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6 crucial tips for acing an online pre-interview

A pre-interview requires a somewhat different strategy than an in-person job interview.

6 crucial tips for acing an online pre-interview
[Photo: Jozsef Hocza/Unsplash]

Job searches are stressful. A recent report by Talent Board shows that job seekers are 40% more likely to be resentful of prospective employers than they were four years ago.

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Why the frustration? It often stems from not getting the job. But it can also come from feeling ignored in a job search. Companies are deluged with applications—sometimes thousands for a single position. The result is that candidates often wait and wait for an interview. Or they are not interviewed at all.

Fortunately more companies are introducing pre-interviews that allow job seekers to interact with the company more frequently and earlier in the process. These sessions are rarely done face-to-face in the company’s offices. Instead, they are typically conducted online, either with a video linkup or a voice call. In other cases, candidates are asked to respond to a set of questions.

Job seekers have a huge opportunity to put themselves forward in these pre-interviews. But to do so, they will have to master a new set of skills. Here are six guidelines that will enable you to come across successfully.

1. Use the pre-interview to see if the job is right for you

It’s a tough job market, but you don’t want to take on a job where you’ll be dissatisfied from day one. Look closely at the opportunity.

Companies are also concerned with getting the right fit, says Mike Hudy, chief science officer of Modern Hire. Modern Hire works with over 300 large enterprises (including 47 of the Fortune 100 companies), and 20 million candidates a year are assessed and interviewed with its hiring platform. Candidates are given an online look at the job to make sure they truly understand the position. This can look like a full description of the job or a “day in the life” of an employee who holds the position you’re applying for.

Employers that care about getting the right person will give you a look at what you’d be doing, warts and all. If you’re going to have to work weekends, they’ll tell you. If you’ll be working in an open office, you’ll learn that too.

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Take time to review that material. The pre-interview format may not allow you to ask additional questions, but if it does, make sure you seek clarity about the role. Remember, you’re interviewing a company just as they’re interviewing you.

2. Choose a good time and place

Unlike a traditional office interview, you can often choose when and where you’ll conduct this exchange. Do so wisely. You might be asked to respond to a list of questions by video. Another possibility is speaking to an online chatbot.

Make sure you undertake this pre-interview when you are refreshed and not coming off a long day of work. Be well rested and on top of your game.

Choose a professional setting. Many of these “interviews” can be done on your smartphone, so the temptation might be to do them in a coffee shop, in the subway, or on the way to work.  “[You] give yourself a better chance by being in a distraction-free environment,” says Hudy.

Keep your background quiet and uncluttered. Get rid of any visuals that might distract your interviewer.

3. Dress for the part

Dress appropriately for the interview. An online or videotaped interview must be done in professional clothing. Wear the same outfit you would wear if you were conducting a live interview.

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Even if it’s just an audio interview, PJ’s, gym clothes, or other casual options won’t work. That’s because you’re bound to feel more professional and sound more professional if you dress well. In video interviews, make sure to avoid loud prints or busy stripes. They will distract from you and your presence. 

4. You still need to prepare

Prepare as fully for these pre-interviews as you would for any in-person exchange. Hudy advises candidates to “learn the job requirements, what the firm is looking for, the culture of the organization, and the key competencies needed for the position.”

Once you know these, prepare some good examples that make clear you have what they’re looking for. And don’t provide only successful examples. Show that you’ve learned from your more challenging experiences and how you have applied that learning in subsequent situations. “Companies look for candidates with agility,” says Hudy.

5. Deliver with presence

If you’re submitting a video or doing a live interview, make sure you deliver information confidently.

To begin with, make eye contact with the person interviewing you. If it’s a video, look into the camera as though there is a person there. Don’t look down or around. You’ll appear less confident, and your voice will be less audible.

If it’s a live video interview, keep good eye contact with that individual throughout the discussion, both when questions are being asked and when you are answering them.

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Sit upright in your chair, so you convey stature. (It’s not so much how tall we actually are that conveys stature, it’s how tall we make ourselves by sitting up straight.) Keep your arms open, and gesture in the direction of your interviewer. Finally, speak with energy and a warm, enthusiastic expression.

6. Rerecord until you get it right

Many large enterprises use on-demand video and let you rerecord. The tendency might be to think of these video interviews as a one-way information exchange. After all, on-demand interviews typically consist of four or five questions. If you think of simply providing information, you’ll likely sound flat.

Instead, think of these interviews as your opportunity to give careful thought to the questions, craft your best possible answers, and if you miss a key piece of information in your response, hit the rerecord button. Many virtual interviews can be done again and again, and no one will know that your first take was not your best.

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