How to prepare for an online video interview

Article by Dr Gabriela Whitehead, Head of Digital Transformation and Process Management at GISMA Business School

Virtual interview, Remote interview, Zoom callOnline video interviews as a method for the recruiting process are not new; however, during the past year it has become a common practice as part of the digital transformation happening in the business world to incorporate the regulations related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The opportunity to undertake in person interviews is considerably reduced or simply not possible amid travel restrictions and social distancing rules implemented to protect our health and that of others. Moreover, being at home during the online interview can be the case for the candidates as well as for the interviewers, who may be working remotely due to current lockdowns or company regulations related to COVID-19.

When interviews take place in the same physical context, such as an office or a meeting room, for instance, all the participants are exposed to the same surroundings and potential distractions.

However, when the interviews take place remotely, the participants are in their unique environment and the only aspects that are shared with others are those that can be seen and heard via the online video call. Although there is a general understanding that there might background noises or that unforeseen distractions may occur, such as children staying at home due to closure of nurseries and schools, or others sharing the household who are also working or studying remotely, there are several measures and considerations to prepare for the online video interview. This is an important step for the applicants to make the most of the experience and fully take advantage of the opportunity to support their job application.

Separating home from the virtual space of the interview

Using digital communication technologies and online platforms to work, study or interact socially has been in place for several decades all around the world. However, almost since the outbreak of COVID-19, online communication technologies have become part of our everyday lives, encompassing different areas of social life and nowadays it is more likely than not that most people have used digital technologies to some extent. This experience helps to learn basic technical knowledge as well as specific soft skills that can be valuable in a variety of situations. Students, for instance, can transfer their experience using online platforms for social interactions to the virtual classroom that may be new to them as a learning mode. Alternatively, those seeking to enter the job market for the first time can use the skills learned during their online studies to prepare for an online job interview.

In these circumstances, people’s experience of the virtual space may be associated with the private sphere of everyday life, becoming a sort of extension of their homes where different kinds of social exchanges take place, such as those with colleagues and peers, or with family and friends. This perception of a blurred boundary between home and the interactions taking place in the virtual space can influence how people generally use and act during digital communications. In the case of online video interviews, the experience of the virtual space during the online video call should resemble that of an office or meeting room, however, the applicants may adopt an informal or relaxed approach that relates to the familiar setting where they physically are, as opposed to the formal and professional context expected from a job interview.

Preparing for the online video interview

Testing the audio and video capabilities as well as the internet connection before the interview starts is an essential step to ensure that the systems are functioning correctly. Moreover, to prepare for any technical issues during the virtual job interview, it is a good practice to have an alternative device available and ready to use for the video call or at least for a phone call.

It may be the case that the quality of the video call is affected by poor internet connection or that the speakers are picking up background noise. When possible, it is better to use a headset to improve the sound quality, disconnect other devices from the local Wi-Fi network and close all unnecessary applications running on the device being used for the online video call.

External elements are also important to be considered, such as checking your physical surroundings and any potential interruption that may occur during the interview. For example, if the doorbell rings or there are building works happening at the same time; these can, of course, be seen as unforeseen circumstances, but it is always best to avoid scheduling deliveries at the time of the call, notify other members in the household that a call will be taking place and be in a room with a suitable environment to have an uninterrupted conversation.

During the online video interview

As it is the case with traditional face-to-face interviews, when the participants share a physical space, being able to see each other in the virtual environment helps to take advantage of seeing someone’s body language to complement what is being communicated. For instance, by expressing emotions via facial expressions and the body posture, and to respond to the physical cues of others. Sitting up straight, looking at the camera, wearing formal clothing and avoiding tapping your fingers or a pen on the table are some of the basic practices to be followed during any job interview.

Being at home or in another familiar environment during a job interview is not a reason not to dress up accordingly and to behave in the same professional manner as if the interview was taking place on the premises of the hiring company. Although not everyone has a dedicated office space in their homes, it is important to find an appropriate area to carry out the interview; this includes a neutral background and ideally space to have a notepad and a pen. Making notes on the same device used for the online video call or on a mobile phone, for example, can be distracting for the other participants.

In addition, doing things that cannot be seen by the interviewers should be avoided, such as constantly reaching for objects outside the field of view from the web camera, moving too much on the seat or constantly looking around the room. If the video call takes place near a window, attention should be paid to potential distractions, such as too much sunlight that may cause the person to squint or activity outside that can be seen by the interviewer via the web camera and may, therefore, disrupt the flow of the conversation.

Access to documents and supporting information

Using digital technologies help candidates to have all the available information needed for the interview, including a copy of the job description and the version of the CV sent to the recruiter during the application process.

In addition, some recruiters may require the candidate to prepare a short presentation or to share documents during the online video job interview. In these cases, the documents should be ready, saved as digital copies in a suitable format which can be easily found on the device when required. Those who are not experienced using online communication technologies can learn and practice in advance how to share the screen, display information and change from one file to another, for example, by having a test video call with a friend or a family member, or doing some research via online tutorials freely available on the internet.

Being prepared for the online job interview can help the candidate to feel confident and this confidence is likely to come across during the interview and be noticed by the potential employer. It is also a display of some of the soft skills currently in demand in the workplace, such as being proactive, organised and able to understand the particularities of the virtual space.

Gabriela WhiteheadAbout the author

Gabriela joined the GISMA team in October 2019 as Head of Digital Transformation and Process Management. She works on data integration and decentralization to optimize the databases, systems and processes used across all departments and services at GISMA Germany.

Gabriela holds a PhD and an MSc in Communication, Media and Marketing with a specialisation in Employee International Mobility. Gabriela pursued both degrees as a remote student while starting a family and relocating internationally several times.


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