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The Online Interview

Note that, while many tools are available now, this article is compiled also from the advice and experience in many articles listed in Google searches for “online interviews.” I also got wonderful suggestions, both from colleagues I know face-to-face and those I’ve met only online in various discussion groups.

Video interview platforms (Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, etc.) are very different from traditional face-to-face interviews, and, if you’re new at this, be ready for considerable preparation. Trying to “wing it” in a video interview just makes it easier to be shot down.

Video interviews include the obvious technical differences. in addition to the usual interview preparation research (on your strengths and skills, and how well they match the organization and the job). Practicing verbally moves from important to critical. Other critical elements include your “on-screen presentation,” alternatives, behind-the-scenes organization and technological preparation.

More organizations are becoming more comfortable with video interviews, and more job offers are coming after the video-only interview. For cross-country interviews, video interviews are far less expensive than airplane tickets.

Also, more organizations are adopting what almost amounts to video applications, when you may be sent to a website that will give you specific questions to answer, while you are being videoed in an interview format. It means that you can make the video any time of the day or night (within the deadline given) and interviewers can watch your “canned” video any time.

Major areas of preparation for online interviews cover six areas: First Impressions/PresentationAppearanceLocation/Lighting, Audio Organizing for the InterviewPotential Technical Glitches and Practice, Practice, Practice

First Impressions and Presentation

Although the fears most interviewees have of Skype interviews revolve around an unfamiliar technology, the failures most interviewers mention relate to the so-called “soft” skills: etiquette, appearance, unconscious behaviors, and lack of preparation. Some of it is caused by nervousness, but most is easily cured by practice with friends.

The first impression you give fixes your image as a professional. It begins with your Skype name. If it is along the lines of stud4you or sweetiegal, change it or begin a new Skype account for the professional you. (You already know that your online other profiles should be consistent in projecting the same professional image, too, right?)

Be prepared to introduce yourself and be sure to know the interviewer’s name. If you have multiple interviewers and you haven’t “met” them before, write down their names. Address them individually when you have questions, and realize that you may find yourself carrying on several different conversations simultaneously.

If you don’t know already, ask how much time they have scheduled for the call. Most interviews won’t exceed an hour, but exceptions happen, especially with academics, and it will be useful for you to know their time limits.

Eye contact remains critically important in video interviews (although there may be cultural differences). Remember that “maintaining eye contact” means that you’ll be looking at the webcam lens, not the video image of the interviewer, which may be in a lower corner of your screen.

If you can drag the interviewer’s image to the top of the screen just below the webcam lens, it will be much easier to give the interviewer the impression of eye contact. If it doesn’t drag, you can make it easier for yourself to remember to look at the camera by taping a photo of a smiling friend near the webcam, perhaps even with a hole cut in it for the webcam lens to show through it. As you look at the photo of your friend (preferably smiling), you’ll find it much easier to feel that you’re speaking directly to another human (and the interviewer will feel that you are talking directly to him/her).

Smiling and focusing on the speaker (behind that lens) also will make you look much more confident and positive. Get a feel for the mood/energy of your interviewer and engage them – respond to an upbeat mood with your own, and slow down or speed up if you find yourself talking much faster or slower than your interviewer.

If you anticipate being nervous, spend a few minutes before the call smiling into a mirror, or watch a few cat videos to help you relax and actually laugh. The smile on your face will come through in your voice, too. To raise your nonverbal confidence (especially if you are female, watch this TED talk of Amy Cuddy ( and try the power pose before your interview.

Be especially aware of smiling occasionally during the interview because a solemn you may appear stiff and ultra-serious – or dull. Interviewers need to see your enthusiasm for them and the position. (If it’s your first interview by video, don’t be afraid to mention it. Most will be sympathetic, it will help break the ice, and you’ll be more comfortable.)

Respond verbally and nod occasionally as the interviewer speaks, to confirm to her/him that you are able to hear and are listening. Remember that they may have distractions in their office, and may not have as much interest in you as you in them. If you sense that you have lost their interest, ask a question and engage with the interviewer.

Relating to all the above points, be nice, be courteous, and show your interest in them as individuals. You want to like/respect them, and them to like/respect you, at least enough to want to work together. They will be looking at you, wondering if you will fit in, and be good for the team already in place. They’ll be wondering if your style is compatible with theirs. Finally, assume that the interviewer wants to hire you. It will keep your attitude positive and you will give off a more positive impression than if you respond defensively.

Your body language may be distracting or may reflect well on you. Sit up straight, but find a comfortable position, lest you look like you’re sitting on nails. If your hands are not visible to interviewers on the screen, and you gesture with your hands, interviewers will see them flitting in and out of the screen area and be distracted. (Some advisors recommend that you position yourself so your hands are visible at all times, and others recommend that you lean in to the webcam so that you become a talking head, so your facial expressions are more visible. Choose one format, practice, and stick with it.)

While a transmission delay may be caused by technical issues (discussed later in this article), it may cause you or interviewers to speak over one another. You may need to slow down and be sure their sentence has ended before you speak. Simply adjust your speaking speed and don’t let it make you nervous.

If technical issues keep you from hearing or being heard, suggest stopping the call and call back to try for a better connection. If so, you’ll appear confident, technically competent and you’ll give the impression that you know what you’re doing. (Plus, it might work.)


Dressing for an interview to look the part of an employee of the organization is important in face-to-face interviews, but video introduces a few complications. Because non-verbal communication is a huge percentage of our total communication, your “appearance” becomes more important when “on camera.”

Be aware that some colors and assertive patterns, especially stripes, don’t show up well on screen, and some become overly bright and “clash” electronically. Beyond noting that blues usually show up well, I’ll suggest that you experiment if you like bright colors.

What you wear also may depend on what you know about the organization and the job you want. Your earlier research on company culture should give you clues for preparation, but this is more difficult to do at a distance. One young woman did well in a screening telephone interview (for a position as a worldwide tour guide). For the next interview which, which was by video, she took special care with her hair, make up and attire. She did not get the job, and found out later that the interviewer couldn’t imagine her guiding tourists through jungles wearing makeup, a suit and heels.

In any case, you’ll want to appear well-groomed – and comfortable with yourself. Record some trial runs with video and revise to improve your appearance. A male student recorded a test interview and discovered that one piece of flyaway hair stuck straight up on the top of his head like a unicorn. (He changed his hairstyle.)

Too many interviewees have been caught on camera, looking fine above the waist, but wearing pajama bottoms (or less) below that. Don’t take the chance. Dress completely and professionally, to fit the organization’s style. Recruiters have reported video interviewees wearing sweats, looking like they had just rolled out of bed. Pretend you’re dressing for a 9am weekday, even if the interview is 5am or 9pm in your time zone.


If you have quiet office space at home, this is probably your best choice of location. Clean/declutter the space and prepare for the visit as if the interviewer were actually coming to you. Your surroundings should reflect your professionalism. Your background gives an unconscious view of you, and can be a distraction if it is “busy” – full of small objects (stuffed bookshelves, wall hangings, etc.).

You can choose the view they have of you, so look at what is behind you as you sit at the webcam, and consider the impression your space will give of your organizational abilities and your personal life. (If it’s a dorm room, remove the teddy bears and beer bottles.) One woman who was a candidate for a retail position in a home décor store was asked in the interview to pick up the webcam and pan the room, which happened to be her dorm room. She did not get the position.

Also, be aware of the angle of the screen if you’re using a laptop. If the angle is too great, the webcam lens will give the interviewer a great view up your nostrils, with the ceiling behind your head. To avoid that, prop the laptop on something so the lens is roughly level with your eyes.

If you have a roommate or family in the vicinity, be sure they understand how important it is to you to have no noise or distraction during the interview. You should be the only living being in the room (no pets, children or other distractions). Put a note on the door to fend off unexpected visitors and deliveries. If you can, disable the ringer on a land line phone and silence the cell phone and computer notification sounds.

Lighting is critical, so the interviewer can see the expressions on your face. You might place your computer/webcam in front of a window so you are in natural light (but not full, bright sunlight, or you may be blinded yourself). A very bright light behind you will cause your face to be shadowed. It may help to position two desk lamps on either side of the webcam, or one above it, focused on your face.

Because this isn’t a friendly chat, avoid having a cup of coffee with you, but you may want a glass of water (not a bottle) at arm’s length, in case your mouth gets dry, or you begin to cough. (Consider the interviewer watching your Adam’s apple slide up and down when you chug a bottle of water on screen. Don’t try to turn away – you’ll just give them a side or back view.) Dry mouth and coughing are actually common until you’re comfortable with video interviews, similar to making presentations to large audiences.

Organize for the Interview

Logistics are your responsibility – be sure you translate their time zone correctly into yours, and be aware that your own geographic zone may not correlate with national time zones. (Even if a miscommunication is their fault, you’ll be the loser.)

Keep paper and pens handy to take notes. You may want to record the conversation, too. If you can avoid beating yourself too much for any small missteps, you can learn from the recording and improve your next Skype interview.

It is perfectly ok to have notes in front of you. You’d even take a resume to a face-to-face interview, perhaps along with questions to ask and points you want to mention. While you can put sticky notes around the screen, which the interviewer can’t see, the interviewer can see your furtive eye movements, when you look away from the lens to focus on the notes, so be sure your notes are easy to read (using an extra-large font), perhaps even within your peripheral vision. Or, you may want to spread your notes on the desk in front of you, and actually be seen picking up the page, as you say something like, “I do have a couple of questions relating to this. Would now be a good time to ask?”

Even though you can be comfortable having notes in front of you, be so familiar with what you want to get across that the notes are merely reminders. If you’re too dependent on the notes, or have to read them, you’ll introduce awkward pauses while the interviewer waits for you to find what you want to say.

Potental Technical Glitches

Skype (and other systems of video interviews) are still fraught with potential technical problems. Even if “everything always works” for you in the system you use, it may not at interview time. So, get used to the idea that “something” may happen, and be prepared for the worst. Most important, don’t sweat it – and don’t let it rattle you if it happens. Most interviewers have experienced all of the technical glitches that can happen, so they won’t be angry with you because of it – unless you are clearly unprepared to deal with it.

In fact, if a technical glitch does happen, and you show that you are prepared and help them overcome the situation, you will create a positive impression with the interviewer, who will see you as a competent problem-solver.

Be sure to contact the interviewer well before the interview and know exactly how the video connection is going to be made (which system you’ll be using and who initiates the connection). Also, get a phone number where you could reach them in case the video connection drops. Be sure that they have a phone number for you at the location you’re interviewing (cell and/or land line). If it’s a cell phone, be sure the reception is good there, and be sure your cell phone and/or cordless phone batteries are fully charged. (At my building, some cell phones don’t get reception in the basement offices.) If the video were to fail irretrievably, and you end up on the phone with the interviewer, offer to connect again, or to continue the interview by phone. Treat it as a problem-solving exercise and rise to the occasion.

Use the highest-speed Internet connection you can get, but try to avoid WIFI, especially on your computer’s battery power. As wonderful as it is when it works, WIFI is still a little quirky, and there are many connections that could fail (the router, the receiver, your ISP, and traffic overloads could slow it). If possible, use a cable connection and use the WIFI as the backup, or less desirable, reverse that. Keep your computer plugged in to electricity. Slow connections can cause audio/video lag or drop the video.

If you’ve had tech problems in practice sessions, tell the interviewer and explain what you’ll do (phone back, try a different connection, etc.). Or, if you’ve were previously unable to get a phone number where you can reach the interviewer during the interview, get it before you begin the interview. Even if the session is technically perfect, you’ll gain points for preparation and competence.

Test your internet connection and computer more than once, using the video system you’ll be using. Take care in learning how the audio, microphone and volume settings have to be set for Skype, especially if you’ve had to change any of those items recently. Headphones give better sound than laptop speakers, but note that the internal settings for audio may be different for headphones vs speakers, and having both turned on can cause electronic feedback. If you plan to get headphones, try to find a set with a mute button and USB connection. Don’t worry that you may look dorky if you’re wearing headphones; you’re just being professional.

Close the other programs in your computer, to give all its resources to the video process, especially if it has limited memory.

When the unexpected happens, you have a chance to shine – if you are prepared, as was the woman who told me this story. “I dropped a glass of wine on my laptop the night before. I thought I had it dried out and I tested it thoroughly. As the computer heated up during my interview, the wine must have gotten wet and sticky and computer completely died forever. Luckily, I had my iPad ready to go as back up and my phone to back up that so I barely missed a beat. It actually launched a great discussion about how people in our field always have to have a back-up. (I didn’t tell them I spilled wine on my laptop, though.)”

Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice makes you comfortable with the whole process. Practice includes doing your research on the organization and having the questions you want to ask or discuss

Your first few video Skype calls are likely to feel awkward, especially if you have to retrain yourself to watch the camera and not the screen. Play around with everything beforehand so that when it’s interview time, you can shine without being distracted by the process or the technology.

On occasion, you’ll have more than one interviewer at the other end. Because the situation can be daunting, try to do at least one trial interview with multiple interviewers to see what that feels like and to get a chance to practice dealing with more than one interviewer at a time. Remaining calm with multiple interviewers is a skill and practice will perfect it.

Doing multiple trial interviews with friends before your interview is even scheduled is critical. Ask for their honest feedback and record the calls. You need to know their impression of you, your appearance and behavior. Ask them about the quality of the video and the elements I’ve mentioned above – the lighting, the sound, any distractions or noise. Be sure to have a list of questions for them to ask you and get feedback on your manner and your facial expressions. Do you appear enthusiastic, yet professional? Is your voice clear and easily understood? Are you smiling enough? Too much? Ask them to pay particular attention to your facial expression and general appearance, and analyze the recording yourself to fine-tune your appearance and behavior.

Here is a wonderful example that shows the importance of feedback, practice, and planning. The result was a great story of a learning curve in action.

“My daughter saw that Skype was on my office computer so she called me from her dorm room. Thankfully, when I answered the call there was no one in the office with me because there she was sitting in a towel calling from her dorm room. We talked about the inappropriateness of her attire even when calling mom. Later that semester she had an opportunity to study abroad with a genetics lab and her interview was through Skype. She made these adjustments:

1. She confirmed the time and date of the call because it was being held from Australia.
2. She checked her computer system and audio to make sure she would have the best chance of being received clearly. She also made sure she had alternative phone numbers and emails in case they should be cut off.
3. She positioned her computer facing a blank wall so there would be no distractions behind her.
4. She spoke with her roommate about the call, the importance of the call, and hung a sign on the door to alert any unscheduled visitors.
5. She dressed as if she were going to a face to face interview from head to toe.
6. She made sure she had a pad and pen handy to take notes, copy of her resume, and study abroad material.
7. She made notes ahead of time and hung those notes out of Skype view, but in her view so that she could continue to maintain eye contact while speaking and be informative with important dates.
She did get the job. She was later told how impressed they were with her professional presence and how prepared she was during the interview.”

Before you end the call, it is a good idea to ask about the next step in the hiring process, and when can you expect to hear back from them? If you’ve had more than one interviewer, be sure you’re clear on the person you should contact if you have questions.

Don’t forget to thank your interviewers, first at the end of the call, and again, by email very soon after the interview. (If you’ve had multiple interviewers, send a note to each one of them. Yes, it may take some effort if you have to go find their emails, but you’re creative and energetic, so you can do it.)

In most cases, this interview will lead to face-to-face interviews, although one counselor has been seeing some job offers arrive after the video interview, and she expects the trend will continue. Another suggests that there can be danger in accepting an offer without having seen the environment ( or meeting the people) where you would be working.

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