4 Crucial Tips for Remote Interviewing

When the pandemic hit in March, most people got a crash course in using online conferencing technology whether they wanted it or not.

By Julie Norwell

With no end to the health crisis in sight, it’s clear that using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans, Google Meet, and many other video conferencing platforms will be part of the “new normal” work experience for the foreseeable future. For those new to the job market, this trend will include remote job interviews.

Interviewing for a new job is stressful enough in the best of circumstances. It’s especially fraught when you face the double whammy of a health-economic crisis. For one thing, the stakes are higher. With the unemployment rate topping 10%, there are many more job seekers per job opening than there were prior to the pandemic. Adding in a remote interviewing component is bound to challenge job seekers of all stripes because it introduces so many more opportunities for things to go wrong.

But things don’t have to go wrong. If you know how to prepare, there is a lot you can control. And what you can’t control you can manage. If you’re fresh to the job market it is worth reviewing some best practices about remote interviewing to make sure you avoid the most common gaffes and put your best foot (face?) forward.

Prep Your Tech!

Before you do anything else, make sure you are comfortable with the technology you will be using. Make sure to download the required app well in advance of the interview so that you aren’t caught needing to update your software minutes before you are supposed to go live. Showing up late to an interview is a cardinal sin – even when the reason for your lateness is that you were struggling to get the video technology to work.

Test your mic, your camera, and your connectivity. Are your voice and image clear? Are you framed well? (The top of your head should be half an inch from the top of the screen.) Ideally, you will be looking neither up nor down at the camera, but straight into it. And make sure your lighting is good. If you’ve got a light source behind or to the side of you, you risk looking like a ninja, like you have a halo, or are the subject of an artistic exercise in chiaroscuro. All of them are distracting. The best practice is to be lit from the front, near a window, if possible. Everyone looks better in natural light.

Ask a friend to help you test things out to be absolutely certain that you are ready before your interview. Attention to these details are the low-hanging fruit of remote interview prep. Failing to do them could signal a fatal lack of preparedness to your interviewer…and first impressions are lasting.

Consider Your Setting

One big difference between in-person and remote interviewing is that you bear all the responsibility of managing the visual perspective that a hiring manager has of you. That’s not limited to your attire, which is still as important as ever, by the way (at least from the waist up). It also includes the backdrop of your living environment.

Many people new to video conferencing have unwittingly displayed their unmade bed, streaking toddlers, family squabbles, or worse during a call.

“I was once in a corporate meeting with several people, including one guy whose roommate began using the toilet behind him without closing the door,” said Anne Lipsitz, executive career consultant at The Barrett Group. “He had no idea what was happening behind him, and it was pretty awkward when we suggested he close the bathroom door during our meeting.

Auditory distractions – like barking dogs, crying babies, and door bells chiming – should also be managed as much as possible. When in doubt, keep yourself muted at all times except when you are speaking.

Many online conferencing platforms have a designated button on the keyboard for quick mute/unmute function, like the space bar for Zoom, or the “M” key for Bluejeans. Make sure you know which button to use during your call and employ it as necessary.

If you like to use headphones during video calls, best to ask permission before your interview, to ensure they won’t divert your interviewer’s attention. In short, the rule of thumb is to minimize any possible distractions lest they become things by which your interviewer judges you.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Controlling for potential problems is crucial, nevertheless, the best laid plans often go awry. How you handle those situations matter. When things go south unexpectedly, make sure you have a contingency plan. If a sudden hurricane comes through and wipes out your power, make sure you have a phone number to let your interviewer know that there is a problem.

In the world of remote working, an embarrassing family interruption is much more likely than a hurricane, as demonstrated by the now famous BBC interview of a man whose segment was disrupted by the hilarious appearance of his two young children bursting into his office, and the even funnier commotion of his wife skidding into the scene to hustle them out.

It’s a very bad interview when no one remembers – or even cares – about your comments because something more interesting has happened over your shoulder. So how to handle it?

“Acknowledge it and absolutely own it,” said Annie Meisels, an actress and public speaking coach whose business, A Powerful Voice, now caters to workers trying to connect with others in a virtual setting. “If you seem embarrassed, it becomes a negative. But if you own it, you don’t look bad – you look human. Introduce your child or your dog to your onscreen audience, crack a joke, then try to move forward smoothly.”

Done right, the situation could end up demonstrating some pretty great characteristics about you, like adaptability, humor, and grace under pressure – all highly valuable assets during the current crisis. It may even help build a human connection with your interviewer – which is much more difficult to do remotely than in an in-person setting.

Try to Make a Human Connection

You absolutely have to work harder to make a human connection through a screen. A number of studies suggest that a huge percentage of interpersonal communication is non-verbal, and during a remote interview you don’t have the luxury of a handshake, a walk down a hallway, or a leisurely lunch. You have 30-60 minutes to be authentic, and small details count more than you think.

“Project your voice! Make sure you are articulating well,” said Lipsitz. “And be mindful of where your eyes are – try to look at the camera and not at the image of your interviewer or of yourself more than necessary. It’s as important to get people at “Hello” in a video interview as in real life, so you need to seem attentive, responsive, and have a smile in your eyes.”

People who aren’t naturally high energy personalities might need to fake it lest they come across as disinterested and lose an edge to their competition. Tricks include leaning in to show interest, deliberately varying your vocal range, and asking conversational questions that can connect you to your interviewer. Try to prepare some appropriate anecdotes that might help your interviewer relate more to you. People who reveal personal information about themselves are more likely to feel a human connection.

By the way, if you want to take notes, ask permission so that your interview doesn’t think you’re distracted, unengaged or – worse – checking your phone. Set expectations up front to avoid judgement.

With luck, the next time you’re planning to change jobs, you will have the option to interview in person. Likelier than not, however, remote interviews are here to stay in some form. Not to worry – with an eye to these basic tips, and a little practice, you can be as successful in your job interviews whether they’re conducted live at an office or remotely from your home.

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