How to prepare for a virtual job interview
Steps to help you set up, connect with confidence, and make the best impression from afar
Job seekers in 2021 are bound to face a few additional challenges when getting ready to make those all important first impressions. More likely than not, a virtual interview will take the place of a face-to-face meeting with a prospective employer. For those in search of employment, this adds a few extra technical steps to navigate to the already tricky process of landing that coveted new position.
Virtual setup and testing
With a little extra effort, navigating a webcam interview successfully doesn’t have to be intimidating. According to Sean Miles, employer engagement manager at WorkBC Employment Services Centre, preparing well ahead of time is vital.
“I would suggest going through and testing everything at least a day before the interview to work out any hiccups. Do a test call with someone on the platform that’s going to be used,” he says. “Generally, when you’re being booked for a virtual interview, you’re going to be sent an invite, it’s going to cover what time it’s at and who’s going to be at the meeting, and what platform is being used. Make sure that whatever device you’re using has the app or the software ahead of time.”
Miles recommends checking your internet strength in advance and cautions that a virtual interview requires a stronger connection than everyday browsing. If the connection isn’t strong enough, an alternative quiet space should be found with a strong internet connection. A place like WorkBC, for example, has rooms available for booking but a friend or family member’s home could work as well, safety restrictions permitting.
In addition to testing your camera and audio, Miles also recommends creating a neutral background space for your virtual interview, away from any windows. He warns against having a window or a bright light anywhere behind you. “What happens is, while that might seem like a nice view, it actually really messes with the lighting of the camera… the brightness of the background kind of dims the foreground,” which puts you in dark light and makes it hard to see you, he says.
While it may be tempting to try a virtual background, Miles says staying away from distractions and using a simple, real-life blank backdrop is best.
Brent Dul is the executive vice president, Western Canada, of Randstad Canada recruitment services. He thinks interview preparation and technical testing beforehand are of the utmost importance. When preparing for a virtual meeting, Dul recommends using a larger screen, if possible, especially for a panel interview. He notes that it’s much easier to read facial expressions via a larger screen. If a candidate has to use their smartphone, Dul suggests using a stand to steady the phone and keep it at eye-level. While Dul does say that a simple background is best, he also notes that if items do appear in the background it’s not necessarily a negative thing if it’s done with purpose. He says, “Anything around you, whether it’s intended to be a prop or not — if they can see it, it’s a prop.” He suggests paying attention to what “props” you’ll have in place for your interview.
“Oftentimes, it’s a great opportunity to tell [the person] you’re interviewing with a bit more about yourself — whether it’s a guitar, football helmet or maybe it’s a stack of books that you’ve read,” he says. “If somebody can read what the books are behind you, be prepared to talk about them. It’s a way to bring people — or to bring the interview — down to more of a personal level.”
Interviewing from home may seem more relaxed but it’s important to approach the situation in the same way one would an in-person meeting. Miles recommends dressing the part and thinking about your on-camera presentation.
“A lot of the etiquette for a virtual interview is the same as we would see for an in-person interview. You want to be dressed professionally, even though you might only be seen from the shoulders up. Use your body language in an effective way,” he says. “Acknowledging and reacting to the person you’re talking to, nodding along and showing that level of engagement.”
And even if your home setup seems professional and organized, Miles cautions candidates to think about the kind of unplanned distractions that wouldn’t come up so much in an in-person interview, like interruptions by pets or sounds from the outside world. He suggests you turn off your second screen, if you use one, make sure your phone is on vibrate and try to account for anything else that you might not think of as a distraction, but could easily become one in a virtual interview.
Dul suggests candidates log in for a virtual interview several minutes early to be available in the waiting room and to silence all other devices. “I really encourage a candidate to have a glass of water or a cup of coffee,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Food? Absolutely not. And it never ceases to amaze me how many people show up with a snack.”
Making a connection
Dul suggests job seekers be mindful of making eye contact, even during a virtual interview. The trick to doing that, he says, is “When you’re responding, if the picture of the interviewer is in your lower right quadrant of your screen but your camera is up top, you want to make sure that your eyes are actually looking into the camera.”
While it’s important to remain professional, sharing a brief personal story isn’t off-limits. According to Dul, establishing that kind of human connection during a virtual interview is a positive step.
“In the absence of being able to be in person, be prepared to share some personal stories about yourself that are appropriate. You don’t want to go too deep into anything, but to tell someone a little bit about you is perfectly fine, especially early on in the interview,” he says.
Recovering from a slip-up
Both Dul and Miles agree that a technical error or glitch doesn’t have to be a deal breaker in an interview. If a candidate’s audio isn’t working or the internet isn’t strong enough, interviewers are likely to be paying attention to how the candidate reacts. Miles says it can actually be an opportunity to display problem solving skills.
“Employers recognize that these things do happen,” says Miles; however, “If you get really frustrated and upset… that can be tougher to recover from.”
Dul also thinks that when something unexpected happens, how a candidate deals with it will reflect their character.
“Maybe a child walks into the room as you’re trying to explain something complex or tell a story. How you handle that stressful situation is going to speak volumes to the person on the other side,” says Dul. “They’re not going to be upset that a child walks in, or a dog comes in and starts barking, or something like that. That’s part of the new reality that we’re working in. But to stay composed and say, you know, ‘Just give me one moment, and I’m going to handle this,’ is really a way for you to demonstrate composure under stress.”
Dul also says that even if you’ve tested your technical set-up beforehand, having a backup plan such as a good old exchange of phone numbers with the interviewer beforehand, could end up being very helpful.