Getting the Most Out of Online Interviews

Posted on: Wednesday, 01 September 2021 in Opinion Pieces .

Getting the Most Out of Online Interviews

Even before the current wave of remote interviewing, some people enjoyed interviews, and some did not. Over the last eighteen months, the increasing use of ZOOM (other brands are available) has probably exacerbated that Marmite divide.

As an interviewer, I have found the Zoom experience less preferential than meeting people face-to-face. There is a digital barrier in getting people to relate and give their best, but that may be a generational issue. There is something authentic about meeting people in person and encouraging them to give their best in person rather than doing it online. A problem, I think, for both parties. The last year has thrown up some unusual if not downright eccentric behaviour in my zoom interviews. I can never forget,

  • the candidate who set his camera up in such a way that we could see only above his chin (I am still convinced he had prepared answers ready and dotted around the computer and hoped we would not notice)
  • the distracting backgrounds which some people use.
  • a candidate who participated in the interview whilst appearing to stand during the whole process
  • the inevitable interruptions of Amazon drivers, electric and gas meter readers and perhaps more frequently, the canine members of the family.

But How Can the Online Process Work for All?

There are several critical issues for interviewers which can help the process.   

  • Prepare as if it was a pre-covid interview.  Ensure the questions are related to the Personnel Specification, Competence profile, expectations of the job which approach you are taking. Ensure prepared questions and possible follow-ups.
  • Plan the interviews in such a manner that enable you as an interviewer to maintain the stamina and concentration to perform your role professionally and with due consideration and fairness to the candidate who is putting their future in your assessment of their performance.
  • Build breaks into the process if only to ensure you meet the best standards for health and safety as you will be looking down a computer screen for several hours, and it takes a toll on your eyes.
  • Plan to make sure don't have interruptions canine, delivery men or other distractions.
  • Check your background and make sure there is nothing that might distract the candidate.
  • Make sure you are not discussing the previous candidate when you bring someone into the meeting or parts of their CV/application form that you don't want them to hear.
  • Be clear in the invitations to interviewers what the expectations are in terms of dialling-in, waiting rooms and the use of messaging during the process if you are running late.

It is also an excellent idea to give interviewees  guidance on how they should prepare themselves for the meeting, which might include some of the following:  

  • Prepare as if it was a pre-covid interview, research the company so you can participate knowledgeably, and you may want to check out the interviewers through their LinkedIn profiles.
  • The new dimension in online interviewing is to ensure you are familiar with the software; it might take some time to download the program or open it in your browser. But if you make sure to do all this beforehand, you'll be ready to go at your interview time, which will reduce the anxiety levels.
  • Be Punctual; it's courteous to show up approximately 10 minutes early for in-person interviews, so be online as well. Arriving early for your online interview gives you a few extra minutes to log in in case you have issues.
  • Test your technology. You could run into serious interview hiccups if your microphone or webcam stops working right before your interview—or if the Wi-Fi is on the blink. This may mean asking others to stay offline to ensure you are not competing for bandwidth with gamers who may be sharing the broadband. I have heard techies suggest that the best answer is to plug into your router with an Ethernet cable or other hard-wired arrangement to minimise problems. But also check the settings on the software, particularly Audio and Camera settings, to make sure they all work. If you use your headphones instead of your laptop's built-in speakers, the people interviewing you will appreciate it. Onboard computer audio is usually lower in quality, which is a recipe for feedback and sound distortion.
  • The challenge with using a phone for a videoconference is that it must remain still, and you're best holding it up to eye level to avoid the dreaded up-the-nose camera angle. You can also use a temporary arrangement on top of your laptop screen or some other device or pick up a flexible arm mount; it is probably best to use a laptop or computer with an excellent built-in camera. If using a detachable webcam, try and ensure the cam is above your monitor; there is an inevitability that you will watch the screen and what the interviewers may see is a side profile of your head when they want to see you.
  • Choose your interview location very carefully. Webcam mics are surprisingly sensitive, so be wary of places with noise in the background because there's a good chance that your potential employer will be able to hear whatever's going on around you.
  • Be equally careful about choosing your background if using it. It is more likely that an uncluttered and professional background will be more beneficial than a South Seas Island or interstellar photograph, but that may depend on the job and company. 
  • Suppose your best Wi-Fi connection is in the living room or a bedroom with a background that looks less professional than you'd like. In that case, a room divider can create a professional backdrop for your interviews or use an appropriate virtual scene.
  • Video interview technology can come with delays or instances when the microphone may not pick up your voice well. To prevent this from happening, take your time speaking and resist that temptation to talk quickly. This will ensure that your interviewer can hear and understand you throughout your interview.
  • Focus on active listening. Sometimes when you're on a video job interview, it's easy to accidentally cut someone off due to audio delays or not paying attention to nonverbal cues.  Also, after your interviewer asks a question, wait a few seconds before speaking to avoid cutting in.
  • Even though an online interview usually means the interviewer won't see anything from the waist down, it doesn't mean you should only dress up the upper half of your body. Dressing in full attire will help mentally prepare you for the interview experience and help get you in the right headspace. Dress one notch above the company's typical dress code. It gives the impression that you care and are out to impress.
  • Body language can convey a lot of things about who you are as a person and potential employee. You can present a positive image by ensuring you're sitting up straight with good posture. Place both feet on the ground and avoid slouching or holding your head up with your hand. Always try to keep your hands in your lap to prevent distracting gesturing or fiddling. If your broadband is not good, it also causes pixilation and frame-freezes which just makes everyone think the system is going to crash and the anxiety levels just go up.
  • Pay attention to where you're looking. Looking at the interviewer's face on your computer screen means you're not looking into the camera and making eye contact. Instead, look into the camera as often as possible, especially when you're speaking. This will give your interviewer the sense that you're engaged and not distracted by what's happening on your screen.
  • Interviewers can see exactly how tired and unexcited you are for the interview, which gives a negative opinion of you. Energy and enthusiasm are some of the things interviewers are looking for in any recruit, so make sure you at least act the part. Take a break from your daily routine, particularly if working from home before your interview, and do something that will increase your energy levels.
  • One of the oddest pieces of advice I have seen online is that interviewees should use cheat sheets in the mistaken premise that interviewers don't notice; yes, we do. We know when you are looking at the back of the screen using prepared answers. It would be seen as odd if, in a person-to-person interview, you brought out your Moleskine Notebook and started to read prepared answers, so I would urge you not to do it online.

While on-line interviews may not be everyone’s preference the times we live in and the opportunity for remote working including recruiting candidates from abroad means that they will likely be an enduring feature of recruitment processes and briefing potential interviewees on what to expect will go towards ensuring the interview is a productive process for all. 

Hugh McPoland

Hugh McPoland

Given his years of experience as Director of Human Resources for BSO, Director of HR and Corporate Services for Department of Employment and Learning and Assistant Director of HR for South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, Hugh is one of the most experienced Human Resources professionals within the Public Service. Now as an associate of Clarendon Executive, Hugh brings and exceptional track record in organisational change and the delivery of HR services and considerable knowledge and experience in assessing the leadership credentials of directors across the public sector. In addition to significant recruitment experience at executive level Hugh has a wealth of experience in the development and implementation of the full range of HR and Information Governance strategies in fast changing environments.

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