So you’ve got a job interview—congratulations are in order. But there’s work to do before the celebrations begin. You need to practice for your interview, prepare answers to common questions, and consider the in-demand job skills and professional accomplishments that will make you stand out to the hiring manager. After that, you’ll have to decide what to wear. (If you could use some sartorial help, check out our advice on how to choose a job interview outfit.)
If you’re applying for a remote job, or a position at a company headquartered far from home, you’ll probably have a virtual interview, which presents a whole new set of considerations: how to communicate effectively in a virtual environment, how to avoid tripping over your technology, how to prepare a #workgoals Zoom background worthy of Instagram.
Let’s go over some tips for nailing your virtual interview.
The first step toward a successful remote interview is to schedule it at a quiet, convenient time.
- Adjust your schedule so that you can focus entirely on your interview. Give yourself some padding time beforehand to get in the zone, and some extra time after in case your conversation runs long.
- Background noise is deadly in a virtual interview, so try to anticipate any potential disturbances. Yelling over the sound of the garbage truck that rumbles outside your window every week will not help you make a great impression.
- Tell your family and roommates about your interview so that they can help minimize distractions. We’re sure your roomie is truly excellent at the clarinet, but your Zoom interview is not a good practice time.
Embrace your space
Getting ready for a virtual interview is all about preventing disruption. Conduct your interview in a quiet, clean, orderly space—or at least as close to that as you can get.
- It’s best to take a seat at a table or desk where you can place your computer. You might even elevate it with a stack of books to get the perfect camera angle.
- Make space for a notebook where you can keep track of important topics and details. Just don’t rely too much on notes. If you treat them like a script, constantly glancing down at them, you’ll come across as distracted and uncomfortable.
- Conduct your interview somewhere with an ample—but not harsh—light source. Natural light from a large window is your best friend. You want the light in front of you, falling on your face, rather than emanating from behind you, which will make you look like a dramatic shadow instead of a qualified candidate. Check your webcam before your interview to see how the lighting looks and make any adjustments.
- Home offices or dining rooms are ideal, but it’s perfectly fine to do your virtual interview in your bedroom if you don’t have any other options. Just make sure the room is clean and professional. Make your bed. Try to keep your background neutral: books, plants, shelves. You probably shouldn’t interview for a highly formal job at a bank from underneath a poster of your favorite heavy metal band, no matter how hard they rock.
- If you just can’t find a good background where you’re interviewing, see if the video conferencing program offers virtual backgrounds. Select one that is simple and professional-looking.
Get comfortable with the technology
We can’t always anticipate technical difficulties, but we can keep a forgotten password or faulty webcam from ruining a virtual interview.
- The day before your interview, make sure that your internet connection, computer, microphone, and webcam are working properly.
- Sign into the video conferencing software—it could be Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, or another program—to make sure you have all the correct login information. Double-check your Zoom profile name; it should be your first and last name, not a nickname.
- On the day of your interview, log into the meeting early to test your webcam and microphone one more time. A simple phrase, like “Testing, testing,” will do. Unless you’re interviewing to be a singer, you don’t want the hiring manager to log in ahead of time and catch you mic-testing the latest pop chart-topper.
- The best way to cut down on background noise is to mute yourself when you’re not talking. Just don’t forget to click that little microphone button when it’s your turn to speak!
Prepare like it’s an in-person interview
Any time you interview for a job, whether it’s in person or remote, you should come prepared. Here are some general tips on getting ready for a remote interview:
- Research the company’s website, social media, and news appearances. Go into your interview with a solid understanding of what the company does, how it presents itself to the public, what goals it wants to achieve, and what challenges it might face. You should also know the hiring manager’s name, as well as the names of top executives like the CEO of the business.
- Prepare answers to these common interview questions.
- Remain conscious of your body language. Your virtual interviewer has to look at your face the whole time, so try not to look bored. Nod your head. Smile at amusing anecdotes. Oh, and don’t pick your teeth.
- Skills have become the most important factor in hiring, so it’s important to make a list of the skills and accomplishments that qualify you for this role. Think of stories with specific details about when you used these skills in previous positions. Try to slip these examples into your conversation. A story about how you solved a problem at work will stay in the interviewer’s mind long after they’ve forgotten mere adjectives like “professional,” “dedicated,” or “personable.” Show them real examples of how you’re professional, dedicated, and personable.
- Make a list of questions to ask the interviewer, such as “Why are you hiring for this position?” and “What does success look like for this job?” It gets you important information and shows that you’re prepared.
- Ask a friend or family member to conduct a practice interview with you. Try out your answers and get comfortable with the interview process.
Dress for the job you want IRL
Jobs have dress codes “in real life,” but they also have dress codes for the virtual world. When you turn your webcam on, the cozy home where you lounge in your PJs becomes a workspace where you need to look professional.
It might feel silly to dress up just to go from your bedroom to your living room, but you want to make a good first impression. Do some research on the company to see if their employees tend to dress to the nines. If you’re applying for a job in finance, law, or another highly formal industry, you should dress accordingly. Otherwise, a kind of extra-special business casual is recommended. If you just can’t decide, check out our guide to selecting an outfit for your job interview.
One quick tip: Some elaborate geometric patterns don’t show up on webcams quite right. Stick to solid colors or simple patterns.
Take a breath. It’s just a conversation
We can’t overstate how important it is to prepare for your interview. Take this seriously. But when the time comes, take a deep breath, and remember that this is really just a conversation between two people.
If the employer wants to ease in with a little small talk, let them. Share an insight about a hobby you might share. Talk about something the company has done that you admire. Make sure to get across all the points you practiced, but don’t be afraid to let the conversation take a slight organic detour.
The more relaxed you are, the more authentic you’ll sound, and the easier it will be to bring up all the great things you’ve done in your career. Since this is a virtual interview, there are a few more things to keep in mind:
- Pretend your camera is your interviewer. That’s where you want to look. If you’re looking at yourself on the video call the whole time, you’ll appear to be staring off into space.
- Cross talk is unintelligible on a video or phone call. Let the interviewer finish their thought before chiming in. You can still let them know that you’re listening by nodding your head or reacting to their statements with a positive word here or there, but don’t start a full sentence before they have finished theirs.
Follow up on your job interview the right way
Within 24 hours following your interview, send a thank-you note like this to the hiring manager. Show them you appreciated their time. Mention a topic you discussed the interview to show that you were engaged. End with an action the interviewer could take—something like, “Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions. I’m excited about what we can do together and look forward to hearing back from you.”
After you send a thank-you note, resist the temptation to pester the interviewer about the hiring process. If it’s been a few days and you haven’t heard back, use these tips for following up on a job interview or application.