If you have secured an online job interview, then congratulations!
The shortlist may be longer than usual, but you’re on it, and that means someone believes you could do that job. Now all you have to do is convince them that you can do it better than anyone else they will be talking to. The following suggestions can help you to prepare and make the most of this opportunity (and are useful tips for any online meetings you may attend in future).
Remember that this interview will probably be recorded, which might feel strange at first, but is a GOOD thing – it means that the content of your responses may receive more attention than you can count on in an ephemeral conversation. More people can be involved in the decision about hiring you, and it’s certainly less likely that any discriminatory questions or behaviour will occur.
Also, get used to it – a lot of online meetings are recorded in many organisations, for different purposes.
Practice with the tech first
You will most likely have been sent a link to an online meeting platform, one which you may or many not be familiar with. While the meeting link itself probably won’t go live until the appointed time, you can look at the front bit of the URL and work out what platform it is that you’re going to be using, then get some familiarity with it earlier. For example, a lot of meeting tools require you to download either a full-blown app or a browser plugin, something which could make you a few minutes late for the call if you don’t do this stage ahead of time.
Install it, practice it with it – call a friend and check it out. Maybe look at a YouTube video on how the controls operate – especially if you’ve been asked to prepare a presentation or similar; to make a good impression you’ll not only want great work to share but the ability to present it confidently and competently.
Check your sound and light
Again, this matters for every online meeting, but never more than when making a first impression.
Make sure you use a decent mic so they can hear you, and headphones so you can hear them. A ten euro USB headset with mic from any retailer is fine, or at a push the headphones which came with your smartphone probably have a hands free mic in them, but if you can afford better then this is where to invest. The mic is more important than the speakers, once the incoming sound is good enough for you to hear the what the interviewers are saying OK.
Practice with your audio gear and make sure you select your device(s) for use in the call, as your browser or application might default to using the probably pretty average speakers and mic built into your laptop instead of the one you have carefully chosen and connected.
Remember that we’re all good at tuning out our own background noise – which is just as well, as we often can’t do anything about it. Have a listen consciously though just in case there are things you can fix, and be aware that the mic will pick up sounds indiscriminately and amplify them, like your shuffling papers or your rumbling fan – so avoid noise making things wherever you can.
When it comes to lighting, make sure they can see you properly!
A light source behind the webcam, i.e. facing you, fixes that (natural light from a window is best). Not so bright that you’re squinting, or that interferes with your seeing the other parties clearly on screen, complete with all their body language and non-verbal feedback throughout.
You-tubers and other ‘influencers’ often use white ring-lights, which cast a diffuse and clear bright light on your face, from behind the screen. But be careful if you’re a specs wearer like me, as these can make for weird and distracting reflections in your lenses. One idea to try is using a light source bounced off a wall, so if you have a bright light in front of you maybe turn it away from you onto a light surface instead – this reduces hard shadows and glare. The main thing is to maximise the ambient light in the room as a whole.
No, it shouldn’t matter, but you want the interviewers paying attention to what you’ve got to say, not those strange alien robot eyes, so practice ahead of time with your setup and tweak until you’re optimised.
It is definitely the case that you can get a better result with a higher spec webcam than that which probably came bundled with your laptop, but if your budget is limited I would prioritise any spending on audio rather than video, and for the latter focus on making the most of the environmental changes you can instead.
Check over your shoulder
When you’re on the call you will probably see yourself in a tiny little thumbnail somewhere in the meeting app, but you have no idea what kind of device the other parties are viewing you on – so imagine it’s an 8k professional conference room screen, and think about what they’d notice. What’s behind you right now?
This has become such a curiosity in the age of ‘corona-media’, where every news interview now takes place down the line from the guest’s home-office, and professional staging of impressive bookcases or gorgeous interiors seem to be mandatory. The more esoteric and intellectual the book selection the better, or so you’d think.
Or you can cheat and use a background image photo of course, though the interviewer may wonder why. And these can get weirdly distorting, if you move or wave your arms around when you talk, making bits of you disappear or change colour, as well as being very demanding on processing power which can cause more mature devices to spin up fans when you least want it.
You don’t need to get too carried away or overthink it, but try to go for a businesslike image with nothing inappropriate in the background, or simply keep it blank and neutral. I have had candidates show up to interviews clearly sitting on their bed, and once with laundry hanging up to dry behind them, it is honestly difficult to put that completely out of your mind when choosing someone for a job (and wondering how they’d show up when talking to clients on your behalf) when you can literally see their underwear flapping away behind their head. I like to think I am a non-judgemental person, however intrigued I am at these glimpses video-calling offers us into someone’s life, and we all have different homes and resources at our disposal… But wherever you live and however you share your space, a bit of forethought can help you make the best impression
Secure your environment
This means banishing kids, pets, neighbours, tradespeople, and flatmates, from the room, and if in any doubt also banishing them from your internet connection for the duration of the call. Yes, if you’re hired then a new employer may be happy to pay to upgrade your line, but only if you make a better impression on them at interview than any other candidate, so why allow any factor to undermine that, especially when you can fix it up front? Doing so shows respect and consideration for the importance of this call.
Similarly don’t take chances on your environment being somewhere NOT your home office. Fix an appointment time when you can take the call there, not in your car or on a walk or somewhere, where any external factors like noise or signal loss could impact on the impression you are going to make. This is a weird trend in online meetings now that the major platforms have good mobile apps, but the quality is never the same – your best camera is on your laptop or desktop device, and it keeps still too. Making an interviewer seasick is not a great tactic, and connecting via a mobile device could indicate you didn’t prioritise the call and preparation for it.
Have a glass of water on hand and out of shot just in case you cough or something, but I’d avoid touching it otherwise. People sometimes wonder what to do with their hands during interviews or meetings when they’re a bit nervous – the good news in this case is that yours don’t have to be on view at all for a video call, you can sit on them. or wriggle and wring them privately out of the camera line if you want (though do use them to gesture for emphasis as you would naturally).
Be on time!
Your interviewer may be conducting a load of calls back to back, and honestly, you have no excuses related to traffic or finding the place. For any online call there is zero excuse for not being punctual. There’s no point being early, you probably won’t even be able to access the meeting room, so just be dead on time instead.
That gives you ample margin to take three steadying breaths before joining the call.
Dress for success
As you would in any job interview. At the very least, from the waist up. Wear whatever you would if the interview were face-to-face in their office. You look good, and will feel more confident too. Check your teeth for spinach or similar (before the call!), and consider how you are lit (see above). If you feel more confident with make-up on go for it (I often wear some blusher on a video call as I feel like I look washed-out on a webcam often, and it’s absolutely about how you feel as much as how you actually look).
I have a friend who always wears perfume when taking client calls online. Why? Because it’s part of her personal grooming and feeling professional – so if that helps you, then go for it.
Block colours work well for all genders, as does keeping things simple and professional. Dangly earrings are a bad mix with headphones or mics, you don’t want any sources of noise competing with the amazing things you’re going to be saying.
Again, just as you would for your face-to-face call. But it’s so much easier online, to have your list of questions for the interviewer to hand, or points from your CV you want to be certain to mention… You can put them on a tablet, post-it note, or second screen, as close to your webcam as possible, so that you’re not shifting your eyes away.
In fact, every other bit of advice is to behave exactly as you would in any interview for any job you really want – and good luck.
This article is an excerpt from volume one of the Healthy Happy Homeworking book series. Make sure you sign up for pre-publication updates!