Even before the pandemic, virtual interviews began replacing in-person interviews, in part because they're cheaper and more efficient. Now, post-pandemic, virtual interviews are the norm. This means candidates need to specifically know how to prepare for these types of interviews. And, as an interview coach, I know all too well that the candidates who succeed in interviews are not those with the most experience but those who’ve done the most preparation. So, below are my top tips for ensuring that you're well prepared for and succeed in your next virtual interview.
1. Carefully read all the information the employer sends you
Carefully read everything the employer sends you. Then read it again. Employers will often explicitly tell you what type of interview you should expect and even hint at the questions they'll ask. This will guide your preparation and allow you to focus on the right areas in your interview prep. Also, carefully check the technology requirements for the interview the employer has sent, and then install any software that might be needed.
2. Prepare an opening pitch
A common opening interview question is “Tell me about yourself” or something like it. For this, you should prepare a 30-second summary, often referred to as your “elevator pitch.” This should be a brief description of who you are and why you're applying for the job. One way of structuring your answer is:
- Summarize your experience and expertise
- Tell what excites you
- Give an example of your strengths
- Explain how your goals link to this position
3. Research the company and its industry
It's important to research the company you're applying to and the industry it's in. Your interviewer is likely to check that you have a basic knowledge of both. This is not to trick you but to check that you're genuinely motivated to have a career with the organization. How can you want to work there if you don't know about the company and what it does? There are many sources to learn about a business, but I'd suggest consulting as a minimum:
- The company's website
- Its social media feeds (Twitter, Instagram, Linked In)
- Its corporate annual report
- A Google news search of the organization
- Your network, especially contacts who've worked in the business or industry
- Industry-specific websites
Be prepared to answer basic questions on your business understanding. If you're applying for a technical department or specialist role you should also be ready to answer straightforward technical questions.
4. Understand your career motivation
In my experience, this is the most under-prepared area of an interview. The company wants to employ people who want to work for the company. Make sure you understand your answers to key questions around your career motivation, including:
- Why do you want to work in this industry?
- Why do you want to specifically work for this organization?
- Why do you want to work in this role?
- Where do you see yourself in 2/5/10 years?
5. Prepare for competency questions
The most common type of formal interview is a competency-based interview. Here, the interviewer is going to ask you to give an example of when you've shown certain competencies (or skills) relevant for the role. The company may have provided you with a list of these competencies (in the job description). If not, go back to the job application and your company research and highlight the key skills that you think are relevant for the job. There are dozens of possible options, but common examples include teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, resilience, presentation skills, etc.
In answering competency-based questions you should use the CAR model:
- Challenge: What was the situation? Why was it difficult?
- Action: What did you do? How did you do it?
- Result: What was the impact? Can you evidence it?
Create a list of the competencies you identified and a couple of CAR stories for each one. Also, include examples of when things didn't go so well, as the interviewer may look for these, too. In these cases, you should focus on what you learned when you give your answer. And, when answering the question, take a moment to pick just one example from the last few years. Don't give general examples, and focus on a particular time and be specific. Finally, focus on what YOU did—not WE. The interviewer is not interested in what the rest of the team did.
6. Practice, practice, practice
As with any skill, practice makes perfect. Practice, practice, and practice again. There are several different ways of doing this:
- Record yourself answering common interview questions
- Ask a competent friend, but make sure they're someone who'll be honest with you and not sugar-coat their answers!
- Reach out to a career coach, who can help you practice for your interview
Ensure you get feedback on both the content of your answers and your body language, focusing on how you appear on the screen.
7. Prepare questions
Your interviewer will expect you to ask questions at the end of the interview. These are good opportunities to demonstrate your interest in working at the organization—and to find out whether you see yourself working there. You should prepare a handful of questions and ask a couple at the end of the interview. Avoid questions about the practicalities of the role, salary. and anything you should have learned in your research. Good areas to ask about include:
- Training and development
- Career progression
- Opportunities to work with different teams
- Areas of specialization you're interested in
8. Consider what the interviewer will see and hear
Virtual interviews enable your interviewer to see a small porthole of your life. In an ideal world, you should ensure that background is neutral and you're lit from the front. Your background must not be messy or noisy. Avoid virtual backgrounds, which can be gimmicky or slow down the video call software. In terms of what you wear, you should dress as you would for a physical interview. My advice is to research what to wear and, if in doubt, dress more formally (it's better to overdress than underdress). Also, ensure that you have headphones and a microphone to avoid any echo.
Advantages of virtual interviews include you don't have the stresses of travelling to a new place and you don't have to nervously wait in an unfamiliar location. Still, virtual interviews can cause some anxiety. So, to prepare and lessen that anxiety, make sure to relax on the night before an interview—put the interview out of your mind a few hours before bed and get a good night’s sleep.
On the morning of the day of your interview, take a brief look at any notes you've made during your preparation—but don't overdo it. Just before your interview, it's better to relax and go for a walk if you have time than to make yourself unnecessarily nervous by looking at notes. And, a few minutes ahead of the interview, make sure you're seated comfortably and you have a glass of water in case you get a dry mouth or need a moment to gather your thoughts. Finally, when you log on, make sure to smile!
Adam Bennett is a senior career consultant at Career Prepare, which offers services to help individuals reach the next stage of their careers, with particular expertise in interview preparation, interview coaching, and graduate assessment centers.