How to prepare for a virtual job interview

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically shifted the way people around the globe work: at home. In 2019, CNBC reported that roughly 5% of American workers worked entirely from home. A mere eight months later, a Stanford study indicated that a staggering 42% of the U.S. labor force was working from home full-time.

If you’re job hunting amid all this change, there’s a good chance that you’ll be interviewing for a new job entirely remotely. Sure, you’ll find a listing and submit your application online, as is relatively common these days. However, you might also conduct your interviews via phone or video chat and start working from your home office without ever meeting your employer and team in person. 

For years, we’ve heard that a firm handshake and strong eye contact are good practices during an interview, but what are you supposed to do when you’re talking to a face on a screen? Here are some tips on how to handle a virtual interview.

Virtual or In-Person, Always Be Prepared

Preparedness is essential no matter what, but it’s especially important during a virtual interview. Find out who will be interviewing you and their role in the company. 

Do a quick review of the company itself, too. Find out what they’re good at, who their competition is, and whether they’ve been in the news for any significant accomplishments or big contracts recently. 

If you’re nervous about the interview, CSU Global’s career center can help! We can review your resume, conduct a mock interview with an interview expert, and offer advice to help you maximize your potential and find your passion.

It’s also a good idea to practice your responses to common interview questions such as:

  • Why are you leaving your current job? This isn’t a time to talk poorly about your current or previous employer. Instead, talk about the opportunities you see with your new potential employer and the direction it can take your career.
  • What are your salary requirements? Some employers will ask you for a number, some will ask for a range, and some won’t ask at all. If they do ask, you want to be ready. Use a tool like Glassdoor to determine what you’re worth in your current job, your new job, and your location. Start higher and be prepared to negotiate. If your salary isn’t feasible, ask about other benefits like healthcare, vacation time, retirement accounts, or professional development opportunities.
  • What are your weaknesses? The running joke is that you should disguise a strength as a weakness and answer with, “I work too hard.” Employers can see right through that tactic. Instead, respond with a real weakness and explain how you’re working to improve on it. For example, if you struggle with time management, explain how you use project management tools to keep yourself on track.
  • Why should we hire you? This intimidating question often catches people off guard. Summarize your strengths, your passion, and what you think you’ll bring to your new team.

Ask your own questions, too. We’ve never seen an interview that didn’t end with, “Do you have any questions for us?” Ask about the company culture, how they’ll evaluate your work, what the company’s biggest challenges are, and what you can do to hit the ground running if you’re hired. If you can show curiosity and enthusiasm, your interviewer will be impressed.

Finally, don’t be afraid to take advantage of the virtual format! Make a quick cheat sheet of bullet points about the company, your prepared answers, and your questions for them, then have it pulled up in front of you on the screen. You can check it with a glance to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Test Your Technology

The last thing you want is to start your interview with, “Can you hear me now?” Find out what tools the interviewer wants to use—Zoom, Google Meet, or something similar—and try it out on your home computer ahead of time. You can even set up a call with a friend to make sure your voice and image are coming across clearly.

Make sure you have a steady internet connection, a high-quality camera, and a good microphone. The cameras built into most laptops are not very high-quality, but you can buy a better webcam for less than $100 that includes a decent built-in microphone. Record yourself talking and then listen to it to make sure you’re satisfied with the way your voice sounds.

Don’t take the interview on a smartphone or tablet unless you have to. If you absolutely can’t get your hands on a computer for your interview, make sure your device is on a tripod or other steady support so it won’t shake while you talk.

Dress for Success

Dressing the part is just as important in a virtual interview as an in-person one. Remember, interview attire doesn’t necessarily mean business attire; if the company you’re interviewing with prides itself on its casual culture, a suit might make you seem too stuffy. Look for photos of the employees on the company website as a guide.

Prepare a Backdrop

When all your interviewer can see is what’s on camera, your surroundings matter. Pick a backdrop that’s uncluttered and light-colored. That doesn’t mean you should pick an entirely blank wall, but a bookshelf, floor lamp, or potted plant is perfectly acceptable. Ensure everything is clean and tidy, and you don’t have any unprofessional personal belongings left out.

Lastly, check your lighting. If the interview is scheduled during the day, try to sit facing a window (but not in direct sunlight) for the best lighting on your face. If you don’t have access to natural light, feel free to put lots of light behind your computer screen, pointing at you. Keep the lights behind you dimmed or turned off entirely so that they don’t create glare or only show you as a silhouette.

Watch Your Body Language

It’s harder to show enthusiasm over a screen than in person, so every little gesture counts. Sit up straight, make sure to smile, and put the camera roughly at eye level so that you’re not looking at an odd angle when you speak.

Remember to make “eye contact.” Rather than looking at the image of the interviewer on the screen, look directly into the camera. If this is a struggle, consider adding some adhesive googly eyes or tape a small nondescript photo near your webcam, and focus on that.

Remember to Follow Up

Within one business day after your interview, send an email to the person who interviewed you. Thank them for taking the time to talk to you, express your excitement at working with them, and tell them that you look forward to hearing from them soon! Keep your email friendly and concise.

Master Your Next Interview

The workplace may never return to “normal,” even after the days of COVID-19, so don’t be surprised to see virtual interviews becoming commonplace in the future. Follow these tips for your next interview, and you’ll be well on your way to joining a new team.