How to prepare for a virtual job interview, according to the experts

Written by Lauren Geall

Landed yourself a virtual job interview, but not sure how to prepare? We asked the experts to give us their top tips, from getting the lighting just right to making the most of your setting. 

The coronavirus pandemic has forced us all to adapt to new ways of living, working and communicating. For many people, working from home has quickly become the way of life; at the weekends, we’ve swapped nights out and dinners with friends for baking banana bread and hosting our very own virtual pub quizzes.

Despite some lockdown restrictions now easing, there’s still plenty of changes we’re going to have to adapt to under the ‘new normal’ which will emerge over the coming months. Indeed, as people begin to look towards the future, one of the most prominent shifts we’re likely going to see careers wise is a shift towards virtual interviewing.

Whether you’ve lost your job due to the coronavirus pandemic or have decided to change careers as a result of the crisis, it’s likely that a virtual interview will factor into the application process for any new job. And while some may feel relieved that they don’t have to sit face-to-face with an interviewer, the complexities of communicating over a video platform such as Zoom may prove anxiety-inducing to others.

So how can we make sure we’re putting our best foot forward as we navigate this ‘new normal’? We asked Helen Tupper, co-founder of Amazing If and author of The Squiggly Career, and Russell Amerasekera, a careers and presentation expert and life coach, to give us their top tips on preparing for a virtual interview.

Get the setting just right

In a virtual interview, you’ve got control of what the interviewer sees – so use it to your advantage.

“You need to think more about what they see,” Tupper explains. “If you were doing a physical interview you might think about what you wear or how you sit on a chair, but that’s probably all you’d think about. But with a virtual interview you need to think about your setting – they’re getting a window into your world, so what is the impression that you want to create?”

Amerasekera agrees – and suggests playing around with your background to make sure it says something about your personality.

“Your visual background is very helpful in virtual interviews to give some cues and clues to your personality,” he says. “So a piece of art that you particularly like, or books on a book shelf showing your personality, can be really helpful. But keep it simple – you don’t want plants growing out of your head or anything too distracting.”

He continues: “When you’re working in two dimensions opposed to the three we have in normal life, we need to allow people to really see our face, so it’s so important to light the face even in day light. I have a little lamp literally next to my desk which I use even in day light because it gives you that little bit of warmth and tone which gets lost when you’re working in two dimensions.

“The key here is that the light needs to come from the side not from above. If you have overhead lighting it will just bleed you out even more and create all sorts of horrible shadows. So the most important thing here is to spend time with a partner or friend or family before you do the interview just experimenting with where you have the desk lamp so it’s giving some nice warmth to your face.

“Our facial gestures have to work harder in a virtual setting, so lighting is important so that the other person can tune in and see the warmth and tone of your face.”

Work on your framing

If you’ve thought about lighting and played around with your setting, now’s the time to consider how to frame yourself on camera.

For Amerasekera, this point is incredibly important: “Thinking about how you are visually presenting yourself is vital with virtual interviews. Because we can only see the top part of the body it’s really important that you think about how you’re framing what the other person can see, because ordinarily we would see somebody’s whole body and we’re able to make a natural instant impression; when you’re just seeing the top part you need to think about it much more dynamically.

“You want to allow people to see the whole of the top part of your body, not just the neck and the head. This is really important because we use our body language a lot in everyday life and therefore if someone can only see your neck and your head, we don’t allow people to see our hands.”

He adds: “Hands are a really important communication tool, even virtually, because it allows us to signal things like being decisive and assertive through hand gestures. So allowing people to see your top half means that when you use your hands, your hands come into vision.”

Framing yourself also includes wearing the right clothes – Amerasekera recommends wearing “clean lines and angles in black, in navy or in a single colour” as opposed to patterns and bright colours which distract the eye. 

Practise with the technology

This may sound obvious, but it’s important to make sure that you are familiar both with the laptop you’re using, and the platform the interview will be hosted on.

To start off, Amerasekera recommends checking whereabouts the camera on your computer is located, to ensure you’re making appropriate eye contact.

“You want to be looking at the camera,” he says. “Very often you see people looking down, or they’re looking off to the side – that’s disastrous when you’re doing an interview because people need to see your eyes and they’re trying to read you. So just experiment and check where the camera is.”

Tupper also recommends practising with the software once you know what platform you will be using to avoid any awkward moments.

“Technology canmake you feel less confident if you haven’t used it before, so make sure you know what platform they’re going to use for the interview, and have a practice beforehand,” Tupper says.

“Set yourself up with your own account and practise with a friend or something beforehand so you know where to look and where to click. If you make sure you know those things beforehand, you can focus on what you’re saying when you’re actually doing the interview.”

Curate your environment

One of the biggest benefits of doing an interview virtually is that you have the power to control your environment and have notes in front of you, so use this to your advantage.

“A big advantage of a virtual interview is you can have notes in a way that you don’t feel like you can have when you’re in the room with somebody,” Tupper says. “You could have some bullet points attached to your laptop screen that the other person can’t see, but might help you to remember ‘OK, what’s one thing I want them to think about me when I’ve finished this’. You could also have a motivational quote sat next to your laptop which’ll help you to feel really confident.”

Get in the right headspace

Because you’re not arriving at a physical location to do the interview, it’s important to make sure the last step in your preparation is taking some time out before the scheduled time to ensure you’re mentally prepared.

“It’s really important to give yourself an hour before any virtual interview simply to relax your mind, to breathe or to go for a walk,” Amerasekera explains. 

“Detach yourself from the normal noise of your environment – in a lockdown situation that might mean just getting out of the house. That hour before the interview – I call it the golden hour – is really important for mental preparation.”

Tupper agrees: “If you want to mentally arrive at the interview early I think that’s a really good thing. So what you might do is say I’m going to show up for myself 15 minutes early – I’m going to turn off my notifications, I’m almost going to put myself in my own little waiting room – so you can get myself prepared, and so you’re all set.”

Images: Getty/Unsplash

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