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Online Interview Tips For Candidates


Lots of candidates have been asking for advice about online interviews so Ive put together a few tips.

The main concerns I've encountered are:
  • Noisy households
  • Tech failure or sketchy WiFi connections
  • Building rapport over an artificial interface
Many of us are sharing our workspace with partners, pets and children and worrying about possible disruption and interruptions will only add to your interview nerves. Rest assured that most people appreciate your predicament and may have the same issues in their household. Simply explain your situation at the outset of the call. Telling the interviewer you've informed your spouse about the timings but cant guarantee they wont walk in and ask where their socks are, can be a nice way to break the ice, for example. 

One of my favourite lockdown Zoom stories came from a female executive who, halfway through a senior management team meeting, heard her toddler yelling at the top of their voice that theyd done a pooh and needed wiping. Personally, I feel that these small insights into an individuals home-life helps to gauge whether they could be a good team fit too. 

Some technical malfunction, or less than ideal performance, will be inevitable as the networks struggle to keep up with the ever-growing demand. You may not be able to afford the speediest of broadbands or may have no need for it outside of the current pandemic situation. To limit issues, make sure that you log in to the call at least five or ten minutes early. Most have a waiting room function or will keep you in a virtual holding area until your interviewer is ready to start. Turn the WiFi off on all other devices for the duration of your interview to maximise the bandwidth available for your call. 

Only use a phone or tablet as a last resort. You will be better able to see the interviewers (especially if there are a few) and the function icons if you are using a laptop or desktop device. 

Before addressing the third main concern of how to establish rapport with people through an online medium, lets have a look at some other basic preparations you should do:
  • Dress appropriately – despite expecting people to be a little more casual in an online interview, I was very impressed by the recent candidate who had gone all out in a three piece suit and tie (especially as I had only remembered to go and put a bra on about 5 minutes before we logged in to the Zoom call).
  • Check out your surroundings – make sure the room doesn’t look like a bomb has hit it. Roblox and Minecraft pictures are fine if you’ve been relegated to the kids room for some quiet, just explain that’s where you get the best WiFi reception, or something, so some don’t make an assumption that you’re whiling away your lockdown gaming!
  • Virtual backgrounds - personally, I’m not a fan unless you have a green-screen which stabilises them.
  • Be aware that background information can be a source of conscious and unconscious bias so a neutral backdrop is preferable. For example, if you support a particular football club and have a framed shirt on display, this could catalyse a conversation, or put somebody off if they are an ardent supporter of your sworn enemies.
  • If you use a headset or earphones that are used with a mobile phone make sure that you are speaking into the microphone. With many earphone sets, the microphone tends to hang around your neck or chest area and it can be very difficult to hear you clearly unless you speak directly into it.
  • Remember to look into the camera when speaking. This way you will look like you are speaking directly to the people on the call.
  • If having notes makes you feel more comfortable then use them. These can’t be seen if you keep them beside, or in front of you, and don’t make it obvious that you are reading from a crib sheet. Summarise to one page so that you don’t need to turn pages over.
  • As with any interview, make sure you have researched the company and have some specific case studies you can use to illustrate your ability to do the job. Specific stories are always more interesting and credible than a generic answer.
Building rapport over the internet can be difficult as you will miss some visual cues that are more obvious when physically in front of somebody. The simplest way to start to build rapport with somebody is to loosely mirror their language patterns and demeanour. You have to make sure that you don't appear to imitate or parody them. Don't try to be somebody you're not though. If you get a job by being something other than who you are at interview (apart from it demonstrating the interviewer probably isn't very experienced or accomplished at interviewing well), you run the risk of being unhappy in the role as the culture and environment may not be the best fit. 

Show an interest in the people who are interviewing you. Ask them how long they've worked at the company. What do they like most about the business? What do they enjoy most about their role? And even what they most want the successful candidate to achieve in their first year with them? If its apparent they are working from home too ask them what challenges they're having and how it compares to being in the office/shopfloor/site. 

Perhaps the most valuable thing to remember is that were all trying different ways of doing things at the moment and we all have our moments of insecurity or doubt. Don't assume that everyone is going to be a Zoom or Teams guru and will think you an idiot if you're not a dab-hand with the technology. If there is one good thing that has come from all this disruption and uncertainty, it has been my experience that most people have become a little more patient and more focussed on the stuff that matters most. That has largely included remembering not to sweat the small stuff. 

Good luck with your interviews. I hope this helps.