9 tips for mastering an impressive virtual job interview

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As if there’s not enough pressure to walk into a room of people you don’t know and sell yourself, the last two years have made interviewing for a job even more difficult. A recent Gartner HR Survey says that nearly 90% of interviews are being conducted virtually. While answering questions from the comfort of your home may seem ideal, many find this new setup more stressful. From choosing interview outfits to getting the lighting in your office right, career advice-seekers need practical interview tips more than ever.

We posed this question to several hiring managers so you can have the best chance possible to nail your virtual interview.

What stands out the most (positive and negative) during virtual interviews?

The virtual interview tips they sent are stellar. Take a look below and be sure to implement each before, during, and after your meeting.

Before the interview

Virtual interview tip #1 - Lighting and background

Of all the interview tips we received, one stood out by far. And, surprisingly, it has nothing to do with your expertise or education. Hiring managers across many different industries notice lighting and background the most! We were shocked to see the same thing come up several times. Check out this article for easy improvements you can make.

  • "We had an interview where the guy had a sunny window behind him and he looked like a movie villain/a witness in a video that’s blacked out. Very distracting!"
  • "She had bad lighting for the zoom [meetings] and was often doing them from her phone, instead of a computer.  This seems to go for a lot of people, but really is such an easy fix and makes a HUGE difference in how people “see” you, to be honest."
  • "Put your back to a wall, or something similar.  And PLEASE avoid interviewing outside. I think it's lovely but there are many managers who see it as wholly unprofessional, and more along the lines of 'why couldn't you find a place in your home to interview’."

Virtual interview tip #2 - Dress appropriately

One of the top searches on Pinterest when it comes to career advice is “job interview outfit”. It can feel awkward to be in a suit while sitting in your bedroom during a pivotal career moment. But, how casual is too casual?

I asked Stephanie Gisondi-Little of ComposedCo what’s appropriate to wear during a virtual interview. Here’s what this Fashion Therapist advises:

With the rise of virtual work, now more than ever the lines of 'appropriate' dress are blurred. However, when it comes to interviews - whether virtual or in-person - I firmly believe it is always better to err on the side of over rather than underdressing. The primary reason? It demonstrates conscious and subconscious respect, personality, and a strong work ethic to the interviewer. Whether we wish it to or not, first impressions are lasting impressions, and all candidates being equal, the one who is more polished in their appearance will be remembered most positively, irrespective of industry standards. (Hint: Know the company ethos before your call! ie. no need to wear a banker's suit for a creative fashion job.) Ultimately, what you wear should never distract or detract from what is most important; what you bring to the table as a prospective employee with skills, fresh energy, and ideas.

Virtual interview tip #3 - Do your research

You should always know who will be on the call. With resources like LinkedIn and company websites, there’s no reason you can’t spend a few minutes getting to know your interviewer(s). This is something many people don’t do and will make you stand out in the best way possible.

Research your interviewers. I am always impressed with someone who shows up knowing not just about the company and the role but also about the people they will work for and with.

Virtual interview tip #4 - Be on time

Duh! With nowhere to drive you would think being on time for an interview is the simplest part. However, virtual meetings can bring up a host of issues, making it easier to be tardy to the party. Trouble logging into the interview, your toddler crying for a snack, or cutting it too close as you finish your makeup can all result in showing up late. And it doesn’t help that the people interviewing you are literally watching the time tick on their screen.

Show up on time. That someone would show up late to a virtual interview is not only perplexing it's an interview killer.


Bypass the cover letter

During the interview

Virtual interview tip #5 - Remove distractions and interruptions

Let’s be honest. Distractions and interruptions at home are real. Try to get creative, especially if your kids will be in the house. Can you bring a babysitter in for an hour or ask a neighbor to help? If you have a pet, let the interviewer know upfront that your dog may or may not bark at the delivery driver. Remember, what they see now is a reflection of what they think you’ll be like as an employee. 

  • Interviewees who understand that they are on camera, and find a non-distracting place to do the interview [stand out]. I know that can be tough, but no one wants to see your family cooking breakfast in the background if you take the interview in the kitchen. Even something as simple as having your back to a solid wall can help. And make sure you have reliable connectivity. If you are competing for bandwidth at home, ask that no one else use video conferencing during your interview, use VPNs, etc. Again, if you can't ask them to make changes, see if there is somewhere else you can potentially go. Many phones are now wifi hotspots, so test that out and see if yours will work as a backup. 
  • Your kids/pets/roommates should be away and not somewhere they can interrupt you - it's not cute (maybe a little bit in terms of pets, but it is still very distracting). 

Virtual interview tip #6 - Be concise

When we’re under pressure and trying to put our best foot forward, it’s hard to know how much to say. Silence can feel uncomfortable so many people tend to fill it with unnecessary commentary. Take a few seconds to think before you answer which will help you avoid going on and on during your virtual interview. 

Answer questions succinctly (so many people over-explain)! It's sometimes a mistake to try and talk more during phone and video interviews, to fill the silence of the audio line as we've all been trained to do over the phone. Refrain from babbling too much!  Always be aware you are in an interview, and that these people ARE judging you based on your appearance, actions, behavior, and responses.

Virtual interview tip #7 - Ask questions

It’s perfectly okay to have a list of questions next to you during your virtual interview. Any professional giving career advice will tell you that’s simply being prepared. Try to think beyond the “normal” questions and ask thoughtful ones specific to the position and company.

Ask questions! When someone asks me something like, "how could I best support you in this role?" OR "What does success look like 6, 12, 18 months from now" I  know they are future thinking, solution-oriented, and willing to work to move the entire team forward, [which are] all great qualities. 

Virtual interview tip #8 - Be yourself and know what you want

Being someone different than who you are won’t benefit anyone. If you end up landing the job, you’ll be miserable trying to “fake it” for 8+ hours per day. Consider what’s important to you in a position, manager, and company. Be professional but take some of the pressure off of yourself. Staying composed will go a long way. And remember, you’re interviewing them, too.

I prefer to work in that more laid-back kind of environment, and my transition was unsought (I wasn’t really looking to leave my last role), so I was in a position to REALLY be myself. I know what it’s like to not be working and not being able to be as choosy, and that’s a whole other situation, but if you can, try to remember that YOU are interviewing THEM just as much as the other way around. 

After the interview

Virtual interview tip #9 - Send a unique thank you note

Whew! You finally hit the “Leave Meeting” button. Now what? Sending a thank you note is still a best practice, but mailing it may no longer be an option. The next best thing is to craft a well-thought-out email that goes beyond a templated thank you.

[A woman I hired] asked a lot of questions during the interview process and was very quick to follow up with a thank you email. Her thank you also included some ideas about how she would approach her position and things that she identified as her strengths and how they could help our business.

The workforce is rapidly changing and that includes interviews. Get used to virtual options by trying to implement the career advice from the hiring managers quoted. Take a few deep breaths, look in the mirror (especially at that beautiful interview outfit), and get ready to spill your strengths. You can do it!

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