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Mastering the Online Interview

While there are still many jobs that require employees to be on site, even during the pandemic, many others have gone fully to remote work for the foreseeable future. Even those organizations that do have employees on site may be conducting more interviews remotely these days. That represents a very different experience for most job seekers, especially those not accustomed to engaging via Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or other tech alternatives.

Job Seekers Facing Significant Change

Jobvite recently released its 2020 Recruiter Nation Survey, highlighting the perspectives of recruiters today as they face the impact of significant societal challenges and change in 2020. The findings revealed:


  • 40% of recruiters surveyed believe that virtual interviews will be the default moving forward
  • 53% of recruiters surveyed conduct 50% or more of their interviews via video


In addition, the report indicates that the biggest “interview mistakes” being made by candidates include:


  • Poor connectivity
  • Inappropriate attire
  • Poor eye contact


Video connections are the name of the game these days, according to Jobvite—80% of recruiters indicate that they are using video in the interview process; 61% are using video as part of the screening process.


It’s critical, therefore, that candidates become comfortable with the technology and take steps to minimize or eliminate potential problems that may negatively impact how they are perceived.

Making the Best Virtual Impressions

Odalys Simmons, a virtual job connection team member at Goodwill Industries of Central Florida, says that many job candidates overlook one of the best ways to prepare for a job interview—and that is practicing.” 


Due to the pandemic, many interviews are being conducted virtually, but it’s still important to put your best foot forward, says Simmons. She recommends that candidates: “Smile, lean into the conversation and speak clearly. If you’re meeting virtually, consider putting a sticky note close to the webcam to help maintain eye contact during the call.”


It’s also important to troubleshoot your technology before the interview, Simmons advises. “Do a test run the day before so you can make sure your headphones are working, the software runs smoothly, Wi-Fi has a stable connection and there’s a suitable background. Check lighting and plan ahead to minimize distractions,” she says. 


Having a professional background is also important, says William Taylor, senior recruitment advisor at VelvetJobs. “Some applicants fail to realize that a cluttered background affects an interviewer’s first impression of them,” Taylor says. “They can play it safe by having a plain wall as a background.” And, he adds, it’s also important to consider the lighting in the room.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Despite the importance of preparation and practice, sometimes the unexpected can happen, especially in a world where households are being inhabited during the day by any number of family members as they work and study from home. 


Simon Royston, managing director of The Recruitment Lab, says: “Remote interviews are slightly unique in that they really do allow a blurring of lines between our professional and personal lives. An interviewer and an interviewee can suddenly have an insight into someone they might not otherwise have had. Now, despite our very best efforts for professionalism—things happen.”


  • Someone starts knocking at the front door (and won’t go away)
  • Kids burst into your home office and cause disruption
  • Your partner forgets you are being interviewed and starts talking to you


Whether right or wrong, he says, when these types of things happen “you are actually about to be judged by the interviewer.” What to do? Royston advises:


  • Do not overreact
  • Apologize and ask for a moment to address the issue
  • Take care of it and apologize again


“It’s an interview, you are under pressure, but do not lose your cool with the unexpected,” Royston says. “You are being interviewed for your professional competencies, but a small personal interaction could have a significantly negative—or positive impact on the interviewer.” It’s all in how you handle the situation.

Important Do’s and Don’ts for Better Remote Interviews

Andrew Fennell is director and careers expert at StandOut CV where he works closely with recruiters and HR professionals. “It’s quite natural for candidates to feel anxious about the unfamiliar prospect of the remote interview,” he says. “However, many of the best practices that apply to traditional face-to-face interviews also apply to those held via video.” He offers the following tips to candidates:


  • Logging on a little time before the scheduled interview; check that your mic and camera are working. 
  • Maintaining a reasonable level of eye contact with the interviewers (an occasional look into the camera lens will make this happen).
  • Keeping a tidy background for the interview, no clutter, mess or anything the interviewer shouldn’t be seeing.
  • Having your resume and other supporting documentation readily available for reference (printed and highlighted can often be easiest).
  • Asking questions about the business and role (particularly those focused on opportunities for career development).


He advises against these practices:


  • Interrupting the interviewer. “This can be challenging on video, so always ensure the speaker has paused at the end of their sentence before chiming in,” Fennell recommends.
  • Taking notes on the computer during the interview. “It’s far better to use a pen and notepad, especially if your keyboard is noisy,” he says.
  • Repeatedly touching your face and hair. “Such non-verbal cues may be taken as signs of nerves,” Fennell cautions.
  • Using a temporary background. “It may indicate you are trying to hide something, or are not taking the interview seriously.”


Remote interviews are common these days and likely to remain so for some time as the world continues to respond to the impacts of the pandemic. While they may, at least initially, represent some challenges. By preparing, practicing, and remaining calm, applicants can learn to leverage the convenience of remote interviews to make positive first impressions.

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