The Complete Guide to Conquering an Online Job Interview

Online Job Interviews - Interview from anywhere.

Whether you’re just starting your job hunt, you’ve been invited to an online interview by a prospective company, or you’re generally curious about the online interviewing process, you’re in the right place. In this guide, you’ll learn everything from how to practice for your interview to how to dress so you don’t blend in to your bedroom wall or scare potential employers away with your favorite band’s t-shirt and its ill-positioned holes.

Before Your Online Job Interview

“Luck is where the crossroads of opportunity and preparation meet." – Seneca

The ideal job at your dream company just opened up but there’s a catch; it’s half way across the country. After a few moments of distress and disappointment, you realize we live in an age where communication technology has allowed us to connect in amazing ways, no matter the distance.

Thanks to online interview technologies, companies are saving money and candidates are being recruited (and subsequently hired) from all over the world.  Below you’ll find some useful tips that you can implement before you jump into your online interview.

How to Suggest an Online Job Interview

“The best way to suggest using a video interview for a potential employer is in your initial cover letter.  Email directly to the hiring authority.  In fact, use a P.S. at the bottom of your letter that says, ’I am available and look forward to an interview, either face to face or online using Skype or other service, to prove I am the solution to your needs for this position.‘  This stands out, making you look technologically competent.”

Karl Walinskas is the CEO of Smart Company Growth, author of Getting Connected through Exceptional Leadership and contributor to Inc. Magazine

After confirming your online interview, prepare the same as you would for a face- to-face interview and avoid common mistakes that can make a bad impression with your potential employer.

“Update your cover letter so that it isn't addressed to the wrong company or person at the company. This shows you are interviewing with a lot of places and lack attention to detail. Addressing your resume/cover letter as “Dear sir” or something similar is a mistake.  Hello! It’s 2014, the person interviewing is at least ½ as likely to be female. “

Christa Foley is the Senior Human Resource Manager at Zappos

All Job Interviews Require Research

Research the job description and the company online, paying close attention to the words and phrases they use to describe themselves and their company’s mission. Following their social media accounts is a modern way to get a feel for the company’s voice while also staying up to date on their latest news or successes and thus, giving you talking points for your interview and showing that you are already well versed in the industry.  LinkedIn is a valuable resource for industry-specific research; look up the company’s recruiter and the hiring manager to learn details of their backgrounds and interests.

Grammar and typing errors in general are still a big turnoff for most employers. HR and Recruiting folks always say to be prepared and do your research before interviewing with a company. I can’t stress enough how important it is to understand a bit of the company you are interviewing with, their history and culture, before getting into an interview.”
– Christa Foley, Zappos

Generally, the recruiter drives the interview process, and it’s up to you to be as accommodating as possible!  If they’re flexible, this is your opportunity to choose the time of day that works the best for you. For example, if they are available Monday morning or Tuesday afternoon, consider when you typically feel most fresh and alert.  Are you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as soon as you hop out of bed, or does it take a few cups of coffee for you to start speaking in coherent phrases? Choose wisely!

Ask these questions before your
online job interview

  • When will the position start? 
  • Will there be a short list and another round of interviews?
  • How long will the interview be?  If they’re on a schedule, that’s all the time you’ll have, and you’ll want to know which points to hammer home accordingly.
Ask the right questions during your online job interview.

To make sure your technology is compatible, do a dry run before your interview. Skype a friend and test out the clarity and sound of your video chat. If you are nervous about having connectivity issues, it’s smart to share your contact info with your interviewer beforehand, either via email or in the chat element of the product that you are using. That way, your interviewer has a way to reach you in case your dog chooses that exact moment to chew through your Ethernet cord.

Avoid using anything you need to hold in your hand, a la “selfie”.  Your image will be shaky and fill the screen too much.  You want to be able to control the video environment, and that is just harder to do with phones.  If you can prop up an iPad on a stand that will look at you straight on, like someone taking a picture, and you have the bandwidth and environment considerations described herein under control, then this is acceptable.”
– Karl Walinskas, Smart Company Growth

Test your tech before the job interview

Unlike a phone interview, video interviews take some time to set up. Get comfortable using the technology and be aware of what software you’ll need- nothing kills an interview like waiting ten minutes for an applicant to download a plug-in. Start the log-in process at least five minutes beforehand to ensure you make it online on time. By being ready ahead of time, you’ll be able to relax as you wait for your interview to begin, rather than frantically typing in passwords and internally cursing your slow wireless connection.

Online job interviews require a test
run or two

Recruit a friend to help, and walk through a set of questions to get a dialogue going.  Notice how you respond, making eye contact with the screen. This trial will help you set a tone and pace that you’re comfortable with on the day of the interview.  You want to appear prepared, confident, and calm; practicing until you’re completely comfortable interviewing is the best way to achieve this projected serenity.

Use this rehearsal to gauge an appropriate distance from the camera. Remember your frame - too close and the interviewer might be distracted by your (albeit attractive) facial features; too far and you might be perceived as aloof from the process.

“When you’re preparing for the interview, have someone call you at the same time of day as your interview will be. That way you’ll know what kind of lighting and shadows you’ll have for the interview itself.”

Ginger Burr is the President of Total Image Consultants and author of That’s So You!

With the availability of video conferencing software, you should be able to walk through the setting once or twice to develop an ease with the chosen application.  Headphones are generally a plus for online interviews; your voice will be clearer for the interviewer and outside noise will be reduced. These days, most laptops have Bluetooth connections so you can connect a cell phone headset to complete the interview.  Check the audio beforehand for the dreaded echo (echo... echo...).

If you opt for the microphone over the headset, experiment beforehand to judge the ideal distance from your mouth for good audio, making sure that you don’t have any obstruction.  Be careful that the microphone placement doesn't impact your ability to maintain eye contact with the interviewer.

 

Dress For Online
Interview Success

How to dress for an online job interview.
How not to dress for an online job interview.

Men

Women

Examples of what to wear for an online job interview.
Part of what you want to do in a job interview is separate from yourself from the competition, which means choosing items of clothing or accessories that express who you are while being appropriate to the job you’re interviewing for. If you dress so that you feel amazing, that confidence will allow you to be yourself.”   – Ginger Burr, Total Image Consultants

Consider your background during an
online interview

Don’t forget to consider your surrounding environment when planning out the logistics of your interview. Choose your background carefully. Keep the setting formal and uncluttered so that it doesn’t distract your interviewer from what you’re saying.  The wall color should be neutral with plenty of natural light- now is not the time to proudly display your collection of vintage Black Sabbath posters or your gallery of self portraits in the style of Van Gogh.

During the Online Job Interview

Now that the legwork is done, it’s time to sit back and impress your interviewer with what you know!

As mentioned before, the environment should be as professional as possible.  Every potential distraction should be avoided.  Now is not the time to turn on the dishwasher or have Maury in the background on mute.  Kick everyone out of the house (or at least the room), and don’t forget to turn off your cell phone and any other potential noisemakers.  Also, consider your proximity to the bathroom; an unexpected flushing toilet is a tough obstacle for even the most poised candidate to overcome.

When to join the online interview session

You only get one chance to make a first impression, and punctuality is one of the first things an interviewer will notice about you.  As the candidate, you should always dial into the bridge a couple of minutes early, giving you more time to diagnose any technical issues and get comfortable in your chosen setting. Rushing or running late, even if you have a good reason, will leave a negative impression, whereas being prompt for the interview conveys your enthusiasm and respect for the position at hand.


Have these items nearby for the
interview

  • A glass of water beside you will help if you get a tickle in your throat or dry mouth (often the symptom of nerves). 
  • Have your resume in front of you for easy referencing of career dates and highlights.
  • Keep a pen and your calendar close by in case your interviewer wants to set up another meeting.  You don’t want to get up and walk away from the interview to fetch it later.
  • Memorize at least ten phrases that state your best qualities and how they relate to the skill set they’re looking for. If it helps, write these out on a sheet of paper so that you’re not awkwardly grasping for words when they ask you “What are three adjectives your colleagues would use to describe you?”
  • Similarly, you should have at least three memorable stories or examples that highlight your strengths, including one that shows how you dealt with adversity on the job.

Communicating Confidence in Your Online Interview

1. Be clear and concise.

 

Don’t ramble. Strike a balance between being brief and longwinded. Remember, more information is not necessarily the best practice. The reader’s digest version is sometimes all that’s required.
 

2. Pause, breathe and smile; then answer each question.

This gives you a moment to collect your thoughts. It also gives the interviewer a moment to shift back to listening mode and prepare to receive your great answers. Be sure to pace your answers slowly and not to rush, which is a sign of nervousness.

3. Be mindful of your body language.

Maintain good posture and eye contact throughout. Hand gestures will only distract the interviewer, so keep both hands at your side or under the desk throughout the interview.

 

Read the cues of the Interviewer

Once the interviewer calls, take a deep breath before answering and greeting him or her with a simple good morning/good afternoon and a smile.  Start with small talk if it’s appropriate, following the interviewer’s lead. A classic and non-controversial topic like weather always puts the interviewer at ease and gives you a chance to adjust to the setting before starting. 

Once the interview begins, you can relax into it and treat this as you would a normal interview.

“Body language can be read on both sides. Look for clues. Does their body language show whether you’ve answered their question correctly? Seek clarification if needed, by asking ‘does this answer your question?’”

Carrie Wynne is the Personal Career Coach and
author of 10 Ways to be Deliriously Happy

Common questions about online job interviews

Should I ask about wages?

When looking for a job, it can be tempting to know upfront exactly how much money you could possibly earn; however, just like any other first date, discussing money this early on is considered uncouth. Do not mention wages during the first interview unless they first broach the subject.  If they don’t bring it up and you still feel that you must know, then ask for a range.  Be prepared for a negotiation, but don’t expect it and don’t start one. Researching salaries for similar positions in your geographic location will give you an idea of what to expect and ensures that no one is surprised when a number is put on the table.

How do I end an online job interview?

Concluding the interview will give you the opportunity to summarize why you’re the best fit for this position- your own personal elevator statement. Make your pitch concise, and know it backwards and forwards before the interview.

How does a Q&A online job interview work?

Occasionally, employers will email you a list of interview questions and ask you to film yourself answering them. Q&A processes can be more complicated than traditional interviews because there are no signals in the interview to judge how well you are performing. However, the Q&A format certainly has its advantages, with the main one being you can write out your answers and practice delivering them ahead of time.

After the Online Job Interview

Congratulations! You can sign off and bask in knowing that you’ve given the interview your all.

Manners matter, even in this modern age, and a follow up thank you email or call is always necessary. Keep your message short, reiterating your personal summary and why you want to work there.

After an interview (as in the same day), whether face to face or online, start with a phone call. If you get the person, just professionally thank her for the time and consideration and state that you are looking forward to the next steps. If you get voicemail, leave that as a message, and follow up with an email saying the same thing. Email is acceptable and used prevalently. Snail mail is a nice touch that others will not use, so if you really want the job it is a great idea, but do the email or phone first. This person may be interviewing many people and you don’t want her to wait 5 days thinking you didn’t professionally follow up with a thank you. The position could have already been let to someone else.” –Karl Walinskas, Smart Company Growth

What to expect if you're asked for an
in-person interview

If all goes well, you may be asked for an in-person interview.  Travel expenses are generally handled internally, either through administrative assistants or recruiters. As when setting up your online interview, let the recruiter take the lead role in arranging any travel plans.  If there is no relocation involved in the role, it’s safe to assume that you will handle the costs of interviewing in person.

Online job interview final thoughts

Video interview skills, like any other talent, can be honed with practice and are ultimately about making a personal connection with the interviewer rather than allowing technology to form a barrier between you and your potential new job.

A successful video interview isn’t just about your answers, credentials and work experience; remember that the company will evaluate you by how they see and hear you.  Research shows that we make major decisions about each other in the first seven seconds of meeting. By logging on as a confident, comfortable and prepared candidate, you stand the best chance of a successful online interview- and an ensuing job offer. Good luck!

InterCall - The online job interview guide

Contributors

Christa Foley (@electra) joined Zappos in 2004 and is currently the Senior Human Resources and Zappos' Insights Manager. She helps preserve the famous workplace culture that Zappos has created and is an outreach champion for the Zappos brand.

Karl Walinskas (@KarlWalinskas) is the CEO of Smart Company Growth, a business development firm that helps emerging technology firms build competitive advantage and move the sales needle. He runs the authoritative Smart Blog and is the author of Getting Connected Through Exceptional Leadership.

For 27 years, Ginger Burr (@GingerBurr), President of Total Image Consultants, has helped women around the world create a wardrobe they love by connecting with their inner essence. Ginger is the author of the book That’s So You! Create a look you love with beauty, style and grace.

Carrie Wynne (@Passionpower) is the author of 10 Ways to be Deliriously Happy – How to Live an Inspired Life. She conducts personal development workshops based on the principles in her book showing others how to connect to the power within themselves and develop mental strategies to create an incredible life.