Do you sometimes think there's no end to the number of things that would change with COVID-19? I do sometimes but have to constantly remind myself to embrace the new normal! To be honest, although some changes are entirely new, in some cases C19 has simply accelerated a change that was already brewing. One such change that C19 has sped up is the way you are interviewed. Before C19, many top employers already had an online interview process but it was often just for the pre-screening stage. Following the onset of the pandemic however, it’s no longer unusual for the entire selection process to be virtual/online.

If you’re a student gunning for top universities, internships, apprenticeships or graduate roles, you would need to up your game in this area. No longer can you rely solely on the traditional ways of preparing for an interview. Consider this, how would you stand out from the crowd when you can no longer impress with your firm handshake? I have outlined below 10 steps you need to take before your online interview so that you are well prepared.  However before we delve into the intricacies of preparing for an online interview, let’s explore what a virtual or online interview really is.

What is an online interview?

An online interview is a process used to select candidates. It could be for a paid job, voluntary role, work experience, university place etc. Basically, it is an interview but rather than it being done face-to-face, it is done digitally via a video interface.

There are two main types of online interviews:

  • A one-way online interview where you are not interacting with another person on video. In this case, you see pre-set questions on screen and respond to the questions. You are being recorded as you answer the questions. Following the interview, the decision maker(s) plays the video back in their own time then takes a decision.
  • A two-way live online interview where you are speaking to the interviewer in real time on video. One advantage of this method over the one-way method is that you have the opportunity to engage / build a rapport with the interviewer in real time.

Whatever type of online interview you have, you’d need more preparation than you do for face-to-face interviews. This is partly because it is not as easy to develop chemistry with the interviewer on video. That said, it can be done! This is why you have to practise ahead how to generate a positive body language, create a rapport and appear enthusiastic on camera.

10 steps to take before your online interview

Do your research

Just as you’d do if you had a face-to-face interview, it is important that you find out more about the company or institution you’ve applied to. What are their values and goals? Have they been in the news recently? You should also look up the interviewer online for example on LinkedIn. That way, you find out ahead what his/her interests are so you can connect and engage better during the interview.

Look over the role requirements and your application

It is important that you thoroughly understand what you’ve applied for. It will help you demonstrate your suitability for the vacancy to the interviewer. It’s also key that you remind yourself of what you wrote in your application especially if it was a while back since you applied. You may for example have important relevant updates to share at the interview.

Test your internet connection, speakers and webcam

The last thing you need two minutes before your online interview is to find out that you should have downloaded an app but you haven’t. You may end up with the download buffering or taking too long at the last minute. Even if you’re lucky to complete the download just before the interview starts, you’d likely kick-off sweating and flustered. To maximise your chance of success, find out what is needed and sort out all the technology ahead of your online interview. And that includes meticulously checking links, connectivity, webcam, speakers etc. Whatever you do, avoid joining from your mobile phone - use a laptop or desktop instead.

Secure a noise-free and distraction-free location

Do you live in a busy household? You would definitely need to plan ahead with them. For example, if you’ve got a younger noisy sibling, you could plan ahead with your parents so that they take him/her for a walk at the time of your interview. Also, you don’t want members of your household playing loud music or walking around behind you whilst you’re on camera. To prevent this, let everyone know you’re scheduled for an interview and agree which room you would be using so they respect your privacy.

Get a professional background

You certainly don’t want the interviewer drawing wrong conclusions about you because of where you are seated for your interview. Pay attention to your background. Any wall poster that you cannot put up in a professional setting with confidence should not be in sight of the camera. Is your background cluttered because the room is very small? You can use a virtual background instead. Use Canva or a similar app to design your wall paper. Then add your virtual wall paper as a background in Zoom. This masks your background and saves you the headache of having to clear the room.

Dress for the job

Hang on! Being interviewed from the comfort of your home does not mean you roll out of bed in your pyjamas and switch on the laptop. Remember you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. If you really want to come across as professional and suitable for the role, you need to look the part. Do yourself a favour and dress for the job! If unsure of what to wear for your online interview, research what the acceptable dress code is and ask the opinion of a trusted mentor.

Have a few practice runs

Like you would for physical in-person interviews, practise answering interview questions. This should include general ones as well as those specific for the type of role you’ve applied for. You would also need to prepare for the virtual aspect of the interview. Are you camera shy? If so, you may find yourself clamming up in front of the camera. On the other hand, you may be very comfortable on camera. Although that’s a bonus it means you may become too familiar, casual or unprofessional during an interview. Whichever end of the spectrum you’re at, practise, practise and practise again before your online interview. You can do this by getting a free Zoom account then get a friend or family member to interview you on record mode. Play it back, check your background, posture, body language, how you sound etc. See what works well and then improve on it.

Switch off your notifications

Trust me, if you are distracted by anything, the interviewer is likely to notice even when it’s not in view. Do you have funky pop-ups and chimes on your computer each time a notification arrives? Set a reminder to switch them all off before your interview. The bigger culprit is probably your mobile phone, switch it to do-not-disturb mode and if possible do not have it close by.  Remember to switch off any computer applications that you will not be needing during the online interview.

Clear your schedule

Avoid scheduling anything else for the hour before your online interview kicks off. If you want your mind to be in the right place during the session, spend the final hour calmly getting ready. Go over the technology, the role requirements, the application you submitted etc. Also find out more about the company and interviewers.

Prepare your questions

As with face-to-face interviews, the interviewer is likely to ask if you have any questions for them. Ahead of your interview, prepare a bank of suitable and relevant questions ready to ask when the opportunity arises.

Next Steps

We have created a checklist to help you prepare for your next online interview. You can use it to gauge how ready you are. Download it FREE here.

Finally, if you want to develop the communication skills, interpersonal skills and self-awareness needed to clinch the best opportunities, you can't afford to miss our next soft skills workshop. Find out more about it here.

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