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by Sam Radbil | November 05, 2020

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With Covid-19 cases continuing to rise and most white-collar employees still working remotely, virtual interviews are still the norm—and will likely be so for the foreseeable future. This means that, to grow your career, you need to know how to nail a virtual interview. So, here are seven tips for preparing for and acing your next virtual interview.

1. Choose your interview time wisely

You might have little say in choosing the date and time of your virtual interview, but if you’re given choices, choose wisely and pick times when you’ll be alone. If you have young children, this means a time when they’ll be able to be on their own in a different room. If you share a working space with a roommate or significant other, this means a time when they’ll be okay with taking a work break and not being in the room. Also, don’t schedule interviews too early. Make sure you allow enough time to prepare. And remember, if an interview goes well, it often lasts a bit longer than scheduled. So, assume your interviews will go about 15 to 30 minutes longer, and plan accordingly.

2. Bring notes, but try not to stare at them

Just like you would before an in-person interview, make sure to research the company and role before your virtual interview to get an understanding of everything from culture and the leadership team to daily responsibilities and salary expectations. As you research, make notes about the company’s mission, charitable work, and other facets that interest you. This research can help you field casual questions like, “Are you aware of our involvement in XYZ?” It can also help you when the time comes (usually at the end of your interview) for you to ask your interviewer questions. And note this about your notes: while it’s not a good idea to stare at them during your interview, it’s okay to have them handy and glance at them if you absolutely need to.

3. Test your technology

If you’re video chatting with your grandparents, contractor, or real estate attorney, it’s okay to go with the flow and not prepare ahead of time. But you can’t be casual when virtual interviewing. Not understanding how to use the applications involved in a virtual job interview can undermine even the most qualified candidate. So, ahead of your interview, take time to familiarize yourself with the app you’ll be using. Fumbling around as the interview begins equates to being unprepared, which equates to looking like a not great candidate. You’ll also want to make sure you have a strong internet connection that doesn’t suffer from glitches on a regular basis. It can even be a good idea to find the spot in your workspace where the internet signal is strongest and set up nearby.

4. Mind your background

For many people who work from home, working at a desk in their bedroom is ideal. But if your screen faces into your bedroom and you plan to interview in that space, you’ll need to ensure that your bed is made and you get rid of unsightly laundry. And, if your screen faces a wall, temporarily remove any risqué art work, to avoid discomfort on the part of the interviewer. A blank wall is better than something controversial. Remember, you want the focus to be on you, not on what’s behind you. Then, after you choose your background, set your computer on a solid surface (one that won’t move) and place it in a position that makes you appear to be looking straight ahead at the person you’ll be speaking with. Ideally, your camera will be at eye level. For best results, try practicing with a friend before your interview. This allows you to see how you’ll appear on screen and to get some feedback.

5. Dress like you would for an in-person interview

Dressing for virtual interviews should follow the same guidelines as in-person meetings. Investigate the culture of the company you’re interviewing with and use what you find out to guide you when choosing what to wear. For example, if business casual is the norm at the company, feel free to ask your recruiter if this is appropriate for your interview. Never wear religious, political, or obscene slogans, and T-shirts should never be worn to an interview, ever. Remember: it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed for an interview, virtual or in-person.

6. Be aware of your body language

It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous or anxious before a virtual interview. This is another reason you should practice your virtual interview with a friend. During your interview, even though it might seem like your interviewer can’t see that much of you, be very conscious of your body language and facial expressions. The person interviewing you is focusing on you alone, trying to assess your demeanor and personality. Avoid body language that might suggest you’re fearful or hiding something, like a downward tilt of your face to avoid eye contact. Also, speak clearly in a level, calm tone. If you’re a highly animated speaker, be aware that people often perceive this as too aggressive in a first interview. The tone you’re looking for is moderation.

7. Keep your answers brief and on point

The same goes for your answers—think moderation. When asked a question, provide clear, carefully worded, truthful answers, keeping answers pertinent to the subject—don’t digress into other areas of conversation. The interviewers aren’t your new best friends; they’re merely attempting to see how well you will fit their company’s needs. If interviewers want you to elaborate on a point, they’ll ask you to do so. So, listen carefully to what interviewers ask to avoid misspoken answers. And keep in mind that, in video chats, it can be difficult to read the facial cues of your conversation partner to know when it’s time to wrap up your answers. This is why it’s extra important to try to only answer what is asked.

A final note (literally)

After your interview is over, make sure you close the window to the video chat platform you've been using. The following day, send an email to your interviewers, thanking them for taking the time to interview you. Express how excited you’d be to join the company and that you’re looking forward to hearing about next steps.

Sam Radbil is the lead writer for ABODO Apartments, an online real estate and apartment marketplace with available apartments from college towns like Madison, Wisconsin, to major cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. ABODO's research, rent reports, and writing have been featured nationally in Curbed, Forbes, Realtor.com, HousingWire, and more.

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