Whether you love them or wish you could leave 'em, virtual interviews are here to stay. A hiring practice that gained traction out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual interviews offer undeniable benefits for hiring managers and job seekers alike, such as speeding up the hiring process and allowing people from multiple locations to participate.
Here are five tips to help you make the most of the opportunities presented by virtual interviews.
1. Set the scene
Your first priority is to minimize tech troubles during your virtual interview. Check your internet speed (a browser search of “speed test” will return plenty of options) and run any updates your computer has been bugging you about right away. If you’re unfamiliar with the platform you’ll be interviewing on, do a trial run with a pal to make sure you’re comfortable with it. About 30 minutes before the interview, open the meeting platform, set it on full screen, and close your other browser windows to minimize potential distractions, alerts, or internet slowdowns. I also suggest you silence your phone or put it away so that you can focus solely on your interview experience.
Flattering lighting is also important in virtual interviews! Ideally, you’ll sit facing a window so that natural light illuminates your face. But if all you have is a lamp, try to have it shining directly at you, rather than from above or below. Position your laptop or desktop camera at eye-level (I don’t recommend using a tablet or phone for this important meeting, if you can avoid it). Dress in a way that feels authentic to your identity and represents how you’d like to be perceived in a work or internship setting. Check out our Dress the Part Pinterest page for inspiration.
When it comes to the virtual interview space itself, I recommend a simple background, whether it’s a plain, undecorated wall or a bookshelf with a few plants and some art. Some folks choose to hang a simple tapestry behind them for interviews to hide other room elements from view and allow for some visual calm. Virtual backgrounds depicting office-type environments can be an option, but use with care—they may not function correctly on all platforms.
Don’t forget to let members of your household know what’s going on, engage their help if needed, and make plans to keep your pets or children out of the mix during your interview. You may want to close any open windows in your designated interview space and hang a sign on your entry door asking any delivery drivers (or anyone else) not to ring your doorbell.
2. Know your audience
All the old rules apply when it comes to researching the organization and interviewer before your meeting. While employers consistently say that students and graduates of the University of Minnesota have high-quality interviewing skills, they do cite “lack of organizational research” as a concern. Avoid that pitfall and spend time on the “About Us” section of the employer website, browse their social media, and check out their LinkedIn. Interviewers generally like to see that prospective employees have done their homework and have even added them as connections beforehand, but you can always browse LinkedIn profiles in private mode if that feels more comfortable.
Prepare a few notes to help you remember what you learned and, crucially, to help you form the thoughtful questions you’re going to ask as a result of this research. One of the most powerful ways to demonstrate a sincere interest in an opportunity is to ask good questions. One of my favorites is, “What have past folks in this role found to be the most challenging and the most satisfying?” Refer to this guide to asking questions in your interview.
3. Tell STAR stories
Some interviewers prefer informal, conversational interviews, while others rely heavily on technical questions or challenges to filter through candidates. However, the majority of interviewers tell us they use the behavioral interview, which can sound like “tell me about a time when…” Regardless of what interview styles you encounter, you should prepare for behavioral interviewing so you can effortlessly relay specific examples and details about your performance, mindset, and talents in memorable and impactful ways. Use the job description to practice answering questions about how you used a required competency or skill.
When answering the interviewer’s questions, I encourage you to follow the STAR technique—Situation, Task, Action, Result—so you can relay enough information in sufficient specificity and detail, but without your answer taking too long. Make sure you are answering the intent of the question asked, highlighting your capacity to produce meaningful results and learn from your experiences, which demonstrates emotional intelligence.
4. Look them in the eyes
Even though this is an online experience, you can still cultivate rapport with your interviewer through direct eye contact, authentic hand gestures, and interpersonal savvy. In any virtual interaction, it can be tempting to focus on your own face, which often means that you’re looking down or somewhere other than into the eyes of your interviewer (aka into your camera). I suggest you either close out your own window or place a small sticky note behind your camera to remind you where to focus and engage your interviewer. Listen carefully to the questions and be mindful to not talk over others in the meeting. It’s okay to take a beat or two after they finish to collect your thoughts and formulate a strong answer. Although some advise using the mute button during an interview, I think that muting and unmuting can be yet another unwanted distraction from the goal of connecting with your audience.
5. Leave them wanting more
If the interview went well and you liked what you heard, ask for the job at the end of the interaction, stressing one or two skills or experiences that illustrate why you’d be a good fit. An easy outro may sound like, “Thank you so much for the interview today! I think my experience doing such-and-such would be a great asset in this position!” As with any interview, a follow-up email or hard copy thank-you note is a must! Plus, it’s another great opportunity to reiterate why you think you’re the right candidate for the job. Write your note while the conversation is still fresh in your head and schedule it to go out first thing the next business day.
Virtual interviews are their own “special” experience; hopefully these tips will help you prepare and build the confidence you need to be successful with this crucial job-seeking challenge. Happy virtual interviewing!
Liz Hruska provides career development support as the assistant director with Career and Internship Services in the College of Continuing and Professional Studies