14 top tips for preparing for an online interview

Whilst online interviews have been happening for a while; thanks to COVID-19 they are now commonplace - and will continue to be for some time. A lot of the prep needed for an online interview remains the same as for face-to-face interviews. The fundamental difference is that you are now also responsible for the setup of your interview surroundings. This guide takes you step-by-step through all the key areas that you need to address to ensure that you are as prepared as you can be to have a great interview.

1.     Act as if you are having a face to face interview

It is important that your approach and preparation for the interview is as professional as it would be if the interview were taking place in their offices. It is likely that your interview will follow the same structure as a face to face interview including a variety of questions - functional, behavioural and situational – and they will likely be expecting questions from you too.

2.     Expectations

The company will hopefully confirm the following information in their confirmation email to you. If not, we would encourage you to be proactive and to ask the following questions so that you know what to expect and can prepare accordingly.

  • How long is the interview expected to last?
  • How many people will be interviewing you including their names and job title?
  • Will the interview be on the phone or by video conference (VC)?
  • If via VC which software will they be using so that you can ensure that it is downloaded properly ahead of the interview.
  • Are you expected to give a presentation? If so on what, and for how long?
  • Contact details on the day of the interview in case something unavoidable comes up.

3.     Position of your computer/laptop and light

Ideally you want natural light to be in front of you or to the side but not behind you - the latter makes you look like you are in a dungeon. Once you are happy with your computer set up, you now need to ensure that you position the camera correctly. It should be at eye level so that you are looking straight into the camera. You may need to raise the position of your computer by putting it on a firm box or set of books.

4.     Beware aware of what is behind you.

Ideally find a spot where the background is either a blank wall, painting, or if soft furnishings are visible for these to be organised and minimal. Give yourself enough time prior to the interview to double check what is in your frame and remove any visible clutter – you don’t want to be distracted by what you didn’t tidy up during the interview!

5.     Know your sound settings

Get to know where the input volume settings are for your device and operating system. It’s not usually much of an issue, because most apps and systems set pretty sensible defaults but if you are sharing a computer with other family members it is possible that they may have changed your settings so it's always good to double check prior to the interview taking place.

6.     External noise

You ideally need to be in a room on your own so that you can focus on the interview. If during COVID-19 this is not possible then your interviewer will understand, and we would recommend that you let them know in advance.

7.     Headphones

Headphones of any kind will make your video calls and conferences better, since it minimizes the chance of echo from your mic picking up the audio from your own speakers. Big over ear models are good for sound quality, while earbuds make for less obvious headwear in your actual video image.

8.     Wi-Fi

The last thing you want is for the Wi-Fi to let you down. If there is any danger of other people in your home streaming Netflix etc and weakening the connection for you then please ask them to come off the Wi-Fi until your interview is finished. If it does drop out, stay calm, check your settings, and retry. Your interviewers will be used to it, and will absolutely understand.

9.     Do a test run!

Now that you have set up the room and got your technology all sorted we would highly recommend that you do a test run so that you are confident that everything is set up correctly and you aren’t leaving anything to chance.

You may find that you want to hide yourself, so that you’re not distracted by your own image - most people find that on online calls they end up looking at themselves, often focusing on what they don’t like. If you’re using Zoom, you can use the “hide myself’/ hide self-view” – other platforms can also be adjusted to ensure you don’t spend the meeting wondering why your forehead is so shiny…

10.  Blu tack is your friend

It is very easy to get flustered and lose your train of thought so one of the beautiful things about an online interview is being able to have your notes and CV right in front of you. Our top tip is to put your key points on post-it notes and stick the notes around the edges of your computer. This also negates the need to look down/away from the computer thereby losing eye contact with your interviewer. As they are in front of you, they act as gentle reminders of the questions you want to ask or the key points that you want to ensure you get across and the interviewer will never know!

11.  What to wear

Despite you and perhaps your interviewer being in an informal setting it is really important that you dress professionally in a manner that enables you to feel at your best. By dressing correctly, it will not only help you to get into the right mindset, but it also sends a powerful message to the interviewer that you are taking the interview seriously. Fact: 55% of all communication is visual!

 It is also critical that you don’t just dress professionally on the top half of your body, working on the assumption that, as it’s an online interview, they will never see your bottom half. You simply don’t know. For a number of unpredictable reasons you may well need to stand up, so leaving your bottom half looking like it has just left a BBQ on the beach is a risky strategy.  The top tip here is to dress how you would dress if you were having a face to face interview. However, as with all interviews, authenticity is key: the reality is you’re at home interviewing, so business smart is often the most appropriate.

12.  Give yourself plenty of time

First impressions count. Punctuality is a key business skill and therefore it is important that you are at your computer a good 10 minutes before the interview is due to start. By factoring in time to arrive at your computer early you are creating the space you need to get set up and ready, as well as calming your nerves and enable you to get into the right headspace.

13.  Body language

93% of all communication is nonverbal. Often the thing that panics people is what to do with their hands!

Don’t sit on them, as you wouldn’t in a face to face interview! In everyday life it is totally natural to use our hands to aid our communication as both consciously and subconsciously they help to keep the focus on you. Here the emphasis is on natural gestures not wild actions as remember both you and the interviewer are confined to the boundaries of the computer screen. The aim here is to be natural, don’t overthink it. Start by placing your hands and forearms comfortably by your side or on the table in front of you and allow them to naturally be involved in the conversation.

14. Eye Contact

It is critical to establish eye contact by looking into the camera. If you don’t look into the camera it can be obvious to your interviewer and very off putting. However, just to flag it is also much harder (nigh on impossible) to establish eye contact in the same way you would physically as some of the connection is naturally lost. You solve this by remaining focused and as relaxed as possible and look into the camera. The last point to make is that is inevitable that you will probably want to look at how you ‘look’ on the camera. If you have dressed appropriately and set up the room correctly let it go and focus instead on relaxing into and having a great conversation.  

And finally, good luck!