Ask anyone who has done an interview over the net and they will tell you it’s nothing like a real one, face-to-face. Well, there are similarities, which puts you in uncanny valley territory – you can certainly see each other and hear each other, but there’s no opportunity to lean in to that strong opening handshake and you’re talking to a disembodied head on a flat screen. Don’t let that phase you though! While we might say that online interviews use their own language, with the right approach you can “translate” in-person techniques to make the most of the virtual environment.
The Basics: Lights, Camera, Action
First things first, let’s make sure your setup is suitable. You don’t need to be an ace cinematographer to present yourself well, but some basic checks and skills will help avoid glitches and embarrassment, as well as let you look and sound your best. Maybe your computer or smartphone has a better camera and speaker – but if you’re using a phone, be sure it has a stable support to avoid “whoops!” moments. If not, a cheap USB webcam can often give great quality. And don’t forget, “Location, Location, Location” – you need to “scout” the area with the best WiFi signal, a nice neutral background, diffused lighting and freedom from noisy distractions. I think we’ve all seen Prof Robert Kelly go viral when his interview with BBC News was interrupted by his kids, so try to keep family members and noisy neighbours out of the way! For diffused lighting, my top tip is to point a lamp at a wall behind your camera – the light bouncing off the wall will illuminate your face without being too harsh like direct overhead light. Next, test everything with a friend online, and then prepare your “Plan B” so that you have a back-up device in case anything unexpected happens on the day – the show must go on!
Some Things Never Change
Although you might only be showing your three-quarter profile, it is important to present yourself appropriately in terms of dress. Usually, interviewers will let you know their expectations – if you’re looking at a business school, dress appropriately, but for most high school students, smart casual would be acceptable. It can be strange shifting your focus from the interviewer’s face to the camera, but eye-contact remains important – be sure to disable any pop-ups or notifications so you don’t get distracted during the interview! Even if you’re not using your phone for the interview, do put it on silent so it doesn’t interrupt. Don’t let the strange situation make you anxious – as with any interview it is important to project calm and confidence. On that score, don’t start by apologising for not being used to technology – they warned you it was happening and probably gave detailed expectations, so rather than needlessly opening with a self-negative statement, prepare yourself technically. Mentally pat yourself on the back for a job well done instead! As you would in any interview, listen carefully, nod to show your attention, smile and gesture responsively as appropriate, and take notes if it helps you.
Body Language in Cyberspace
With only your head and shoulders on the screen, it can be easy to forget the crucial importance of body language to interviews. Depending on who you ask first impressions are set in just a few seconds and can be hard to change, so body language can often say more than words alone. For that reason, I really want to double-down on this point, as it can be hard to navigate over video. Harvard Business School points out that eye-contact even over video improves your interviewers recall of what you say, so try looking through your webcam rather than directly at the screen. One neat hack is to put a photo of a friend just behind the camera – others put googly eyes on their webcam! You don’t need to stare your interviewer down, and it is okay to briefly glance away to gather your thoughts periodically, but keep up the connection. Keep an attentive, but not stiff, posture. Do use natural gestures to help clarify and illustrate your points, but check your space and camera to be sure they fit on screen. Over video, angle becomes important too. At the extreme end, you don’t want to start the call with the video pointed up your nose – but a low angle can also make you look haughty while a high one can make you look smaller and weaker, so try to keep it eye-level.
Don’t Forget It’s an Interview!
Don’t let all the technical curiosities take your head out of the game. You want to meet your interviewer(s), show them the best side of you, and confirm for yourself that you are a good match with the university. You probably have a game plan about certain key points, or impressions, that you want to get across to your interviewers – but we don’t recommend scripting your answers. They would have asked you to pre-record if they wanted to hear that. Stay alive to what your interviewers say, listening carefully and responding astutely. You will want to “show up” early on the day – don’t be late or rushed for the call. After the interview, it’s important as always to take some “hot feedback” notes – take some time by yourself to record what went well, what didn’t, and what you can use for the next interview. Some universities are happy to receive thank you messages as a follow-up.
If you want to get some coaching on how to make the most of your upcoming interview or take a professional mock interview with insightful feedback, please reach out to our coaches by booking an appointment with us. Good luck!