Interviewing online?

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Interviewing online

More and more companies are using video calling solutions to interview candidates online. There are several types of video interview, but one thing they all have in common is that they can be stressful (both for the interviewer and the candidate), so we’ve prepared this simple guide to help you.

We’ll guide you through setting up your room and equipment for the best possible experience. We’ll even help with what (and what not) to wear when you’re on camera, and offer some essential tips on body language and eye contact.

Quick checklist

Here’s a quick list of the things you’ll need to consider when interviewing online. You can find much more detail on all of these areas in the rest of this article.

  • Your room: Find a quiet and private place where you won’t be disturbed. Make sure the room is well lit and not too echoey. Check any phones in the room (including your mobile) are set to silent before the interview starts.
  • Internet and Equipment Setup: Ensure you have a stable and reliable internet connection. Where possible, use a desktop computer rather than a mobile phone or tablet. Make sure your camera and mic are working, and that you can hear sound through your headset or speakers. Close any web browser tabs and applications you aren’t using.
  • What to wear: Dress appropriately for the type of role you are interviewing for, but always look professional. Avoid brightly coloured clothing or anything with a lot of stripes.
  • Body Language: Maintain eye contact as much as you can, and remember to nod and smile as this will show you are listening. Feel free to use your hands to make gestures like you would if you were there in person.
  • Final Preparation: Have a pen, notepad and a printed copy of your CV on your desk.

Choosing Your Room

You’ll need to find a quiet room, where you can shut yourself away for the interview and know you won’t be disturbed.

The main thing to think about when you select a room is acoustics, or put more simply, whether the room is echoey. Rooms become echoey when sounds bounce off solid surfaces such as walls and floors so that you hear the same sound again. During an interview the sound of your voice reaching your microphone will be followed soon after by the same sound reflected off the walls and floor. Too much echo and your voice will very difficult and tiring to listen to.

Large rooms tend to have more echo than small ones, but even small rooms can cause a problem when you’re on a video call. When you enter the room, say a few words out loud. If your voice sounds warm and dead, great. If your voice sounds a little echoey, and you can’t find an alternative room then there are a few things you do to improve things. Try and position yourself with your back close to a corner of the room where the microphone will pick up fewer echos. If the room has curtains, close them. If you have some cushions or a coat handy, try positioning these around your computer (making sure they won’t be seen on camera). Doing this can help absorb some of the reflecting soundwaves.

A common mistake many people make on video calls is with room lighting. You want the room to be as well lit as possible, because a poorly-lit room makes your webcam work harder to try and compensate for the lack of light, making you look grainy and washed-out.

Avoid sitting somewhere with bright light behind you, as this can make you appear dark. Sitting with your back to a window might seem a nice idea to show off your fabulous garden or office view, but don’t. If the outside light is too bright, you’ll end up looking like a silhouette!

If possible, have some soft light shining directly on to you from the front. A table lamp with a shade is ideal. This will light up your skin, giving you a healthier glow on camera, and help to hide blemishes and wrinkles (although admittedly I need more than a table lamp to help with that).

Too dark. You appear washed-out and grainy
Well-lit. You appear clear and brighter (physically if not mentally).
Added Soft Light. Your facial features appear softer.

When it’s time for your interview, close all doors and windows to minimise outside noise and stick a note on the door letting others know not to disturb you. Check any phones in the room (including your mobile) are set to silent before the interview starts.

Internet and Equipment Setup

Equipment

  • To join your video interview you’ll need a laptop or desktop computer with a camera and microphone. Almost all modern laptops have a camera, mic and speakers built in, but if you have a desktop computer you’ll need a separate webcam and headphones with a built-in microphone (or separate headphones and mic). In some cases the interviewing software you are using may allow you to join using a tablet or smartphone, but we strongly recommend using a laptop or desktop if you can as the call quality will be better, the call will be more reliable and you won’t be disturbed by notifications arriving on your phone.
  • If you do join using a tablet or phone don’t hold the device in your hands or your video will be shaky (especially if you’re nervous). Rest the device securely on the desk in front of you. It’s also better to plug in some headphones with a built-in mic rather than use the device’s own speaker and mic.

Internet

  • You’ll need an internet connection with a speed of at least 1 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and upload speed.
  • You can check your current internet connection usingwww.speedtest.netwhich will quickly calculate both your download and upload speeds (it’s free to use). If the speedtest shows a number lower than 1 Mbps it means your connection is slower than the recommended minimum.
  • Connecting your computer directly to your internet router using an ethernet cable can help improve your connection speed, but if you are still getting significantly less than 1Mbps then you should explore options for holding the interview somewhere else.
  • As a last resort if you have poor internet connectivity you can join your interview without your camera turned on and ask others on the call to turn off their cameras and conduct an audio-only call. This will significantly reduce the internet connectivity needed for the call, but you’ll lose out on not not being seen or being able to see the other participants. We’ll talk more later about the importance of body language on a video call, which of course requires video to be on.

Camera

  • The problem with most laptops is that when they are on a table or desk you end up looking down into the camera. For a much more natural interview, position the camera so that you are looking slightly up at it. With a laptop you can achieve this by placing it on top of some books or a stand. On a desktop attach the webcam securely to the top of the screen. This will make you look much more natural, and it will feel more like you talking to the other person face-to-face.
  • All of your face, your shoulders and chest should be visible when you preview your camera. This is important because you don’t want to get too close up to the camera as it will feel uncomfortable for the others on the call (as if you were standing too close to them in real life). Also if you’re too close all of your facial expressions will be over-accentuated and nobody will be able to see your hand gestures and body movements.
    Too close
    Natural
  • Close any browser tabs or other applications that you aren’t using. If any of these is using your camera then your video interviewing software may not be able to access it.
  • Worrying about whether your camera and mic are going to work is one of the most stressful parts of joining an online call. The software you are using for interview may allow you to check your setup just before you join the call, but you should also check everything is working properly well ahead of time, just in case there are technical problems.
  • We’ve built a handy free tool that allows you to check your setup atwww.cleveryak.com/check. If you can see your camera’s video using this tool, then you can be fairly confident it will also work in the interviewing software you are using. If you’re having problems, then first save all your work, restart your machine and try running the CleverYak setup check again. If your camera still isn’t recognised, then it’s time for some more advanced troubleshooting.
  • On a Mac, one reason your built-in camera isn’t recognised may be your privacy settings. This guide will help you check whether the interviewing software you are using has the necessary permissions.Apple support page (camera)
  • For Windows 10 users this guide provides some help troubleshooting common webcam issuesMicrosoft support page (camera)

Microphone

  • In the ‘Choosing your room’ section above we covered the importance of checking the acoustics of the room. Although almost all laptops have a microphone built-in, you might want to consider using a headset with a built-in mic especially in rooms which are echoey, as these close-range mics are generally better at blocking out sounds other than your voice. Wearing headphones may also stop you being distracted by other noises outside of the room.
  • Our free tool atwww.cleveryak.com/checklets you check you mic is working correctly. As with your camera, if the tool shows you mic is working you can be fairly confident it will also work in the interviewing software you are using. If you’re having problems, then first save all your work, restart your machine and try running the CleverYak setup check again. If your camera still isn’t recognised, then it’s time for some more advanced troubleshooting.
  • On a Mac, one reason your built-in mic isn’t recognised may be your privacy settings. This guide will help you check whether the interviewing software you are using has the necessary permissions.Apple support page (microphone)
  • For Windows users this guide provides some help troubleshooting common mic issuesMicrosoft support page (microphone)

Speakers

  • Although laptops have built-in speakers, using a separate headset and mic may help improve the audio quality on your call. That’s because the sound coming from your speakers enters the microphone and needs to be ‘removed’ by the computer to avoid the awful howling noise you can sometimes experience. Although most modern computers are good at eliminating this noise (using a method known as echo cancellation), using a separate headset and mic can still produce better results.
  • If you want to use the laptop’s built-in speakers, then try to keep the speaker volume down to a level at which you can still hear comfortably. The higher the volume, the more work your computer will need to do to remove the possibility of echos.
  • Our free tool atwww.cleveryak.com/checklets you check you speakers or headset are working correctly. As with your camera and mic, if you can hear the test sounds played by the tool, your equipment is working and you can be fairly confident it will also work in the interviewing software you are using.

What to Wear

The best rule of thumb for what to wear is to dress the same way you would for an in-person interview. Find out a little about the company culture before your interview, and dress professionally but appropriately for the company you are interviewing with.

Webcams tend to not like very bright colours and patterns, so avoid these and go for softer tones instead. If you’re wearing a tie, choose a solid colour rather than a patterned one, and if you wear glasses, adjust the room lighting so it doesn’t reflect off your lenses. You want the other participants to be able to see your eyes.

Just in case you need to stand up for any reason, wear professional trousers or a skirt (even though the chances are nobody will see these whilst you are on the call).

Body Language

When you interact with other people, your whole body plays a very big role in the way that you communicate

Your facial expressions, body movements and posture, gestures, eye contact and tone of voice all convey additional information as you speak and listen.

The challenge on a video call is that only a small part of your entire body is visible, and because you are not life-sized other people may not easily pick up on everything your body is trying to say.

Maintaining eye contact during any conversation is important, but on a video call it needs a little technique. Remember that if you look at the person on your screen, it will seem to that person on the other side of the call that you are looking at their chest rather that into their eyes. To give the impression that you’re looking directly into their eyes you need to look straight into your camera. However, you don’t want to do this all the time during the interview because just as in a face-to-face conversation persistent eye contact can be a bit creepy. While you’re answering a question, look into your camera, occasionally glancing down to the screen. When you’re listening to others it’s ok to drop your eyes down and look back at the screen.

As you listen to others, the occasional nod and smile will help communicate that you are paying attention. Try not to let yourself be distracted and start looking away from the camera or screen as this quickly looks like you’ve lost interest.

Don’t be afraid to use your hands to make gestures as you speak, but try and keep your hands close to your body, and when you’re not using your hands keep them resting on your lap or desk so you don’t start fidgeting (which can create unwanted microphone noise and make you look nervous).

The best posture is to sit in your chair with your back straight and shoulders straight, facing the camera directly with your head upright, and both feet on the floor. This helps you to communicate that you are positive and optimistic about the role. Try to avoid leaning too far in to the camera with your shoulders hunched.

Finally think about your tone of voice when you’re on a call. Some people have a habit of speaking too loudly into their microphone because they imagine the other people as being far away and not able to hear them. Others speak too loudly because they wear headphones that cover their ears and they can’t hear the volume of their own voice. Speaking too loudly can make you come across as arrogant or loud, so try to practise speaking at a normal level, just as you would if someone were next to you in the room.

Final Preparation

When it’s time for your interview, review this checklist as you set everything up:

  • Make sure you won’t be disturbed, either by locking the door or asking others not to interrupt you (you might want to stick a note on the door of the room as well as the door to the outside).
  • De-clutter your desk leaving just a pad and pen/pencil to take notes.
  • Print out your CV and any other notes you’ve prepared.
  • Prepare a glass of water, just in case you dry up.
  • Check your webcam is working
  • Check your mic and speakers (or headphones) are working.
  • Close any windows, tabs or applications on your computer that you’re not using.
  • Check your internet connection and make sure you’re not downloading anything in the background.
  • Set your phone to silent.
  • Check that the background behind you is clutter-free and not distracting.
  • Adjust the lights in the room. If it’s too dark, grab an extra lamp to brighten the area in front of you.

Just before you jump in...

  • Sit back in your chair, with your back straight, shoulders straight and head looking into the camera.
  • Take five slow and deep breaths in… and out. This will help you relax a little and shed a few nerves.

When something goes wrong...

  • If your video or audio stops working It’s a good idea before the interview starts to ask the interviewer for a phone number where you can reach them in case you have technical issues during the call. If the call fails, reach them on that number and ask if you can continue the interview by phone.
  • If noise interrupts your call If temporary noise (like an ambulance driving by) disturbs your video interview, apologise and ask the others to wait a few seconds until it’s stopped. You can temporarily mute your microphone to avoid everyone else having to suffer.
  • If someone unexpected enters apologise to the interviewer and ask them to give you a few moments. Mute your microphone and turn off your camera, and deal politely with the interruption before continuing.

There’s a lot of information in this article. Please treat it all as a guide and don’t feel overwhelmed by it or get extra-stressed trying to remember it all when you are being interviewed. It’s much more important that you be your natural self and let the interviewer get to know the real you.

Good luck, and we hope you have a really positive experience interviewing online. We’d love to hear from you.

By Theo

Theo started his career as a sound engineer at the BBC, and was a product leader at Skype for 10 years. He is now a Co-Founder of CleverYak, the online interviewing solution for recruiters. Much more than a video calling solution, CleverYak makes it quick and easy for interviewers and candidates to meet online, and offers powerful recording and sharing features that help speed up the hiring process. You can find out more atwww.cleveryak.com