How to interview well online and in the flesh
While candidates may appear of similar calibre on paper, once at interview gulfs often appear between them. Frequently this doesn’t reflect their ability to do the job but simply how well they play the interview game. Some candidates lack confidence, others can be over-confident, while a number don’t prepare properly or feel uncomfortable in the interview environment. One of the jobs of a good recruiter is to help you give the best account of yourself so here are some pointers to get you started and if you want some interview practice, please ask us.
Preparation is key
Both face to face and online interviews require preparation. Start the interview feeling relaxed and confident and you are likely to come across well. If you are flustered then it almost always reflects in your performance. Although good interviewers will adjust their styles to get the best out of you, sadly not all interviewers are good so focus on these five areas to give the best possible account of yourself:
- Knowledge of your CV & the role
- Knowledge of the company & industry
- Recruiter’s insights
- Presentation skills
Know your CV & the role
In the days before the interview review the job description paying close attention to the skills and experience required for the role. Looking at your CV note how your skills match up and, where possible, identify how you can demonstrate that you have a track record delivering what the prospective employer is looking for. The better you can quantify the impact you have made in relevant areas, the better you are likely to come across.
If there are gaps on your CV, for example as a result of the pandemic, or a career change think about how you will respond if asked about them. So long as you used the time constructively and are committed to your career path these gaps are unlikely to count against you. Training, qualifications or skills development; caring for family; travel etc are all considered worthwhile reasons to step away from your career for a while.
Company and industry knowledge
Interviewers are likely to assume you have a good knowledge of the company you’re applying to and your industry so these subjects are unlikely to take up a significant part of the interview. However, if an innocuous question or comment uncovers that you aren’t up to speed then that can be very hard to recover from.
Make sure that you are well briefed on at least the top 3 industry issues and the basic principles involved. Generally these will be obvious from a quick scan of the industry publications.
Also take a look at the prospective employer’s “mission, vision, values” (usually found in the About Us section of the website), scan their LinkedIn or News pages so you know the latest developments and, where it is available, read at least the summary section of the Annual Report. Not only will this show you’re serious about the role if any questions come up, but it will also often arm you with questions for the interviewer.
Use your recruiter!!!
As well as providing tips about how to prepare for the interview or interview practice, your recruiter will often be able to give you some specifics about what to expect from the interview itself. Among other things they may well know who your interviewers will be and their responsibilities at the company; what style the interview is likely to take (technical, aggressive, discursive etc); any questions it would be particularly useful to prepare for; and what the interviewers will be looking for in particular.
Attendance & Preparation
You would not believe the percentage of candidates who turn up in the wrong place, on the wrong day, at the wrong time, who have issues connecting to a virtual interview or run out of battery during the interview. Nobody thinks it will be them but to guarantee it isn’t you, a few days before the interview:
- Select what you are going to wear. If it is a virtual interview avoid stripes, checks and shiny shirts/blouses/jewellery;
- Double check the details of the interview (time, date & location);
- Print off the job description & your CV;
- Pull your notes together & put them with a working pen and notebook in a bag; and
- Write a list of questions that are likely to come up and think about your answers to them.
If the interview is in person research your travel plan, aiming to arrive 30 minutes before the interview.
If the interview is online:
- Decide where you are going to do it. In order of importance you want somewhere:
- with access to a power supply & good wifi access if necessary,
- quiet where you won’t be interrupted;
- well lit so you aren’t a silhouette; and
- with a plain background behind you
- Test your set up. Organise a video call with your recruiter or a friend to make sure that the technology (including wifi, webcam & microphone) is up to it and to get feedback on how you come across (see below).
- Check that the interview for the link works on your computer/tablet/phone and browser. Also read the invitation email to see if it mentions whether you may need to download software to enable the interview software to run.
- Block out your diary from 20 minutes before the interview is supposed to start so you can get set up and comfortable.
While the previous four areas are simply a question of putting in a little time, some people don’t naturally come across at their best in interviews or on camera. The good news is that these skills that can be learned and with a little practice even if you don’t feel confident nobody will ever know.
Whether face-to-face or online, many of the basics of interviewing are the same. Try to enter the interview feeling calm, collected and prepared. Be aware of your posture – don’t slouch and maintain eye contact. During the interview it is more important to be considered in your responses than to answer quickly. Don’t be afraid to repeat the question back to the interviewer or to use a phrase like “That’s a good question” in order to buy yourself a little more time before responding. When talking, speak clearly and more slowly than you might normally do, especially when interviewing online.
There are some things which are specific to the type of interview:
Face to face:
- Enter and leave the room walking tall and confidently. If you are comfortable shaking hands ask the interviewer whether they are too. If you don’t want to shake hands, simply say “Lovely to meet you” with a tilt of the head and explain that you are not shaking hands due to Covid. If shaking hands do so firmly though not aggressively.
- During the interview sit with your hands in your lap or on the table to avoid fidgeting.
- Keep smiling and make eye contact throughout the interview.
- Sound distorts easily and often online so 1) if you are not sure you have heard something correctly then ask the interviewer to repeat the question; and 2) speak even more clearly and slowly than you normally would.
- Keep looking at the camera and smiling. While it is natural to look at the video of you or the interviewer on screen, it will look odd to everyone else. The camera is the interviewer’s eyes so focus on that – a bright post it note with an arrow pointing at the camera can help keep you focused on the right spot.
- Try to get the camera at roughly your eye height. If the angles are too acute it will look odd.
- Make sure you have a glass of water, pen and notepad as well as your CV and the job description to hand. Other than that make sure the space around you and especially behind you is uncluttered and tidy.
Don’t be rusty
A lot of candidates are rusty at their first interview and if that leads to a sub-par performance it can then dent their confidence going forward. Where possible organise interview practice with a friend or your recruiter to give you a better chance of showing the best of you at that first interview.
Finally, when the recruiter calls to ask you how the interview went this isn’t just a courtesy. It is an opportunity for you to raise any concerns you have or questions you didn’t ask in the interview. Recruiters and hiring managers work hand in hand and if you have a concern about how you answered a question or about technical issues during the process then your recruiter can often get that message through to the employer and put in a good word for you.