Online interviews have become a necessity during the lockdown but they present challenges for candidates and recruiters alike. We wouldn’t normally post interview or CV tips because we handle that kind of detail on an individual basis. Online interviews are a new concept for most people though so we decided to provide our best advice based on recent experience. As with any interview, the key is preparation. All parties concerned need to do the groundwork they would normally do, apart from planning the trip to the office. The advice that follows concerns the specific preparation required when the interview is online. We haven’t separated our tips between interviewer and candidate as we think they are all of interest no matter what your role.
1. Look the Part
The camera will be on and, whereas the commercial world has become accustomed to seeing casually dressed colleagues in home settings, an interview is about making first impressions. This goes both ways, for the interviewee, this is the first formal touchpoint with your organisation on the candidate journey. The interviewer(s) need to maintain the corporate branding presented in the company website, job ad, recruitment portal and by the consultancy if one has been involved. It goes without saying that the candidate should present themselves as well as possible.
2. Practise with the Technology
Make sure you know which platform you’re using, preferably an app that shows all participants at all times. Install it early, set up a profile where necessary and familiarise yourself. Recruiters should send out instructions or FAQs when necessary. As a contingency, also install it on a mobile device and buy a mount so you have a backup if something goes wrong with your PC or laptop. Make sure you have the bandwidth, processing power and connection for everything to work, a mobile hotspot is another potential contingency here. Have a trial run or two with a friend or your recruitment consultant as appropriate. Try to look into the camera rather than at people on the screen. If you feel you look or sound a bit fuzzy, consider buying peripherals such as a microphone or an external webcam to present yourself as professionally as possible. Please note that at the time of writing, webcams are very hard to come by but you could consider borrowing one.
3. Prepare Your Environment
Do what you can to manage your environment. People joke about the items MPs place behind them when interviewed from home but it’s a serious point. Try to make your background clean and uncluttered. Ideally, your head and shoulders should dominate the screen. Do what you can with the lighting, you don’t want to be hidden in the dark or be a black silhouette against a sunny window. Try to make sure nobody in the building is going to cause distractions and as far as possible make sure nobody will come to the front door.
4. Manage Your Noise Levels
Make sure notifications are muted on your phone, PC and other devices. Practise using the mute button during a conversation, especially if noise elsewhere in the building is slightly unpredictable.
5. Prepare for the Interview
An online interview has an extra level of stress. Make sure interviewers and interviewees have done what they can to follow the tips above. The recruitment team should make sure the candidate knows who is going to be present, the format the interview will follow and how it fits into the wider selection process. Where possible, have the interviewer send the invite. Also make sure everyone knows who will initiate the session, explain any quirks of the platform being used and help to put the candidate at ease by sharing any personal preferences for how to make the interview run more smoothly.
6. Record the Interview
This is better for all parties. Psychological studies show that it not only encourages honesty from candidates but it also has a positive impact on the integrity and professionalism of the interviewers. At a more practical level, it reduces the need for note-taking so all participants can remain present and engaged. It also means that, with consent and when appropriate, a recording can be shared with a different hiring manager, thus giving the candidate a better chance of selection.
7. During the Interview
It is harder to build rapport, build trust and maintain trust in an online setting. One aspect that exacerbates this is the tendency for participants to get straight down to business. Try to spend a few minutes talking generally at the start of the interview, clarifying again what will happen and giving all parties the chance to express some personality. You won’t pick up all the body language and micro-expressions that you would face-to-face but you will create a more conducive environment.
Despite finding time to break the ice at the start of the interview, it is best not to let it drag on too long. 45 minutes should suffice and definitely don’t go past 90. Also, without physical presence and even with a tiny delay on the line, it’s hard for interviewing team members to interject and contribute unless you facilitate it. With a list of key questions prepared in advance, the lead interviewer should monitor visual cues in order to let people in as required. It may also possible to use the live chat stream, depending which platform you’re on, but don’t do this at the expense of eye contact with the candidate.
Online interviews are another skill for the professional world to acclimatise to. As time passes, platforms will become more specific to the task and interviewers will develop a wider range of skills to facilitate the best possible experience. If you are involved in interviewing in the near future we wish you all the best.