Everything You Need to Know to Conquer a Virtual Interview

By: Mariah Schlossmann

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS, you landed yourself an interview! Maybe it’s your dream job or you’re just learning a little more about the position, the hardest part is getting the interview—and you’ve already done that.

With social distancing rules still in effect and offices closed, your potential new boss is probably going to suggest you do it via Zoom. But if you’ve never done a virtual interview before, you might be a bit lost with where to go next.

But it’s not that hard to convince your interviewer that you’ve been doing virtual interviews forevs, says Bill McGowan, founder and CEO of Clarity Media Group. McGowan started his career as a journalist (award-winning, I might add,) took his expertise in conducting hundreds of interviews, and became a coach for public speaking and interviewing. He’s coached everyone from Kim Kardashian to the Cookie Monster. TLDR; Bill knows his stuff.

With McGowan’s help, we bring you the questions you’ve gotta prep for, finding the perfect background, and what to do if your WiFi totally fails you (…annoying but manageable!)

Before the Interview

The outfit

Normally, you spend hours, maybe even days (just me?) strategizing the perfect outfit to for your interview, and that shouldn’t change. “Don’t ever do anything but get fully dressed,” says McGowan. “It’s helpful in feeling professional head-to-toe, but it also helps psychologically.” You’ll be in a more professional headspace if you go into the interview fully outfitted, and it won’t feel like you’re putting on a show for yourself or the interviewer.

The Questions

If you’ve ever been on an interview in your life, you know what kind of questions are coming. But, even in the off-chance your interviewer doesn’t come at you with a “what’s your greatest strength,” it’ll be more beneficial if you have some answers prepared. Here are some of those common questions you NEED to have an answer for and help with how to do that.

“Tell me about yourself.”

A lot of people mistakenly think this is an invitation to start reciting their resumé, even when your resumé is likely sitting right on their table, says McGowan. “Instead of going through every detail of your education, job, and volunteer opportunities you’ve held, take this time to tell a story and share how your passion for the industry started.” By sharing a story, you’re personalizing yourself as more than just accolades on a sheet of paper. Your story will help you stand out to the interviewer and can help to show why you really want this job.

“Why YOU? What makes you different than others applying for this job?”

This is another opportunity to stand out from the crowd, says McGowan. “It’s not enough to just say you’re a creative problem solver or emphasize that you’re a hard worker and be done with it. Come prepared with stories that highlight your problem-solving abilities or your multi-tasking and time management strengths.”

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“What do you know about our company? What are your thoughts?”

Obviously, you want to focus on the positive of the company and why those things are important to you, says McGowan. “But also talk about what you think are one or two areas of opportunity the company is able to take in the future, and how you would love to be a part of making those changes.” Just try not to be overly gushy about the company—no one someone so thirsty.

The Setup

Arguably one of the most important and unique parts about interviewing virtually is your background and computer setup. Here’s McGowan’s take.

Laptop placement: How you’re framed is V important. According to McGowan, about 90 percent of people have their laptops propped wayyy too low, giving people a glimpse up their nostrils (not cute.) To get the perfect height, get three shoeboxes from your closet (or thick books that would replicate that height) and prop your laptop on top of those objects so that the green light next to your camera on your laptop is level with your eyes.

Your frame in the shot:If you follow the above, your body should be be positioned correctly in the shot, with the top of your head at the top of the frame and the middle of your chest at the bottom. If just your head and neck appear in the shot, then you’re you’re too close to the camera.

Lighting: There’s no need to get a professional-grade ring light for your interviews. Whatever your light source, make sure it’s in front of you. This keeps the interviewer from seeing a dark circle where your face should be.

Background: TBH, don’t aim for the blank white wall behind you—it’ll give off creepy vibes. On the other hand, you don’t want a cluttered background that distracts the interviewer. Make sure you’re far enough away from a bookshelf that you can’t read what books are sitting there and never have any laundry or piled-up items in the background, says McGowan.

Here’s a fun hack: When the main room of your home is at its cleanest, take a landscape oriented photo and upload to Zoom. Then, make it your virtual background and the interviewer would never even know you’re sitting in a pile of dirty laundry or in the coat closet where the WiFi is the best. It’s also great for when family members or pets unintentionally walk through the screen, it’ll never show them!

The backup communication plan

If technology fails you, Don’t! Panic! It happens to the best of us and doesn’t have anything to do with your qualification for the job, but your preparedness will give them insight into how you handle problems. When settling on a time for the interview, Bill recommends asking for a direct phone line as backup in the event that there’s a technology issue. Before the interview starts, punch the number in on your phone, so all you have to do is press the dial button if things go awry.

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The technology

If you aren’t familiar with the video platform the interviewer wants to use, it’s best to practice before the interview rolls around. Bill suggests downloading the video platform software two or three days before the interview to try it out. Have a friend or family member call you on the app so you can get a feel for what it’s going to be like.

Another issue with technology is the strength of your WiFi. Who knew that when you named your WiFi “PaRtYgUrLz302” you’d ever have any problems with it??? But we’ve all been there. To combat any WiFi issues, McGowan recommends buying a long Ethernet cable and stick it straight into your laptop (you might need an adapter if you have a fancy new computer). Sitting as close to the router as possible and advising anyone at home to hold off on WiFi for the duration of your interview. And, if you REALLY don’t trust your internet, use your phone. Just have it propped up so you’re framed appropriately (and so you can use your hands)!

The talking points

We mentioned this above, but be sure to decide on a few stories that highlight your strengths and exemplify why you would be a valuable addition to the company. Then think about when you might be able to mention those during the interview. Regardless of whether or not the conversation lends itself to these stories, make a point of sliding them in wherever possible. If you touch on these anecdotes that highlight you in the best way, you won’t leave the interview wishing you had said anything else.

If COVID is the reason you’re looking for a new job, use the interview to highlight ways in which you’ve productively used your time without work. Have you learned a new language or taken on a different skill?? Talk about it! You can also emphasize that the time off has given you a lot of time for self-reflection and has solidified your interest in the industry or job you’re interviewing for. Discuss how you’ve used this time to your advantage to better yourself.

The notes

Take post-it notes, write down the stories or answers you want to touch on during your interview, and place them to the right and left of your camera (at the same level). That way you’ll be able to reference the notes and make sure you remember to discuss them, and your eye contact will remain at actual eye level. Looking straight at the video camera on your computer is the equivalent to eye contact in the “real world.”

During the Interview

Enjoy being less nervous

It may be easier to read the room and note visual cues when you’re interviewing in-person, but how much easier can it get than taking an interview in your own space? It gives you a level playing field— no one “owns” the room that you’re in, and reminding yourself of that should help alleviate any fear and encourage confidence throughout the interview.

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Maintain eye contact

“During a virtual interview, eye contact is even more important than it is in-person,” says McGowan. Most people are drawn to looking at the person on the screen, but you really need to be looking directly at the webcam. If you find it hard to focus on the green light of the webcam, try taking an Instax Polaroid of someone you’re comfortable talking to, punching a hole in it, and taping the photo over the webcam. The hole in the photo should fit exactly around the webcam. This way you have someone to “talk to” that your familiar with and won’t feel uncomfortable staring at for the whole interview.

Ask them a question

Everyone knows this moment in an interview: You’ve gone through the job description, talked about yourself, answered the multitude of questions that they throw at you, and then they hit you with “Do you have any questions for us?” YES YOU DO, THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS YES. “It’s a bad look when they pose this question and you don’t have anything to ask in return,” says McGowan.

If you don’t have anything specific, ask a broad question about advancement opportunities in the company, something about the company culture, or what a typical day might look like on the job. “Whatever you do,” says McGowan, “don’t ask about what kind of personal time off they give. It’s not good when you don’t even have the job and you’re already thinking about days that you’re not going to spend there.”

After the Interview

Reach out

Always send a thank you note to the interviewer for their time, reiterate your interest in the position, and let them know that you’re available should they need anything else from you. Chances are that everyone else that’s interviewing for this job sends a thank you note too, but if you’re the only person NOT sending one, it makes you stand out in a very obvious and negative way.


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