Virtual Interview Tips for Candidates: Prepare for Your Next Window of Opportunity!

A virtual interview is a comprehensive discussion about your suitability for a job position or scholarship funding, which takes place remotely using online video conferencing software such as ZoomSkypeMicrosoft Teams or Google Meet. Virtual interviews typically require a computer device that has a built-in or external video camera and microphone, a stable internet connection, and headphones, if specified. Many companies, organizations and scholarship programs have shifted to conducting virtual interviews to prioritize the health and safety of prospective candidates amid the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For a lot of students, video-interviewing is new and may require some adjusting to using new technologies for reaching success.

If you have been invited to a virtual interview, here are five tips to help you put your best foot forward and ace it!

  1. 1. Test your devices and internet connection before the interview

    Download and install the video-conferencing software needed for the interview ahead of time. If you did not yet have it on your computer, familiarize yourself with the software tools and features of support before the interview, to ensure that you will be able to proceed without a technical glitch. After you have acquainted yourself with the video-conferencing features, check that your internet connectivity, built-in webcam and microphone are functional. It is important to ensure that your internet connection is stable – you would not want to experience a dropped call in the middle of making your point.

    If your internet connection glitches, however, do not worry! Try securing it again. Once this has been done, most video-conferencing software will reconnect and resume the session. If your built-in webcam produces a grainy picture or your microphone generates inaudible sound, then it may be best to invest in an external webcam and microphone. Being technologically savvy will give a positive first impression, affirming your interest in the job or funding opportunity, as well as your ability to solve problems.

  2. 2. Minimize interruptions and distractions in your environment

    After you have tested your devices and internet connection, think about where you will take the interview. It is essential to position yourself in a quiet, well-lit and tidy space with a neutral background, to limit any interruptions. If you choose to have the interview at home, make sure to notify the people you live with – kindly ask them to be silent and give you some privacy during your interview. Try to temporarily keep pets and small children occupied in a safe and secure place to allow you to be fully present when speaking to you interviewer. Be sure to switch the television off, put your phone on silent or switch it off, and close windows near you to minimize potential disturbances. It is better to plan for every possible distraction!

    Once you have a quiet space, try to find a room with good lighting and a blank wall that will allow you to be the focal point. To achieve optimal lighting, you can sit near a window or facing it, which will make you clearly visible to the camera. The natural lighting will be flattering to your face! I suggest that you consider a soft-coloured wall as the backdrop of your video interview. Soft-coloured walls reflect light into the room and ultimately bring a glow to your face. A dark coloured setting will absorb the natural light, and your face will appear obscure on camera. An alternative to an empty wall would be to sit in a professional setting such as the study area of your home or living room with bookshelves in the background. Avoid sitting on your unmade bed, as this may give the wrong impression and could call your interest in the position or scholarship into question. And finally, be sure to clean the space you choose for the interview before it takes place. 

    These simple efforts will suggest that you are detail-oriented, organized and conscientious.

  3. 3. Dress to impress!

    Dress in professional clothing just as you would if you were going to a face-to-face interview. If you do not have professional attire such as a formal dress or blazer, blouse and skirt, then you could opt for a business casual look: A grey cardigan with blue jeans and a pair of brown chunky heeled boots. If you are unsure about what is appropriate, you can ask the person who invited you to the interview.

    Generally speaking, dressing appropriately will project professionalism and give the impression that you are taking this window of opportunity seriously. Also, dressing in professional attire will help you feel more confident, competent, trustworthy and authoritative.

    Try to avoid wearing bright colours, overwhelming patterns and sparkling embellishments which may be distracting. The focus of the interview should be you, not your clothing or accessories.

  4. 4. Be mindful of your body language and make your presence known

    Since you do not have the benefit of giving a firm handshake to convey your confidence and enthusiasm, body language becomes essential to communicate this via video. Ways that you can convey confidence would be to: Sit up in a poised manner, smile, and make eye-contact (i.e. be sure to look straight at the camera instead of looking at the on-screen image on your computer). I know it feels unnatural to look at a dot instead of looking at the faces on the screen, especially if video interviews are new to you. However, this is still important. Research has shown, looking directly into the camera will help to reinforce your point and stimulate recall of what you said in the interview. Have a few video calls with a trusted friend or family member to practice looking straight at the camera when you speak to become comfortable with doing it. 

    When it comes your voice, speak in a louder-than-usual tone, even though you may be using an internal or external microphone. This will stop you from mumbling and from talking too fast. Speaking in a clear and well-pitched vocal range conveys confidence, authority, passion and trustworthiness. 

    Beyond this, the way you frame yourself in front of the camera can also affect how you come across as a communicator. Be sure to have your head and shoulders appear on the screen, as this will make you come across as more engaging. You will be perceived as less charming if you are too far or too close to the camera. You are too close to the screen if the top of your head or your chin is cut-off; if your entire upper body appears on the screen, then you are too far from the screen. Since you cannot observe social cues, being mindful of your body language, the frame of your head and shoulders, and voice projection, becomes essential. If the video conferencing software allows the interviewer(s) to playback the interview, you would want them to review a flattering profile of your good posture, smile, excellent communication, confidence and consistent eye contact. 

    Common examples of habits to avoid include sighing, yawning, fidgeting, slouching, looking up or down and eating. You can have a glass of water or bottled water to drink, in case your throat gets dry, or you need something to calm your nerves. Drinking water is not distracting. 

    A video interview, whether you a veteran or novice, is an interactive experience that will require you to adapt your mindset, behaviour and approach to really ace it! If it is your first time preparing for a virtual interview - just like me, teach yourself to adapt. Adaptability is a coveted soft skill, alongside problem-solving and excellent communication, that you can demonstrate with a seamless video interview by using positive body language.

  5. 5. Practice to win

    It is your due diligence to be well-prepared for the interview by conducting research on the company, organization or funding program beforehand. Just like a face-to-face interview, you should prepare to give the interviewer(s) insight of your suitability for the job position, or scholarship.

    Hence, I suggest that you set up a mock interview before the actual appointment. Ask a trusted friend, colleague, roommate or family member to go through possible interview questions with you while using the video conferencing software. Beyond testing the technology, your internet connection and interviewing skills, your trusted consultant can also evaluate how you look and sound on camera, whether you project professionalism, preparedness, enthusiasm, confidence and trustworthiness. Doing this will allow you to focus on your weak points to help you stand out from the other candidates (make sure that whoever is helping you is aware of video interview etiquette to be able to point out these weak points!). 

    It is essential to practice constructing clear, succinct and truthful responses to commonly asked questions to portray confidence and excellent verbal communication skills. The interviewer(s) will be able to tell if you are disingenuous in your answers. If you can, go through practice rounds with different friends, colleagues or family members and answer different sets of questions. Practising might feel uncomfortable, but it offers the space to make mistakes and learn from them before the actual interview.

    During the interview, stay clear of giving long-winded answers if the question does not call for it. Also, avoid using pause fillers such as “um”, “uh”, “you know”, “okay”, “like”, “well”, “er” and “so”. Pause fillers distract from your credibility. Instead, take a moment and think before responding.

    On the day of the interview, you can jot down some ideas onto sticky notes that you could use to spark conversation – these are great because you can stick them on your computer. I suggest that you compile some of your own questions to ask the interviewer(s), which will show your interest for the job position or scholarship funding – you can also scribble these on those trusty sticky notes.

If you find yourself overthinking before or after your interview, please watch the video below. No matter what the outcome is, remember how far you have come to reach this moment and continue to grow!