• Jo

How to...emerge victorious from the virtual interview

It’s no surprise that virtual interviews are becoming increasingly common/necessary as we continue to rise to the many challenges Covid-19 throws at us. Interviews are daunting enough without the added pressure of wondering whether you’re going to lose internet connection or if someone is going to burst into the room mid-call. Having recruited at an international level for many years and therefore familiar with the many delights of the virtual interview, I wanted to share some tips that will hopefully help people to feel a little less apprehensive about being invited to one.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Your technology

The first thing you’ll need to do is ensure you have the technical equipment to be able to attend a virtual interview. At the very least you’ll need a computer, webcam and microphone and, of course, a good internet connection is vital. If one or all of these are missing from your set-up, solution-seeking is going to be necessary (for instance, borrowing from a friend). If you have earphones with a microphone to improve the sound quality and reduce background noise, then even better. I would strongly advise against using your mobile phone for your interview unless you can find a way of stablising the phone relatively close to you but, even then, it should really be a last resort.

You’ll also need the relevant software for the call – the interview invite you’ve received should confirm which software you’re going to be using and it’s usually one of Skype, Zoom or MS Teams, all of which can be downloaded for free, you’ll just need to set up an account. As I’ve mentioned in my blog post about avoiding using unprofessional email addresses, the same applies here, as your username will be visible to the interviewer. Get the software in advance of the call, not just before, as it’s a good idea to give yourself time to become familiar with how it works so you feel comfortable on the day and don’t get caught out with not knowing how to unmute yourself, and other rather embarrassing scenarios (I’ve seen them all)!

Your environment

Identify a quiet space to do the interview with absolutely zero risk of being interrupted, either by a person or a pet. If this requires barricading a door and sticking up a do not disturb sign in the absence of a lock, then so be it. Try to use a space where the background is relatively uncluttered and there’s nothing that can distract your interviewer, like an overspilling laundry basket or your unmade bed. You want your environment to ooze professionalism even if this means moving your furniture around to give yourself a plain wall to sit against. Some software provides virtual backgrounds to overcome this challenge. Ideally have a window close by to create some natural light so that you’re not deep in shadow, but don’t have the window behind as you’ll just be a silhouette on the screen.

Your online presence

It’s worth roping in a friend ahead of the call to test out your virtual 'presence' as well as the technology mentioned above. You’ll need to have your screen and seat at an appropriate height and your webcam or laptop screen at the right angle to ensure your face is in the middle of the window for the interviewer. I’ve had many calls where I’m either looking straight up the interviewee’s nose or their face is cut off just below their eyes (a cartoon character from my childhood springs to mind here, but I can’t remember who it is).  A view of yourself appears on the screen alongside or beneath the other person, so you can check what they’re seeing on the call if not done before. Making actual eye contact with the interviewer whilst looking into their eyes on the screen is difficult because their eyes are not where the webcam is.  I’d recommend playing around with the placement of the software’s screen views so that the image of the interviewer is as close to the webcam as possible (which, if built-in is just above the screen and, if not built-in, is best to attach just above the screen) to make this seem as natural as possible.

Your interview day checklist

  • Make sure your computer is fully charged

  • Ensure the set up and environment is as you’ve prepared

  • Get your notebook and a few pens to hand (typing notes on your computer can be very distracting for the interviewer and you don’t want to run out of ink if you’ve only got one pen)

  • Dress professionally (at least waist up, but I recommend fully as it’ll put you in the right mindset and, if it's absolutely essential for you to stand up in the middle of the call, you don’t want to give the interviewer a glimpse of your Harry Potter pyjama bottoms – or worse)!

  • Turn all visual and audible notifications off on your computer – it’s safer to simply sign out of everything else on your computer for the duration of the interview

  • Ensure your mobile phone is off no matter where it is in relation to you

  • If you miss anything because of poor connection, don’t ignore it, simply ask the interviewer to repeat what you’ve missed

  • If you lose connection completely, don’t panic, try to quickly reconnect and if this isn’t possible, give the interviewer/company a call and explain. They should allow you to continue by phone

  • Try not to fidget and, if you’re using a swivel chair, don’t swivel – you'll make the interviewer dizzy (this really applies to in-person interviews as well)

The interview itself shouldn't be any different from an in-person interview, so you should prepare in much the same way, but a little additional preparation to ensure everything runs smoothly will certainly pay off.

If you're in the process of applying for roles and would like support in strengthening your CV and cover letter, you can find information about the services I provide by visiting