Virtual or online interviews can be intimidating, especially for those who are camera shy. And they require more effort than a phone or an in-person interview. Job seekers have to think about camera angles, lighting, and pay closer attention to their clothes. They have to master new software and overcome the snafus technology can bring, and they are bringing potential managers and coworkers into their homes upon first meeting.
There are three types of video interviews: one-way self-recorded interviews, one-way recorded interviews utilizing a third-party app, and live, each with its own challenges.
In one-way, aka on-demand or self-recorded video interviews, applicants answer questions sent from interviewers while recording themselves on video. And in some cases the potential employer will use a third-party video recording tool, where the applicant must respond to questions as they appear in the app during the recorded session. Applicants usually do not know what questions they will be asked with this type of recorded video, and responses are timed.
In both types of one-way interviews, there is no interaction, which is what makes this style of interview more difficult. Recorded video interviews are usually used as pre-screening tools, much like a phone interview. They are often shared with a wider audience in the company, beyond the hiring manager.
Most online interviews are live, in which interviewers and applicants interact through video conference software such as Zoom or Google Hangouts. Some companies might ask candidates to do both, with a live virtual interview as a follow-up to a one-way screening video.
No matter which type of interview you're called to do, interviewing on camera takes some getting used to. Here's what you need to know to take charge of the opportunity.
1. Set yourself up for success
Preparing for an interview is always mandatory if you want to secure the job. But virtual interviews present unique challenges with technology, environment, appearance and communication.
- Know what kind of video interview you'll be doing. Basic preparation will be the same for one-way or live videos, but a recorded interview requires you to nail a few more steps, such as reading and following instructions precisely; knowing your answers and delivering them perfectly; and getting the timing right.
- Set up your location. The great thing about sheltering-in-place for a job interview is that you can control your surroundings. Whether you're interviewing from a home office or studio apartment, you can still make a great impression by keeping it clean, organized and free of distractions. If you can't find a blank spot for your background, keep it as neutral as possible. You can achieve a more flattering look by putting some distance between you and your background. Experts recommend at least two feet if possible.
- Ready your equipment. Basic questions to ask yourself might include: How's my Internet connection? Does my microphone, audio input/output and computer camera work? Is my computer charged and/or plugged in? Do I have the correct platform and do I know how to use it? It's a good idea to download and get familiar with the software ahead of time if you're not used to it.
- Banish pets, children and other family members or roommates to another room. This might be difficult due to shelter-in-place orders, but as J.T. O'Donnell, founder & CEO at WorkItDaily.com says, distractions can kill your interview, even during these challenging times.
- Go for a dry run. Interviewing on camera is different than in person. Practice with a friend or family member to get a feel for it so you're more comfortable when the time comes. Some third-party recorded video tools will allow you to answer some practice questions before you start the actual interview. It is wise to practice several times before you start to interview. Practice in this case will help make for a perfect one-way interview.
- Cover your bases. Avoid mishaps where possible. For example, using earbuds or headphones will not only drown out noise, but it can also keep the dreaded conference call echo away.
2. Prepare for the interview as though it was in person
Remember you are speaking with a potential employer, so the steps you take to prepare are no different. You have to be informed about the position; you must understand the company; you have to be ready to answer and ask questions; and you should know your audience. So forget you are doing this before a camera and prepare as if the interviewer was sitting across from you in the same room.
- Do your research. Research the company and the people likely to interview you or view your recorded video, just like you would if you were doing an in-person interview.
- Have your resume ready and study the job description. You will need your resume for reference so make sure it's updated and addresses the job description. You will need to be able to clearly articulate to your interviewers how your experience makes you the best person for the job, no matter what type of video interview you're preparing for.
- Practice! Practice really does make perfect. Prepare a possible list of questions you think you might encounter during the interview; review your past experience; jot down some questions for your interviewers; and ask a friend or family member to interview you and provide honest feedback. This is particularly important for recorded interviews where employers use a third-party app because you might not get a list of questions prior to the interview. Instead, with this method, the questions typically appear in the session and you must answer immediately, as your responses will be timed. A comprehensive list of possible interview questions will give you a head start.
3. Get ready for your close-up
Be mindful how you project yourself. Your posture, expression, lighting, attire and camera angle are crucial elements for video interviews, and can either help or hurt your chances of getting the job.
- Dress to win. Choose warm, neutral colors and think solid. Just like bright and dark colors, patterns will distract or even annoy interviewers. Stripes tend to give off a strobe effect on video, for example. Opt for neutrals like gray, navy blues and shades of brown. If you want to add a pop of color, go with soft pastels. Here's why: White, red and black can be unflattering on video, while brighter colors such as yellow or bright pink can be distracting for viewers.
- Be aware of your body language. It's a form of communication, and interviewers often use it to read your attitude. Your body language can translate differently on video, so be aware how you project yourself. How you sit, gesture, move your eyes and head can all play a part in how you're evaluated for the position. You want to be likeable, so aim to appear confident yet approachable; warm yet serious; friendly, positive, trustworthy and genuine. This can be a bit more tricky for one-way interviews because they can feel unnatural.
- Adjust your lighting and composition. Let's face it: It's not easy to look your best on video, no matter how well you dress or coif your hair. While some video conferencing software allows you to "fix" your appearance, lighting and composition are key to looking your best. Cinematography experts agree you should sit facing big but soft and natural light with the camera lens at eye level. Spend some time trying out different light sources and adjusting your composition; record a few videos until you find the best light and angle for your interview.
- Check the lighting in your home at different times of day. Outside light coming into your home changes depending on the time of day, so what you may think is a perfect interview room might not be, afterall. Check out how your room is lit by natural light at different times and have a backup solution if the interview is scheduled at a time that will not work for that room. For example, change rooms if you can, and if not, then play around with your location in the room until you find the best angle.
4. Show your best self
Treat your virtual interview as you would an in-person interview and bring your all. That includes:
- Be armed (with knowledge). Know the company, its goals, people, culture and history; have questions and if you're doing a live interview, be ready to answer anything.
- Arrive early to your live interview. You don't have to show up 15 minutes early as would be expected for an in-person interview, but aim to log in a few minutes early to leave a good impression from the start.
- Turn off notifications. Close all other applications on your device so you stay focused.
- Follow instructions precisely! Make sure you have read instructions thoroughly and that you follow them to a T. This is crucial, especially if you are recording a one-way interview.
- Speak slowly and listen carefully. Live virtual interviews sometimes come with delays or connection lags, so be sure to slow down and speak clearly. It's also critical to give the interviewer your attention when they speak, not only out of respect, but to make sure you understand what is being said.
- Act natural. This is especially true for one-way videos, which can feel awkward because you're not actually looking at a person and because you're the only one talking. In that case, imagine yourself talking to a live person and know your answers by heart. Remember to smile.
- Respect the interviewer's time. It's not as easy to judge timing when on video, so follow the pace of the interviewer and glance at the clock on your device occasionally so you don't overextend yourself. If you are recording yourself for a one-way video, there will be a time limit for your recording, so it's imperative that you pace yourself accordingly. One-way self recorded interviews also have a deadline. You'll put yourself ahead of the pack if you send yours a few days ahead.
- Don't get too comfortable. Our guards tend to be down when we're in our own environment, so it's natural that you might be more relaxed during a video interview in your home. That's why it's important to stay on top of your game. An overly relaxed and casual vibe will convey disinterest in the position and the interviewer might not take you seriously.