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How to Give a Great Virtual Interview

Last week when many NYC agencies moved to remote interviews, I started scouring the web for best practices. With few exceptions, most video interview tutorials are pretty terrible! Most of us know to get our cats out of the background.

Here is my concise, no-nonsense list of how to get your video [or phone] interview right, including some often overlooked faux pas. It’s also important to acknowledge why we’re in this spot. Unlike the world just a week ago, virtual interviews may not represent your first meeting with the company, but your only one. We hope this won’t be long-term, but it’s hard to predict when things will return to normal.

As such, your personality has to come across. Their company culture must reveal itself. We need to tease these things out with smart questions and body language in the absence of physical context to guide us.

Before the Interview: Testing, Testing

  • Confirm your interviewer has everything they need. Your resume, portfolio, or presentation, as well as your direct dial in case of tech hiccups. If you’re screensharing, is that ready to roll? This is not stuff you want to be scrambling to locate. Capture their email address for the thank you note NOW, so you don’t have to track it down after the interview.
  • All of us have video conferences from the office, but if it’s your first time from home, test your whole set-up. Consider upgrading your camera and audio for the best call quality. Do a trial run using the same video platform as your interview to identify any problem areas. Are you eye level with the screen (not looking down)? The right distance away? Is the lighting bright and free from shadows or glare? Is the background tidy? This 6-minute video offers good tech tips.
  • Eliminate any distractions. Don’t sit in a swivel chair. Remove any temptations to fidget (e.g. pencil tapping, fussy clothing, notifications on all devices, even open browser tabs). Keep a water glass or notepad handy, but otherwise declutter your space.
  • Dress professionally, same as you would for an in-person. (Do I really need to say this?)
  • For more tips on how to prepare, go here.

First 5 Minutes: Get the Nonverbal Stuff Right

  • If your preparation is tight, you’ll be free to focus all your attention into establishing a natural rapport with your interviewer. You can’t shake hands, so make sure you maintain eye contact, smile and demonstrate attentiveness. To help with this, watch some interview shows on YouTube. I like Tim Ferriss’s podcast.
  • Have some small talk or questions prepared while watching for cues from your interviewer about where they’d like to start. Maybe they do virtual interviews all the time, or conversely they may feel awkward on camera. Be prepared for either scenario.
  • Convey the right energy level. If you’re naturally amped and maybe a little verbose when you’re excited, film yourself beforehand and evaluate whether you need to tone it down. If you’re more stoic and thoughtful, how will this translate in a video environment? How are you using your hands and body language to engage your interviewer? Does it seem sincere? Don’t underestimate the value of saying their name at the beginning and end of your call. Don’t miss any opportunity to establish intimacy.

The Interview Itself

  • Manage your time well. Make a list of the things you want to cover.
  • Anticipate their questions and rehearse concise answers. Use the job description help you choose the most relevant skills and experiences to talk about.
  • Unlike an in-person meeting, visual cues are reduced, so it can be hard to tell gauge when you’ve said enough. A good strategy is to organize your responses in shorter soundbites, building in pauses or questions to ensure your interviewer is tracking. For example, when describing a case study, break it down into 1) problem to solve, 2) insights that led to strategy, 3) program execution and 4) results.
  • Quantify, describe the tools you used, resist the urge to gloss over details or lean on meaningless buzzwords. If you plan to reference an article or work sample, have the link ready to go.
  • To help with talking points, experts recommend you tack them around your computer screen so you can reference them without breaking eye contact or looking down. Also useful to have copies of your resume and the job description nearby.
  • To take notes or not? I find it easy to type notes while on a phone interview, but I mention this upfront so my interview subject doesn’t think I’m responding to emails. It’s much harder to maintain eye contact and type on a video interview, so I recommend scribbling some shorthand notes during the interview, then fleshing those out immediately after your call while your memory is fresh. Most video platforms offer call recording, so that could be an option too, though it sounds like a pain!

Your Turn to Ask Questions

  • You should come to the interview with a list of questions. In choosing which ones to ask, consider the rapport you’ve established so far, and the role your interviewer has in the company. What’s appropriate to ask at this stage and what questions is your interviewer uniquely qualified to answer? If you’re talking to group director, practice lead or president, this is your opportunity to ask their goals for the company and how this role can help achieve them. Whereas an immediate supervisor or peer-level interviewer may be more aware of day-to-day responsibilities, client relationship, etc.
  • To get into the culture of a workplace, I’ve never gone wrong with “What attracted you to this company?” You may also want to ask about career path, company values, how and when you’ll get feedback on your performance. Here are more clever questions. There are other ways to find out about work/life balance, benefits and remote work policies. (Ask your recruiter!) Those questions always backfire in initial interviews, leaving interviewers to question your work ethic.

Thank You & Goodbye

  • Many times phone calls end abruptly due to other calls coming in. Ideally, you’ll have time to thank your interviewer and ask about next steps. But you can bring it up in your thank you note if not. Likewise, your sign-off doesn’t need be prolonged. I’m always annoyed with myself when I start repeating action items.
  • Most important on our current environment: Timeline to hire. Where they are in decision process? When would they like this person to start? Is the role approved?
  • Send an individual thank you email within 24 hours. Don’t wait. It’s not old-fashioned or pushy. Rather, it’s an easy way to stand out and keep a dialogue going.

Go here for a 1-page checklist of these tips!

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