Savvy Prep for the New Normal: Online Job Interviews

Typing on Computer

The brand name Zoom permeated the culture as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down businesses and provoked social isolation. Despite having become an instant buzzword, the Zoom videoconferencing software is just one of many platforms that have come into routine use for job-interviewing, especially since COVID-19’s arrival. It’s not unreasonable to speculate that the use of online, videoconference interviews will remain greater after the pandemic than it was before. Here’s how smart prospective interviewees can optimally prepare for success in online interviews.

  • Verify interview details.

Check the information you received from the employer to make sure you know what platform will be used for the interview, how to access the platform, who is expected to initiate the videoconference and whether video will be used as opposed to just audio (I once experienced a videoconference interview in which I was on video, but the interviewers were not). If you find any gaps in this information, contact the company to ask. You may also want to ask what to do if your connection is lost during the interview or another tech glitch occurs.

  • Conduct all the same interview prep you would for a face-to-face interview.

You might have reasoned that you don’t need much prep because you could have notes handy in a virtual interview. Resist that temptation. Notes are risky, as discussed later in this article. You will still need to research the company, the role and the hiring manager (if possible). You’ll still want to practice answering frequently asked interview questions. You’ll still want to compile accomplishment stories that illustrate skills, strengths, and results.

  • Prepare and test your technology.
    • Ensure your computer or other device (preferably no smaller than a tablet) meets the technical requirements for the software you’ll be using. Download the software in advance of the interview.
    • Test your microphone and speakers. Check volume settings.
    • If any devices in your set-up need batteries charged, be sure you do that before the interview.
    • Make sure your Internet connection is up to the task, and have a backup plan if not, such as using your phone’s hotspot.
    • Decide whether you will use headphones. Many experts advise them, including Leslie Zaikas, who points out, “An echo ruins a video chat, fast. And lags in connection and internet blips can easily create an echo, delay, or other sound disruption that can be lessened with headphones.” Headphones also block out any other background noise that might creep into your interview.
    • Many computers and virtually all handheld devices have built-in cameras, but if you are using an external webcam, Pamela Skillings advises the webcam be at least 2 feet from the background behind you.
  • Create a professional environment.
    • Consider what kind of background you want behind you, but keep it as simple as possible. A plain, blank wall is fine and won’t be distracting to the interviewer. Note that Zoom offers an option to create a virtual background; if you use one, make it simple and professional.
    • Prepare your lighting. Skillings suggests light sources on either side of your desk at the height of your camera.
    • Know how your environment looks on camera and eliminate anything that looks busy or cluttered.
  • Consider a “dry run” mock interview.

Asking a friend or family member to conduct a mock online interview with you will enable you to test your equipment, see how you look and sound on camera, get a reality check about your body language and practice answering interview questions.

  • Interview day: Prep yourself and your tools.
    • Turn off any notifications that are likely to make a sound during the interview. Close browser tabs and apps so you won’t be distracted.
    • Ensure you’ve done as much as possible to prevent interruptions. Wrangle the kids and pets to keep them from barging in.
    • Have a copy of your resume in front of you, as you may be asked questions that spring from it.
    • About notes: It’s OK to have a few notes handy to jog your memory of important points you want to make to sell yourself. But keep them very bare bones, perhaps a couple of index cards with a few bullet points on them. If you have lots of notes in front of you, you run the risk of finding yourself shuffling through them to locate what you want. You will also be tempted to read from your notes, which will look and sound like … reading from your notes, which is not what you want the interviewer to see and hear. On the flip side, do be prepared to take notes with paper and a writing utensil.
    • Don’t memorize responses to interview questions either. If you have thoroughly thought about and practiced question responses, you’ll be poised to answer without notes or memorization. My own research suggests composing written responses helps cement them in your head, but don’t have those written responses in front of you for the interview.
    • Be ready for the unexpected. One aspect of videoconferencing that unnerves participants is lag time between speaking and being heard, especially when huge numbers of people are using the platform at the same time, as during the pandemic. Don’t let it rattle you; be patient and roll with it. You may also have interruptions even if your taken precautions against them. You may lose connection or have other tech trouble.Have a Plan B for these contingencies. One unexpected issue that could occur is “Zoom-bombing,” hackers entering a Zoom meeting and making obscene or racist comments. You won’t be able to fix this issue on your end, but try not to let it derail the interview if it should happen.
  • Prepare your appearance, using suggestions from our companion article, How to Look, Sound, and Behave in an Online Interview.
  • Rather than cramming for the interview as the appointment approaches, spend the time psyching yourself up and visualizing your success. Relax and breathe deeply to calm nerves.

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