In light of the coronavirus pandemic, companies that are still hiring are largely conducting job interviews remotely via phone or video. While many of the typical best practices for job interviews still stand, there are even more variables to take into consideration with these interview formats.
GOBankingRates spoke to career experts, human resource pros, recruiters and other executives to get their best tips for succeeding at a remote job interview. Follow these tips to make it to the next interview round.
Last updated: June 24, 2020
Do Your Research
The first step in nailing any job interview — remote or otherwise — is to take the time to do your research.
“Getting every piece of information you can about the organization and the role will make you feel more confident when you are preparing for your interview,” said Ineke McMahon, an executive recruiter and director of P2P Learning and Development Academy. “Make sure you are familiar with the company’s visions, its goals, its values and its financial report.”
Having all this background information will help you in a number of ways, she said.
“Firstly, it will give you some context about the words that the company uses,” McMahon continued. “When you are reading through the job description and annual report, go through it with a highlighter and highlight the different words and the language style that they are using. You are getting a preview into the way that they write, their culture, how they name things and the terminology that they use. When you are in the interview, be reflective of that style. You will feel like the person that they are looking for when you start talking in their language, using their buzzwords and terminology. It shows that you are like-minded.”
Prepare How You Will Talk About Your Past Experience
Rather than regurgitating your resume, be prepared with talking points about your prior roles and your achievements at each of them.
“Spend time sitting down and looking through your CV, and outlining what the role looked like when you took on the responsibilities and what the key achievements were,” McMahon said. “Being able to articulate this and practicing in front of the mirror will ensure that when you are in the hot seat, those interview questions flow nicely and smoothly.”
Prepare Questions for Your Interviewer
Most job interviews end with the interviewer asking if you have any questions for them. Prepare some ahead of time so that you’re not put on the spot.
“It’s important that the interview is a two-way street,” McMahon said. “If you’re going to invest your career in this organization, you need to have a good understanding of what the role will involve, what the key challenges will be and what the future looks like for you. It also lets the interviewer know that you are serious about your career.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Phone and video interviews can feel unnatural, so it’s important to continue to practice your responses.
“One of the most common mistakes job seekers make in the [remote] interview is being caught off guard and struggling to answer the screener’s questions eloquently, yet sufficiently,” said Jagoda Wieczorek, HR manager at ResumeLab. “My recommendation is to practice common interview questions, so you know exactly what to expect.”
Videotape yourself answering common questions so you can tweak responses as needed, and consider having a friend conduct a mock video interview with you so that you feel prepared for the real thing.
Do a Trial Run of Any App or Tech Needed
If the interview will be conducted via a platform you aren’t familiar with, make sure you test it out ahead of time.
“You don’t want to realize one minute before the meeting starts that you needed to create a profile,” said career coach Carlota Zimmerman. “Take the time to get comfortable with the particular app. Can you create a professional background screen? Can you get a trial membership that won’t come out of your pocket? Does the trial membership put a limit on how long the interview may run? Make sure you know the answers to all these questions and more.”
Set Up a Professional Voicemail Message
“If it’s a phone interview, make sure you have a professional voicemail set up on your phone just in case you miss the recruiter’s call for whatever reason,” said Kristen Leong, human resources generalist at M&O Marketing in Southfield, Michigan.
Choose an Interview Time When Your Energy Level Will Be High
“Interview candidates are often offered multiple time slots to choose from, so try to pick a slot that best fits your energy level,” said Timothy G. Wiedman, a former associate professor of management and human resources at Doane University. “For example, if you are most energetic in the morning but run out of gas by 2 p.m., try to avoid a late afternoon interview slot.”
Also, double-check that you and your interviewer are in the same time zone before choosing a time slot.
Be Completely Ready for the Interview Well Before the Scheduled Start Time
“Preparation is key,” said Parker Geiger, CEO of the image and brand development company Chuva Beyond. “If you are ready to go 30 minutes ahead of time by having all that was requested of you for the interview, you will appear organized. If you are shuffling papers and trying to find things under a pile of papers, you will appear disorganized. This can be seen as being disrespectful of the interviewer’s time.”
Even if it’s a phone interview, the interviewer will likely be able to hear you shuffling papers and moving around, so the same rules apply.
Turn Off All of Your Notifications
Whether you’re doing the interview on your phone or laptop, ensure that any distracting pop-ups and alerts are turned off. Do your best to eliminate any other sounds that could interrupt the interview.
“This includes alarm clocks and the oven,” Zimmerman said. “Put your phone on vibrate. You’re going into a very stressful situation — give yourself all the tools possible to thrive and even triumph.”
Have a Backup Device Handy
“Don’t let the technology defeat you — to avoid yourself the embarrassment of not being able to connect with a recruiter, make sure you are properly prepared and have at least two devices handy,” said Pete Sosnowski, vice president and co-founder of the career blog Zety. “Technologies fail — and often at the least expected moments too. Having an alternative device prepared shows your professionalism and lets you save the situation within minutes.”
If you’re planning on doing the interview via phone, have your laptop ready-to-go in case your phone dies or doesn’t work when you need it. The same goes if you’re planning on doing the interview on your computer — make sure your phone is ready as a backup. This means that if the interview will be done via an app, you have it downloaded and logged in on both devices.
Sign On Early
Just as you would arrive at an in-person interview early, you should also “arrive” early to a remote interview.
“Don’t sign in right on time if doing a remote or Skype interview,” Leong said. “Be 10 minutes early like you would during a regular face-to-face interview. By doing this, you won’t get flustered if you have technical issues, and you can re-read your notes and job description one more time while waiting for the recruiter to sign on.”
If It's a Phone Interview, Be Sure To Project Your Voice
“Without the social cues of eye contact, smiles or hand gestures, everything — including your excitement for the role — must come from your voice tone and inflection,” said career consultant Jeff Magnuson. “Not everyone is great over the phone; however, the extra effort is needed to improve your chances of moving on in the process.”
Magnuson recommends smiling, even if the person can’t see you speaking, as it can come across in your tone. And it’s better to speak too loudly than too softly, he said.
“If you’re too loud, they’ll just turn the volume down on their phone, so there’s no need to stress about that.”
For Video Interviews, Dress the Part
“Video interviews need to be treated exactly like in-person interviews,” Magnuson said. “Dress as you would (for an in-person interview) — business formal in most cases.”
You might be able to get away with dressing professionally only from the waist up for a video interview, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“You never know if you may need to stand up on camera for any reason,” said Daniel E. Santos, CEO of a career coaching company, Prepory. “The hiring manager may even ask you to stand up. Wearing the right clothes also puts job seekers in the right frame of mind.”
Do the Interview in a Clean, Simple Space
“Ensure the space behind you is not distracting,” Magnuson said. “It doesn’t need to be a blank wall but you want the interviewer’s focus to be on you, not your home or office.”
Make Sure the Space Is Free From Interruptions and Distractions
If you have kids or pets at home, make sure that they will not be able to interrupt you during the interview.
“Place a ‘please do not disturb’ note on the door of your home or office,” Geiger said. “Remind others in the home of your interview time. The note is a friendly reminder. Place dogs in another space as far away as you can so that they do not begin barking, disrupting the interview.”
Make Sure You're in a Space With a Good Connection
If certain rooms in your home have better phone reception or Wi-Fi strength than others, be sure to do the interview in a space where your connection will be strong.
“A good connection is crucial,” said Liz Cannata, senior manager of HR technology and operations at CareerBuilder. “Find a spot with a good signal so you and the interviewer can hear each other clearly without disruption.”
Good Lighting Is Key
Set up your computer or phone ahead of a video interview to ensure you will be well lit, in focus and easy to hear.
“Lighting, webcam angle and sound quality are the three keys to looking good in a video interview,” said Jen Hood, a career coach and owner of The Career Force. “Light from the front, [have the] camera at eye level and [do the interview in] a quiet space so the interviewer can hear you. You won’t stand out for having a great video interview setup, but you will stand out if I can barely see you, struggle to hear you, and am looking up your nose because of the camera angle.”
Use Headphones or Ear Buds
“Earbuds or headphones are ideal for both video and phone interviews,” Hood said. “They block out background noise for both you and the interviewer.”
Look At the Camera While You Are Speaking
Don’t focus on your own image during the video interview. Instead, be sure you are engaging with the interviewer.
“Look at the camera when speaking and listening so it looks like you’re making eye contact,” Magnuson said.
Be Mindful of Your Body Language
“Body language can still be read in a video interview,” said Ashley Marie Fernandez, founder of Ashley Marie Coaching. “You don’t want to be sitting five feet away from your webcam with your arms crossed looking out the window.”
Instead, sit up straight with your feet firmly on the ground, keeping your hands and arms relaxed.
Have Notes Handy
One advantage of a remote interview is that you can refer to notes or talking points, which you usually can’t do when the interview is in-person. This is especially true for a phone interview, but you can also jot down some quick notes to refer to during a video interview as well.
“You can have some notes or post-its nearby, but not so you’re obviously looking at them,” Magnuson said.
Find Creative Ways To Stand Out
Even during a video interview, it might be hard to show your personality in the way you would be able to if it were in-person, so find a way to make yourself memorable to the interviewer. Michael Alexis, CEO and hiring manager at Team Building, recommends showing your enthusiasm for the company via your Zoom background.
“A small and strategic move in a video interview is to include the logo of the company you are interviewing with on your Zoom virtual background,” he said. “This is an easy way to show the interviewer you’ve done your research and think creatively. Also, companies love to see their own logo.”
Interviewers will take note of not only your relevant experience but also your manners.
“Always make sure to be polite and positive during your interview,” Cannata said. “Avoid interrupting or talking over the other person. It is also important to be able to engage in small talk. In addition to doing research on your interviewer, read up on the headlines of the day so you’re informed in case the interviewer uses news topics to make small talk.”
End by Expressing Your Interest in the Role
“Don’t be afraid to tell the interviewer that this is a role that you’re interested in and you’re keen to progress to the next stage,” McMahon said.
Stay 'On' Until the Phone or Video Meeting Has Ended
“Don’t let your guard down before you log off,” said Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls. “The mic or speaker may still be live or on.”
Before breathing a heavy sigh of relief or complaining about a bad interview, be 100% sure that you are fully disconnected.
Follow Up After the Interview
Just because the interview was done remotely doesn’t mean you should forgo the traditional thank you message afterward.
“Follow up with the recruiter after you hang up,” Wieczorek said. “It’s a cordial gesture that shows you’re willing to walk the extra mile, which is something recruiters want to see.”
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