How to Ace a Remote Interview
Making a Good Impression by Phone or Video
George, who works in London, recently applied for a position reporting to Fran in the New York office. Eager to get acquainted, Fran scheduled an initial interview via Skype® but, even though she’d heard good things from George’s present managers, her first impression of him wasn’t great.
The interview seemed doomed from the start. George had trouble connecting with Fran. He spoke so quickly that she struggled to follow what he was saying, and she couldn't get a word in without interrupting him. And, when he wasn't frowning or nervously running his hands through his hair, he seemed transfixed by his own image on the monitor.
The final straw was George's dishevelled appearance. He was wearing a wrinkled shirt, with what appeared to be a ketchup stain on the sleeve. As a result, Fran dropped him from her list of candidates and focused her attention on someone else.
If George had spent a bit more time preparing for his interview, he might have got through to the next stage of the selection process. But his poor remote interviewing skills spoiled his chances.
In this article, we'll explore the skills you need to excel in a remote interview, whether it's held on the telephone or over the Internet.
Why Remote Interviews Matter
As remote technology has evolved, and as business has become more global, organizations are increasingly relying on remote interviews for both recruitment and promotion. Traditionally, these took place over the phone but, nowadays, companies frequently use the video capability of Google Hangouts®, FaceTime®, and VoIP technology such as Skype to establish a more personal connection with interviewees.
In fact, in a 2012 survey of 500 human resources managers, staffing firm OfficeTeam found that 63 percent of the companies taking part in the research conducted video interviews – up from 14 percent in 2011. And market research firm Aberdeen Group found that the number of companies using Skype for interviews had increased significantly, from just 10 percent of the organizations it surveyed in 2010 to 42 percent in 2011.
With trends like these, it seems safe to assume that, sooner or later, you're going to find yourself having a remote interview. So it pays to be prepared!
Seven Steps for Acing a Remote Interview
1. Don't Fail Technologically
The main focus of attention in any interview is, of course, the interviewee but, when you're being interviewed remotely, technical troubles can be a very real distraction. To make sure the interview goes without a hitch, you'll need to plan ahead.
Cell phone services can be unreliable and batteries are notorious for running out at the wrong moment. So, wherever possible, arrange to use a landline for telephone interviews. If you can't do this, make sure that you can go somewhere quiet with good reception, and keep your cell phone's batteries well charged in advance.
If you are using videoconferencing, make sure the proper software is installed on your computer in plenty of time, and familiarize yourself with its settings and functions. Make a few calls with it, so that you appear relaxed and well-practiced with the technology, and to check that your web cam and microphone are adjusted correctly.
If possible, get a friend to give you a mock interview using the intended technology, to check that you can be heard clearly, are making good eye contact, and are not using distracting gestures. Your friend can also give you feedback on your answers, body language and tone.
Adjust your chair and web cam, if necessary, so that your head and shoulders appear on the screen. Your web cam needs to be set at eye level; if you're going to be using a laptop, it can help to put it on a thick book or purpose-made stand if it is too low.
Double-check your profile picture and username to make sure that both create the right impression. If your Skype username is "ILoveTeddyBears," for example, you may want to change it to your own name, or to something that sounds more professional.
Also, make sure that you are somewhere with a good, reliable data connection. Many people still have variable quality broadband, and this can severely undermine the success of a videoconference.
If you have problems with your connection or signal on the day, raise the issue with your interviewers immediately. It is critical that you can hear their questions and that they can hear your responses. You may want to have a backup method of communication available – just in case.
2. Choose an Appropriate Setting
If you were attending an interview in person, you'd expect it to take place in a quiet setting, free from interruptions and other distractions. The same should be true of remote interviews.
Choose a quiet location to take the call, ideally in a private room with a door that you can close. If you work from home, try to anticipate any distractions that could come up. Make sure that any other people in your home keep quiet while you're on the call, and if you have young children, arrange for someone else to take care of them. Likewise, if you have pets, be sure that they won't disturb you, and turn off the TV, radio and any other noisy devices.
Keep in mind that, if you are on a video call, your interviewer may be able to see behind you. If your location is full of clutter, you should straighten it to avoid giving the impression that you're disorganized.
Finally, ensure that you have the proper lighting. More lighting is better than less, but try not to create glare. It may help to turn your monitor away from the window and avoid shining light sources directly onto the screen or web cam.
3. Treat It Like Any Other Interview
Whether you are being interviewed remotely or in person, the usual rules apply.
Before the interview, spend time reviewing the job, manager and department. If you know people who are already working there, ask them about the position and the environment.
Most interviewers will ask whether you have questions at the end of the interview. The correct answer is always "yes." Jot down two or three ideas for questions before the interview, based on your preliminary research. Don't ask questions with obvious answers; instead, try to come up with ones that demonstrate insight into the role.
On the day, pay close attention to your appearance and make sure that you look professional, even if there's a chance you won't be seen. You'll feel more confident when you dress for success, and that will come across in your interview, too.
At the very least, make sure that your clothes are clean, in a good state of repair, and pressed. Many people who work from home wear comfortable clothing, but it's best to choose business attire if you're going to be on camera. If you wear makeup or jewellery, try to keep it to a tasteful minimum.
Be punctual. You wouldn't arrive for an interview at the last minute, and the same applies here. Log on to your conferencing software 15 to 20 minutes before your appointment, to give yourself time to double-check your settings and make sure that everything is OK. Having extra time will also allow you to get everything you need to hand: résumé, job description, notepad and pen, glass of water…
4. Watch Your Language (in Word and Deed)
Good body language is important in any interview setting but, if anything, it needs extra attention in a remote interview. Communicating remotely restricts our ability to see and interpret body language, so it's important to make it even more clear.
During a video call, keep your body language positive by nodding periodically and leaning forward to show interest when the other person is talking. Smile, to show that you are listening.
Avoid crossing your arms, slouching or frowning, and try to sit up straight with your feet on the floor. The same rules apply if you're on the phone, as your posture affects your delivery. You may also want to consider standing for a phone interview, which can help you feel more in command.
It may be hard to tell when the interviewer is about to finish speaking during the interview, especially if there is a slight delay in the connection. While she is speaking, continue to participate in the conversation but take care not to interrupt her. Pausing briefly before you speak will help with this, and will also give you a moment to gather your thoughts. If you need a little more time, don't be afraid to ask for a moment to think.
Speak properly and avoid using slang during your interview. You'll want to keep your responses relatively brief, but make sure you answer the questions fully.
5. Make Eye Contact
Making eye contact is an essential part of building trust, but this can be difficult during video interviews, because, if you're looking at someone on a computer screen, your image on their monitor can appear to be looking down.
If your own image is displayed on the screen alongside a picture of the interviewer, resist the urge to stare at yourself. Move the window to the top of the screen, as close to the web cam as possible, and look either into the lens or close to it, to improve your eye contact.
6. Use Notes
One advantage of a remote interview is that, because no one is there to witness it, you can make notes to jog your memory about points you want to make. Alternatively, you can display your points on your computer, as long as you don't find them too distracting. You may also want to have a copy of your résumé handy, to refer to if necessary.
Be careful not to read your notes verbatim, as this will be obvious to your interviewer. And keep any papers to a minimum: you don't want him or her to hear you shuffling them in the background.
7. Remain Focused
Don't allow yourself to be distracted by emails or social media. To avoid temptation, close any unnecessary windows and silence your phone.
After the interview, it can be a good idea to email a thank-you note or even, if time allows, send a written note, to reaffirm your interest in the position and keep yourself uppermost in your interviewer's mind.
The convenience and widespread use of Skype, Google Hangouts, and other chat tools means that remote interviews are on the rise. Here are our top tips for acing a remote interview:
- Familiarize yourself with the technology and make sure everything is set up correctly on the day.
- Choose an appropriate setting for your interview.
- Treat it like any other interview in terms of preparation, punctuality and presentation.
- Watch your language – not just your words, but your body language too.
- Adjust your web cam and look into the lens, rather than at the face displayed on your screen, to improve eye contact.
- Use notes to keep yourself on track.
- Remove distractions such as email and social media.
Now get out there, and ace that interview!