Video interviews have largely replaced live, in-person interviews in the past year due to the pandemic. But with the conveniences they offer—more flexibility for scheduling, and no need to travel—they likely aren’t going anywhere soon. So how do these remote interviews differ from in-person interviews, and how should you prepare for them? We spoke with one of our career coaches, Natalie Fike, who has spent the last year providing video interview coaching and guidance, for some of her key tips.
Watch the video here, or read her tips below, so you’re prepared for your next interview.
Ready to Learn? Let’s Get Started with These Video Interview Coaching Tips.
How can today’s job seekers best prepare for an interview?
So, a few things to keep in mind. When you’re invited to an interview, ask questions to find out who’s going to be present. If you take a little bit of time to investigate the people that you’ll be meeting with—maybe take a look at their LinkedIn profiles, and keep an eye out for common ground, little things like shared volunteer experiences, having gone to the same alma mater— anything that can be a rapport-building tool during your dialogue with that other party is going to help ease you into that interview process and establish a good chemistry and a good comfort level during your meeting. So find out who’s going to be there and take the time to do research.
Other things to think about: familiarize yourself with the company and the job description. Do your research there to find out what the culture of the organization is. If you’re fortunate enough to have, or if you have the time to create, some connections with people inside the organization, they can give insights into the culture of the place, what is work like there, what are the challenges, what are the opportunities. Everything that they share can guide your energy and preparation.
Also, have questions ready in advance! I would anticipate that, for a typical interview, at least three quarters of the meeting is the interviewer posing questions to the candidate. The candidate should be fully focused on hearing those questions, interpreting them, and giving thoughtful answers. But at the end of all that, it’s likely that they’ll say, “what questions do you have for us?” And you need to have those ready. Candidates who don’t have any questions ready send a message that they’re not as serious as perhaps they could be about the opportunity. So give thought to what those questions are. They’re going to vary based on who you talk to. For example, my questions for a recruiter would be different from the questions I would ask to a hiring manager. Questions in a screening interview would be different from questions further along. So give thought to those and have them written down. It’s okay to open a notebook and read them so that you’re not fully focused on trying to remember them during the meeting.
A quick final tip for general preparation is to have some success stories ready. I think most of the candidates that I work with for interview coaching find value in having a strategy for how to tell good stories during an interview. Many use an acronym. S.T.A.R. is a very common one, which stands for Situation-Task-Action-Results. I also really like C.A.R.L., which stands for Context-Action-Result-Learning. You don’t need to use those words as you answer your interview questions, but if you can count off in your head each of those four items as you’re going through your story, you can make sure that what you’re sharing has a clear beginning, middle, end, and relevance to the position that you’re being considered for.
Those are some general tips that apply across all formats. Video-specific, though, we’ve got some special considerations, certainly. Take the time to test your technology. Test your microphone, test your camera, make sure you’ve got a steady connection. I know that can be hard right now. A lot of people are operating out of households where there are more people present than would ordinarily be in a non-pandemic era, and we’re all battling for use of shared technologies. So do what you can to make sure your connection is steady throughout the time that you’re set to meet. Don’t hesitate to ask the question about what technology is being used for the video interview so that if there’s anything you need to download, and maybe even test in advance, you have the opportunity to do that.
And I think this final thought could really fall back under the category of general prep, but one thing I strongly recommend for candidates is, in advance of interviews, to take the time to record yourself. Think of questions that you anticipate, record yourself—possibly on video, certainly audio is easy (you can do that with your smartphone, using the audio recorder) and record your answers to the questions you anticipate, then play them back. I think that is one of the best ways to prepare. We often sound different on a recording than we do in our own heads and hearing yourself aloud, and seeing yourself on video can go a long way towards general preparation.
What should job seekers do differently during a video interview?
Have a plan in place in case of disruption. A few weeks ago in Texas, there was a pretty widespread power outage. I had a lot of people who were actually midstream in a video interview during that disruption, and those that had a plan in place in advance—“What do we do if if there is any kind of disruption to our connectivity, or to our power?”—they knew what to do; they knew who would call so that the conversation could be picked up. We can’t prepare for every possible technical snafu. But having a plan ‘B’ in place is a really good idea.
Also, if you’re on video, look at the camera. It’s unnatural, it takes practice, but it’s the only way to give your audience the perception of eye contact. I think the temptation is so often to look lower on the screen at the image of the person we’re talking to—or even more tempting, perhaps still, is to look at the image of yourself to make sure you’re presenting in the way that you want to. But the other party doesn’t have a perception of eye contact that way. The only way to give them that eye contact is to look at the camera and it takes some rehearsal.
If you find yourself on a phone interview instead of a video interview, a lot of people prefer that because they don’t want the pressure of being on video. But there are advantages to the video interview that the phone doesn’t offer. In a phone interview, you can’t tell when the other party’s about to speak. So if your remote interview happens to be by phone, you may have to really consciously insert pauses before you talk to make sure you’re not speaking over the other party since you don’t have those visual cues.
What are some ways to build connections and stand out during a remote interview?
Many of the people that I work with for interview coaching who are going to a live interview visualize what that’s going to be like in advance of the meeting. That they’re going to walk into a conference room; they know where they’re going to sit. Oftentimes, for live, professional-level interviews, people take the extra step of bringing not just extra copies of their resume, but also a mini portfolio that has work samples, reference sheets, letters of recommendation, testimonials—whatever would be valuable. If you’re asked to give a presentation during that interview, you’ll want to bring slides of that presentation printed out in the form of notes pages. Those are the kinds of interview leave-behinds that we’re used to preparing in advance for live interviews. I’ve worked with a few candidates this season that took the time to prepare those mini portfolios and folders for remote interviews and delivered them via Google Drive or as an email attachment in preparation for their video interviews to make the same impact. Anything that can kind of tip the scales in their favor as part of that interview meeting to show that they’re taking the time to go that extra step beyond what’s required. So the kind of things that you could do for a live interview can still be conducted, for the most part by video, but you maybe have to get creative to pull it off.
I strongly recommend for live interviews—when those do resume—if they’re by panel, where there are a lot of people in the room, take the time to greet each member of the panel at the beginning of that meeting. It may involve several handshakes when we’re ready for that again. On video interviews, be really attentive if you’re in a panel setting to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard and that you’re attending to what each person has to say, and know what department they represent so you can anticipate how your work in this role is going to make their jobs and their departments run more smoothly.
How should job seekers dress for remote interviews?
I’m a strong advocate for wearing pants! Even in the video interview setting, you never know when you’re going to have to stand up to adjust a light source or to find a piece of paper that you need. So I advocate dressing for a video interview much like you would for a live interview. And what that looks like is really dependent on the company. In other words, you want to level up. If the attire of those that report to work in the type of role you’re going for is casual, then maybe business casual would be interview appropriate. If they report to work business casual, then leveling up to wearing a suit would be appropriate.
The challenge that some of the candidates I’ve worked with for interview coaching this season have faced is that their interviewer is also operating from home, and maybe dressed very casually. And here they are all dressed up for their interview and the other party is not. And there’s that sensation of, “Gosh, have I done the right thing here?” But keep in mind, if that happens, that the other party is already employed. They have a job. You don’t yet—not with this company, at least. So hopefully your extra efforts in showcasing a good level of preparation, even down to what you wear for that meeting, is something that will be appreciated on the other side of the table. Be confident in your choice. Once the video session is underway, just trust that you’ve made the right decision on that front.
I even advocate for dressing for a phone interview the same way you would for a video interview. I know that sounds a little silly that you would want to dress up for a phone interview. But I think that we project the way we feel and if you’re dressed professionally, you’re going to project more professionally and the other party’s going to hear that in your tone.
Even for those phone interviews, smile. They can hear your smile on the other side. So it all matters.
What’s the best way to make my space camera-ready?
A quick word on lighting: I’ve had a number of candidates who’ve done mock interviews with me by video position themselves in front of a window, thinking that the scenery outside will provide a great backdrop. In fact, what it does is it creates a silhouette, so I can’t see their faces; I can’t see their expressions. Instead, make sure that your light source is in front of you, not behind you. One challenge that presents is that it can be harder to see your camera if your camera is black against the black background of your monitor. Some people find it helpful to put a little Post-It note with an arrow pointing to the camera to remind them of where to look in case it’s hard to see if your light source is pointing at you. All of the lighting considerations should be tried and tested in advance of the meeting so you make sure you’re ready.
Your background should be professional or plain. It’s great to interview against a plain wall because it’s not distracting. Otherwise, make sure it’s a professional setting that you’re in and minimize your distractions. Notify your housemates—both people and animals (or other people that can watch the animals!)—to make sure that they know you’re needing to have a distraction-free half hour, however long it is, to minimize that background noise. I even go so far as to put a sign on the front door saying, “meeting in progress,” “don’t ring doorbell,” or a sign on your office door, your room door, whatever room you’re in, that says the same so that you don’t get any unforeseen interruptions.
Also, pay attention to your technology. Silence the notifications on your email, your cell phone—anything else that might beep or ding and cause a distraction during the meeting itself. Sound is amplified.
I often find that candidates find it helpful to take a cursory note or two during the course of the interview, to quickly mark down—even if they’re not even looking where they’re writing—a note about who was in attendance and maybe who asked what. Have a pen and paper within arm’s reach for that rather than keyboarding, because the keyboarding sound will be amplified by your microphone and that can be a major distraction to the message that you’re trying to deliver. So, have paper and pen close at hand.
What curveballs should job seekers prepare for in a remote interview setting?
The more information you can garner when you’re invited to the interview, the better. Most candidates, when they’re told that the format of the interview will be by video, what they anticipate is a video conference through technologies that perhaps they’re familiar with already. We’ve all become adept at Zoom meetings this year, if we weren’t already, Skype is still in action, as well as Google Meet. A lot of these technologies may be familiar already.
There’s the occasional circumstance where rather than being in a video conference, interviewees are facing technology-only in their video meeting, where questions are being posed by a software program. And then, as they answer, their responses are being recorded. And that recording may be viewed later by hiring personnel. It could be analyzed by artificial intelligence, psychometrics or some combination thereof. So you need to be prepared.
I think that when you’re interfacing with people, you can kind of feed off of their communication style. We tend naturally to bend ourselves toward the communication style of the parties that we’re talking to, which is beneficial, certainly, in an interview. But if you’re facing software, you don’t have anything to mimic or to feed off of there. And it can be really helpful to remind yourself in advance to smile as you talk to show enthusiasm about the role. If it’s just you versus machine, a lot of people find it helpful to have a little Post-It on their monitor with a smiley face. I know that sounds a little silly at first, but if it’s you versus machine, and there’s not another person smiling back at you, that little reminder to keep your tone positive and your facial expressions positive and showing enthusiasm can make a lot of difference in the end.
About Coach Natalie
Natalie has two decades of career development experience in university, nonprofit, outplacement and business ownership settings. The focus of each of her roles has been tailored, one-on-one support for those in employment transition. Goal planning, industry research, professional branding, job search campaign strategy development, progress tracking, interview and compensation negotiation readiness as well as successful onboarding are among the most frequent topics covered in her coaching sessions. She holds a Master of Arts in Higher Education & Student Affairs with an additional year of graduate level coursework in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling and certifications in career coaching, employment interviewing, résumé writing and assessment administration.
Why do you love coaching?
“The process is client driven, as needs vary from pursuit of promotion to industry pivot to semi-retirement. It’s my honor to follow each journey and collaborate on development of strategy and messaging that aligns with individual career targets. I’m amazed each day by their talent and tenacity.” INTOO’s outplacement solution provides award-winning unlimited, on-demand and one-on-one coaching through video, audio, and text seven days a week, so people can get career advice when and where they need it. Learn more about how INTOO can help you support your departing employees in their job search.
Robyn Kern is a seasoned business writer who has written in the HR, education, technology, and nonprofit spaces. She writes about topics including outplacement, layoffs, career development, internal mobility, candidate experience, succession planning, talent acquisition, and more, with the goal of surfacing workforce trends and educating the HR community on these key topics. Her work has been featured on hrforhr.org and trainingindustry.com.