepare like you would for an in-person interview, you will likely do very well for your virtual ones too. In past posts, we’ve discussed how to answer the Tell Me About Yourself interview question, as well as discussing pandemic-related employment gaps in an interview. We will also be covering many more interview-related topics in the future, and you won’t want to miss out of those. If we can help with any of your job search or interview preparation needs, please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@r-wgroup.com. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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