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How to Succeed in an Online Interview

"Help, I'm Having A Zoom Interview!"

More and more interviews are taking place across online, virtual platforms.  Since the pandemic these tools have become commonplace and in many cases are now the standard for initial interviews.  

There are some benefits - it saves time, it’s safer (no need to worry about staying at a two-metre distance), helps to cut down on travelling costs for all parties and lessens the impact upon the environment.  So, you've gained a few extra hours by not having to travel, the money you would have spent on fuel you've invested into a webcam and think about how you'll minimise the impact on your carbon footprint!

For both interviewer and interviewee the experience can initially be very daunting but with a little preparation and the hints and tips here, we hope that your Skype interview will be as natural (well almost!) as a face-to-face meeting.

Ten Quick Tips to Help your Zoom Interview

  1. Treat it as a face-to-face interview and do all of the preparation that you would normally do.
  2. Ensure that You Have the Right Kit
  3. Record Yourself First
  4. Do A trial Beforehand With Friend or Family
  5. Be Aware of Your Body Language
  6. Be Aware of What's Behind You On the Call
  7. Be Aware of Noise That's Around You
  8. Dress to Impress
  9. Practise Your Speaking Tone
  10. Smile When You Dial and Stay Calm!

Treat it as a face-to-face interview

Do the preparation for a first interview that you normally would - including researching the company beforehand (see our guide on researching companies).  

Know your targets, your performance against targets, your career history inside out, your achievements, qualifications, etc.  Have pre-prepared 'small talk' and questions like you would for any face-to-face meeting and ensure that you Dress to Impress!  Have your CV and notes to hand - as you would in a conventional interview - so that you can scan them and keep the conversation flowing as naturally as possible.  Make notes and remember to ask questions throughout, engage the interviewer and don't forget to ask for feedback on your performance and to close at the end!

The Equipment

The hardware is inexpensive as most modern laptops include an inbuilt webcam and microphone, although it is imperative that you trial your kit at least a day in advance to ensure everything is working and you know how to operate it BEFORE the meeting.

Just before the event close down all windows so your processing power is solely dedicated to the meeting.  Be online for the event at least five minutes before the agreed time.

Get the lighting right - too much will show up every spot and wrinkle . Too little and you'll look like you're sitting in a broom cupboard or downstairs loo.  Ideally use an adjustable light pointed off of a bright wall to compliment the ceiling light.

A contact of mine who trains sales staff on a leading TV shopping channel recommends turning off your own image on the call.  He says it is human nature to keep checking yourself out, and this distracts your focus on the people you are meeting.  By doing that you’ll come across with better eye contact and will appear more interested in the people you’re communicating with.

Record Yourself First

I don't know why but first time you attempt a web meeting you will sit with your hands on your knees and you will look at either the keyboard, to the side or around the task bar at the bottom of your screen - don't worry everyone does it!  You will therefore come across as really stiff and disengaged to the interviewer 

By recording yourself beforehand on your webcam you can see how big (or small) you come across on the screen, how your voice projects, how you project your own body language and how your own kit performs.  

Without doubt you'll feel totally self-conscious the first time you talk to yourself at a webcam but your performance will improve by 50% by acting on this single piece of advice.  The interviewer is probably going to record the meeting at their end so don't be daunted - give it a go - go on, I dare you!

Do a Trial Beforehand with Friend or Family Member

If you have a willing friend or family member then do a trial beforehand.  Initially you will both collapse in a heap of laughter and then have absolutely nothing to say - again, for some reason, this is totally natural!  However, having a web-chat 'experience' will get you used to the kit and will enable you to press all of the right buttons and come across as well as you can at the interview.

Send across to your willing volunteer a handful of sample interview questions to make it a real 'dress rehearsal' and ask for feedback - how did you come across, how was the tone and volume of your voice.  If they didn't know you would they have any preconceptions of you based upon your manner, the background, your clothing, etc?  Was the lighting okay?  Was there any excess background noise?

This practice call will also help you prepare some small talk - how's the weather?, how are you doing?, etc. which, as in a conventional meeting, forms the first few minutes of any interview.

Be Aware of Your Body Language

Recording yourself beforehand will really help you come across as naturally as possible.  Until holographic imaging becomes the norm you will never be able to communicate as effectively as you would in a face-to-face interview as there is the barrier of the screen and webcam for both parties.  However, by being aware of your body language you can ensure that your non-verbal communication skills come across.   

Be aware of your hands - if you're normally quite an animated person that usually talks with their hands then use them in the Skype call! A big 'no no' is sitting back and crossing your arms.  

Try to imitate the breathing pattern of the person that you are speaking to.  This does two key things - firstly it helps you to 'tune in' to each other and secondly it will help you relax.  

Make eye contact by looking straight into your webcam remember that shifting eye contact when talking will make you look as, well, shifty, as it would in a face-to-face meeting.  

Finally, and most importantly, SMILE, LAUGH and GET ON WITH THEM like you would in any other sales interview.  The technology is free so take your time, enjoy the meeting and go 'off track' about personal interests and the like as you would in a conventional interview.

Be Aware of What's Behind You on the Call

In true 'panto' style don't get your interviewer screaming 'it's behind you!'  Ensure that your background is organised and clutter free, take down the saucy firemen calendar and make sure that photos of you and your mates doing shots at a recent party are out of the frame!  

It is human nature to judge people, we're a horrible species in that way, so don't give the interviewer any opportunity to make preconceptions of you, or to distract them from the important points that you're trying to get across.

When checking your set up, check your surroundings.  I recently interviewed someone with a client in the late afternoon and they were in a hotel room with an unmade bed in the background.  After the session, the first comment my client made was – “looks like they’ve just got out of bed!”

Video yourself beforehand, pause for a 'still' and take a look around this picture.  Look at the detail in the background - is the damp patch in the corner showing, is the wallpaper peeling, is the 'Experts Guide to the Kama Sutra' removed from the bookcase? This little exercise will really help to ensure that you don't make an innocent faux pas!

Be Aware of Noise That's Around You

If you're having the Zoom interview at home, then chuck the cat out of the room and if possible get a friend to take the kids to the park for an hour.  Turn off TVs and radios throughout your house and put your mobile onto silent (no one wants to hear your Little Mix ringtone!').  Microphones tend to pick up every little noise, (and are sensitive to things like breathing) so ensure that you video yourself beforehand and adjust the volumes accordingly.

If you're in a houseful let everyone know what you're doing, ask for their co-operation and hang a 'do not disturb' sign on your door for the duration of the call.

Dress to Impress

I don't know why but, in my experience, interviewees don't dress as well as they would in a conventional interview - for instance messy hair, casual clothes and a general air of 'nonchalance'.  I know that you're at home and I know that you feel a bit self-conscious talking to a computer but you have to dress in exactly the same way as you would for a conventional interview (well the top half anyway!).  Not only will this ensure that the interviewers do not have any preconceived notions about you but will also help you feel professional and in 'interview mode'.  

Be aware that patterns can be distracting and look a little messy on screen. You can't go wrong with dark blue and black suits.

One of the great benefits of video interviewing though is it doesn't matter if you overdo the aftershave or perfume, you can wear your Homer Simpson socks and you don't have to clean your shoes!

Practise Your Speaking Tone

Perhaps speak a little slower than you would normally (mirror the interviewers), and a little louder (but not too much).  Position your webcam so that you can have a straight back and you are naturally sitting faced directly into the webcam.  Speak clearly and be aware that if you're being interviewed from abroad there may be a few second time lag.

Smile When You Dial and Stay Calm!

Smiling makes you look more friendly, more engaging, more positive, more confident, and overall lifts your own spirits.  Video conferencing is really not pleasurable the first time, so do it with a smile, sit upright, relax, and enjoy - honestly, it does become easier and less scary!

....and finally

Guess what, 'sods law' states that something will go wrong with the technology, relax, take your time to correct, don't fluster and calmly get it all back working again.  Interviewers know how daunting video conferencing can be and won't mark you down for your Internet connection stuttering, your microphone unclipping from your tie or your computer going into 'sleep mode' - it happens!  

Prepare thoroughly, relax, enjoy, and always ask what the next stage is.  Once you've got the first one out of the way you won't be so self-conscious so, congratulations, you've now gained skills and experience in, what will inevitably, become an everyday communication tool of the future!

5 Great Tips for Telephone Interviews




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D. Burgess, Candidate

Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment are a very friendly and professional recruitment organisation who listen to your needs, work with you and act on your behalf which sets them apart from many of their competitors who in my experience are willing to throw anything at you. We discussed my history, my preferences and my wishes - one opportunity was introduced. It was perfect. I start at the end of June.

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Aaron Wallis (and in particular Rob Scott) have been fantastic throughout the recruitment process, and even a few months down the line, still continues to care. Rob clearly cares about each individual and has a wealth of knowledge and expertise, which shows in the work he does. Each candidate is not just a number, and the support received from Aaron Wallis has helped me get a career which I truly enjoy.

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