online interview

Trying to ace an online interview? There are do's and don'ts.

Much of my work has moved online since Washington went into quarantine in March. I have been participating in numerous online meetings, sometimes several a day, using internet-based chat platforms like Skype, GoToMeetings, Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

Recently a friend of mine said she was recently a panelist on an online job interview. This is the first I had heard of Yakima companies interviewing local candidates online.

From a business perspective, online interviews make sense. It’s convenient and less expensive — no one has to travel to a job fair or pay to bring a candidate to Yakima for an interview. Hiring managers can collaborate, even if all the panelists and the job applicant are in separate locations.

The job search and application process have already moved online, so it seems natural that the interview process would follow, especially with no end to the COVID-19 health crisis in the near future and telework becoming routine.

So what should a job seeker know about interviewing online?

First and foremost, all the same standard interview rules apply. Prepare ahead of time and practice, maybe even more than you usually would. Research the prospective employer and have examples ready to share that showcase your skills and accomplishments. Hone your “elevator speech.” (This is the answer to that dreaded question, “Tell me about yourself.”) Dress professionally, including wearing pants instead of pajama bottoms or sweats. Follow up and send a thank you card.

With online interviewing, technology is critical. Before the interview, test your internet connection to ensure it’s stable and the computer or smartphone’s audio and webcam work properly. Ask what kind of interview to expect. Will it include audio, video or both?

Next, choose your interview location with care. Just like having the right technology, you need the right place to interview online. Find a quiet room with minimal background noise and no distractions. Banish the kids and the pets — and make sure they cannot interrupt.

Set yourself up against a completely blank background, allowing several feet between the back of your head and the wall, so you don’t blend in. This is not the time for your favorite virtual background or filter. Make sure there are no personal items like photos in view. A professional backdrop will show the interviewer that you are serious about the job. If you are using a smartphone, use a phone holder so the camera is stable and in front of you. Don’t walk around holding your phone.

Lighting is important; make the most of natural light. Open up the shades, but be sure the largest light source is either right in front of you or directly in front of you. Avoid direct backlighting (like a window behind you) or a light shining directly over your head. A computer screen is also a source of light, so adjust your screen brightness so you don’t end up looking washed out.

Just like an in-person interview, sit up straight and make direct eye contact. With online communication, this is more difficult than you might think. Focus your gaze directly into the webcam (usually at the top of a monitor screen) instead of at the interviewer’s face. A great tip: move the interviewer’s face to the middle of the screen under the camera to make this easier. If you are using a smartphone, look at the interviewer’s face.

Because onboard computer audio is usually lower in quality, use headphones instead of the built-in speakers and microphone to avoid feedback and sound distortion. This is the same for smartphones. There can be delays or the microphone may not pick up your voice well, so speak slowly and clearly and enunciate your words. This will make sure that your interviewer can hear and understand you.

Likewise, you need to listen carefully. Keep your mind from drifting off and focus on listening when the interviewer speaks. Pay close attention to what the interviewer is saying. Sometimes when you’re on a video job interview, it’s easy to accidentally cut someone off due to audio delays or from not paying attention to nonverbal cues. To avoid this, listen and wait a few seconds before speaking to avoid cutting in.

Also, watch your body language. It’s natural to lean forward when online. Sit back so that you show more than just your face. Nod and smile to show the interviewer you are engaged in the conversation. Use hand gestures when appropriate.

Have a pen, notepad and copy of your resume on your desk. You could even post a cheat sheet on the wall behind your camera so you remember important points that you want to mention. I would also suggest having some water available in case your mouth gets dry.

Most of us are still getting used to online communication. Remember that the person or people interviewing you online may be as nervous as you! Try to relax and present your best self. You got this!

Michelle Smith is an employer engagement analyst for the South Central Workforce Development Council in Yakima.