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Online Interviews

This lesson is a part of an audio course Interview Skills by Ross Maynard

As I record this course, the Coronavirus pandemic seems to be resurgent. In the area of Scotland where I live, we have another lockdown – though not as tight as the first. All my work for the last six months has been online. Most interviews are likely to be online too for some time to come.

So we need to talk about online interviews. They are a different beast to face to face interviews. Online interviews are easier in some ways – you avoid the stress of travel and can take the interview in a familiar environment – but harder in other ways – it is more difficult to build a connection with the interviewers, and there is the risk of interruptions.

Let's cover the basics first!

The Technology of the Online Interview

My first piece of advice is to never ever do an interview on your phone. It might be just about acceptable if you are a student applying for casual work stacking shelves, but it is not going to give a good impression if you are going for a serious job.

Use a laptop, or desktop computer, or, possibly, a tablet with a stand that will hold it steady.

Also, check the quality of the webcam on your computer. Unless you have a very high-spec computer, the chances are that the inbuilt webcam is not that great quality. You can buy a 1080p HD webcam for twenty to thirty pounds here in the UK. If you are serious about the job, its worth the investment. I'd advise you to consider a headset or decent quality external microphone too.

Next, you want to prepare a comfortable sitting position where your wifi signal is strongest. In fact, if you have any doubts about the strength of your wifi, buy an ethernet cable and connect your computer directly into your broadband router. That will give you a much stronger connection.

You also need to be aware of other people in the house. If you have kids, pets, or housemates, then they need to be kept out of the way for the duration of the interview. Your dog going off on a bark-fest, or your kids screaming and chasing each other around the house is not going to help your professional poise during the interview.

I actually have a 10-meter high-quality ethernet cable so that I can take important online calls and meetings in the spare bedroom upstairs out of the way with the door firmly shut. If you live in a busy house, you might want to consider that option.

Your interview is likely to take place on one of the many software programmes designed for meetings – Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoTo Meeting, WebEx, Google Meet, maybe Skype. Find out what software they are going to use ahead of the interview (they will likely send you a link) and, if you are not familiar with it, see if you can try it out beforehand. You need to be familiar with what you have to do to get online and in the meeting. Watch videos about the programme on YouTube. See if you can set up a short practice meeting using the software with a friend or family member, or sign up for a free webinar that is using that programme as its platform.

You might also consider borrowing or buying a second monitor for your computer. That way, you can display your interview skills balance sheet and any other notes – for example, brief case studies of projects you have worked on – on the second screen while you are taking the interview. Try not to be obviously reading off another screen during the interview, though.

Plan your technology out well ahead of the interview and test it in advance. Now you are ready for the interview itself.

The Interview

There are two main difficulties with an online interview:

  1. There might be connection or technical difficulties that interrupt the interview. These can be caused by poor connection, by the software freezing, or other technical issues. As I said before, make sure you have the strongest connection possible, but there is not much you can do if other technical problems arise. Just don't panic and try to get it stabilised as quickly as possible. If necessary, tell the interviewers that you are going to log out and log back in again. It is perfectly possible that the technical problems arise at the interviewers' end, in which case be patient and let them sort it out. If you are familiar with the software or have strong IT skills, you might actually be able to gain credibility by advising the interviewers how to resolve it.

  2. It's harder to establish rapport with your audience in an online setting. People often accidently talk over each other, causing confusion and distortion on the line can mean you don't hear what is said. My advice is to go more slowly than you would in a face-to-face setting and actively check for understanding more.

Let's talk about the interview now.

You should log into the interview session at least five minutes before it is due to start. In fact, start the log in process 10 minutes ahead of the interview – there will likely be various screens to go through. Once you are in the virtual meeting space, switch your camera on and wait patiently for the others to arrive. Appear calm and relaxed and wait patiently for the others. Don't get distracted because you don't want your interviewers to appear on screen the moment you are reapplying your make-up or squeezing a spot.

You should still dress smartly though you can probably be more relaxed about your clothes than you would for a face-to-face interview – they'll only see your face and upper body. I'd advise a shirt and tie for men – but no jacket – and a good blouse or dress for women.

As the interview starts, you'll be faced with several faces on the screen in front of you. Take things more slowly than you would in a face to face situation. Keep a pad by your side – out of sight – and note down the names of the people you are meeting. Address them each individually and make sure they can hear you clearly.

There's likely to be a bit more small talk at the start as everyone checks that their connection is stable and the audio quality good. Be patient and take your time. The discussion is likely to be more stilted than it would be face to face as you all need to take care to avoid talking over each other. If it happens, politely ask for the point to be repeated.

You'll soon get into the swing of things, and the interview will progress. Take it a bit more slowly than you might otherwise and actively check that the participants have understood what you said. With less visual cues that you would get in a face to face meeting, you need to actively check understanding more. I would also suggest that you nod more vigorously than usual to show that you have heard, or agree with a comment. You also speak more slowly and distinctly than you might if meeting face to face.

Building rapport is more difficult in an online setting, but it is possible. You should still make eye contact with each participant in turn and address your reply directly to the person asking the question. Then check in with the others to see if they want more information. Smile frequently and appear as actively engaged as you can.

The online interview is unlikely to last more than an hour and will largely follow a similar format to a face to face interview. We'll come onto the two types of interview questions in the next lesson. Make sure you have prepped a couple of questions to ask the interviewers at the end, and, before you sign out, make that brief closing statement that shows you are very interested in the role.

You should prepare for an online interview in the same way as you would prepare for the face to face interview. An online interview can be less stressful than the face to face version because you get to stay in familiar surroundings. However, you need to make sure that you have good equipment and your connection is strong. You also need to ensure that you are not interrupted or disturbed.

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In the next lesson, we'll discuss the two main types of interview questions.

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Written by

Ross Maynard