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Video interview tips: Questions and how to prepare

Even just a few years ago, the prospect of taking on a new hire without meeting them face-to-face would have seemed unthinkable to most employers. After all, the interview is the most crucial part of the hiring process: it’s when the panel is able to put the candidate’s skills and experience to the test, and it gives both parties a chance to find out whether they’d be a good cultural fit for the company.

But, thanks to advances in online technology, remote interviews are now becoming increasingly common. These days, all that’s needed to set up a meeting with a suitable candidate is a laptop, some basic software, and a reliable internet connection, meaning that holding (and attending) interviews has never been so simple, or so cost-effective. And, in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and the spike in remote working that followed, it’s safe to say that video interviews are only going to get more popular as home working becomes more widespread. So, it’s time for both employers and candidates to start honing their remote interview techniques.

While video interviews share many similarities with face-to-face interviews, there are a number of key differences and extra considerations that you should be prepared for. Here, we’ve shared some of our top video interview tips, both for candidates and employers. We’ll cover:

  • What is a video interview?
  • Tips for applicants: How to prepare for a video interview
  • Tips for employers: How to conduct a video interview

What is a video interview?

A video interview is a type of job interview that is hosted remotely using online video calling software. In many respects, the interview is similar to one which would take place in person at an office, except the entire meeting takes place online, using microphones and webcams to communicate.

Remote interviews aren’t a brand-new concept: employers have been holding long-distance interviews ever since the technology to do so first became available well over a decade ago. And, over the past few years, many large-scale companies that routinely receive a high volume of applications have started using video interviews as a method of finding the most outstanding applicants for an in-person interview. But, now that the technology is improving and remote working is becoming more common, we’re starting to see more and more businesses handling the entirety of the hiring process online.

There are a number of advantages to video interviews for both parties. For one thing, it can allow applicants to avoid costly and time-consuming journeys, making the process much easier for them. For the employer, it can be a very effective cost-cutting measure, as it removes the need to devote a room in a physical office space to the process. Additionally, interviewers can also record the session, meaning they can re-watch the footage later on to help them make the most informed decision.

There are two different kinds of video interview:

  • Live video interviews: A live interview happens almost exactly like an in-person interview, with one or more interviewers asking an applicant a series of questions about their experience and skills. The applicant can then respond in real time. The biggest advantage of a live interview is that it allows the panel to really probe a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses in detail, and the applicant has the opportunity to ask questions of their own. It also offers both parties a chance to see whether the applicant is going to be a cultural fit for the company. However, one downside is that live video interviews are almost exactly as time-consuming for the employer to host as an in-person interview.
  • Pre-recorded interviews: With this type of interview, the applicant must record themselves and then send the finished footage to the employer. There will normally be a number of set questions for the candidate to answer, or they may be asked to deliver a presentation.

This type of interview is often used by companies who receive hundreds or even thousands of applications, because it’s much less labour-intensive and more cost-effective than hosting full interviews. However, the rigidity of the format means that something of the interpersonal dynamic is lost, and there’s no way to tell which candidates are best at thinking on their feet.

Tips for applicants: How to prepare for a video interview

For applicants, your goal is exactly the same as it would be with a face-to-face interview: you want to show the panel that you’re the right person for the role. But the experience can be quite different to meeting someone in person, so you need to be prepared for this. And, there are a number of other considerations you’ll want to bear in mind when setting up your equipment for the interview.

Here, we’ve shared six video interview tips that will help you to wow the panel and secure your next role, all from the comfort of your home.

Research and prep like you normally would

While some aspects of a video interview will differ from a face-to-face meeting, one thing remains exactly the same: you need to do plenty of research to familiarise yourself with the company and the role you’re applying for. The panel will want to see that you’ve taken the time to learn all about their company, and that you’ve thought carefully about what your skills and experience could bring to the table. So, be just as thorough in your research as you would be when preparing for a normal interview.

The type of questions you’ll be asked will usually be more or less the same as at an in-person interview, too — you can learn more about tackling these in our guide to handling a tough job interview. You’ll also probably be given the opportunity ask your own questions about the role at the end, so be sure to take advantage of this. Read our guide to the best questions to ask in an interview to learn more about how to nail this part of the process.

Look the part: what to wear for a video interview

First impressions count — even during a completely digital meeting. So, you’ll want to make sure you’re wearing a smart and sophisticated outfit, such as a crisp shirt and suit, or a professional skirt and blazer. You should ensure that your hair and face are well-groomed, just as you would for an in-person meeting. It’s also well worth checking how your outfit looks on webcam in advance, to make sure it looks smart when you’re sitting down — some shirts and jackets may gape open when you sit, which never looks professional.

While it’s true that the interviewers will only be able to see the upper part of your body on the screen, it’s still sensible to wear head-to-toe business dress. Dressing professionally can have a big impact on your mindset, and can help you to feel much more confident in the moment. So, make sure you look the part before the interview starts.

Prepare your setup in advance

You’ll need to find a place in your home that’s suitable for your video interview. Ideally, this will be a quiet, clean, and uncluttered area where you aren’t going to be disturbed by family or housemates. It should also preferably be a room with a plain background that isn’t going to distract the interviewer while you’re speaking. So, check that the background behind you is neutral and free from clutter, like piles of books or laundry. This area also needs to be well-lit, but not so bright that you can’t see your laptop screen properly — you may need to move your desk temporarily in order to get the perfect setup!

Once you’ve found the right position, set up your laptop and webcam on your desk or table, making sure it’s at the right height for you to look directly at the screen. You can stack it on a box or some books if you need to make it higher. It’s worth testing out the webcam at this point to make sure your chair is at the right height.

Be sure to place the following items on your desk, so they’re within reach during the interview:

  • A notepad and pen
  • A copy of your CV and any portfolios, if applicable
  • Any other notes you’ll need to refer to during the interview
  • A glass of water

You can leave your phone and any other devices on the desk, but make sure they’re on silent.  

Lastly, you’ll want to make sure you’re not going to be disturbed during your interview. Speak to your family or housemates to make sure they’re aware of when the interview is taking place, and ask them to keep noise levels to a minimum during this time. Placing a “do not disturb” sign on the door can be a good reminder if you’re worried they may forget!

Test your tech

The last thing you want is for technical difficulties to make you late for your interview, or to cut you off mid-way through. So, it’s prudent to take the time to test your setup on the day to help make sure everything is working as it should. You’ll want to check:

  • Your webcam is working, and that the picture is clear
  • Your audio and microphone are working, and that the volume is appropriate
  • You have a strong, reliable internet connection
  • You’re not downloading anything in the background that might slow your browser down, or otherwise make your internet sluggish
  • The lighting in your room is at the correct level for you to be clearly seen when the webcam is on.

Project confidence with your body language

Throughout the video interview, you’ll want to appear engaged, friendly, and confident, and you can project this with your body language. Be sure to maintain good posture, sitting up straight with your feet firmly on the ground and your hands in your lap or on the desk in front of you.

When you’re speaking, be sure to look directly at the webcam, to give the impression of making direct eye contact with the interviewers through the screen. You can also use hand gestures to emphasise what you’re saying and to help get your point across.

When you’re listening, nod and smile where appropriate to show that you’re paying attention to what the interviewer is saying, and avoid fidgeting or looking away from the screen. You should also try to avoid staring at yourself on the screen — it might be tempting to check that your hair is still in place, but it can make it seem like you aren’t fully engaged.

Follow up

As with any kind of job interview, it’s polite and professional to send a short follow-up message within 24 hours after the interview has ended. This doesn’t need to be a lengthy email: just a quick message to thank them for their time and briefly re-state your interest in the position. Now all that’s left to do is cross your fingers, and hope to hear back soon.

Tips for employers: How to conduct a video interview

Video interviews offer a number of advantages for employers, such as reduced costs and access to a wider pool of candidates, but they can also bring added challenges. For one thing, there’s all the logistics of co-ordinating several interviews in a short span of time, while also grappling with new and unfamiliar software. Additionally, you can never rule out the possibility that technical issues or connectivity problems will delay the process and throw you off schedule.

So, how can you ensure your remote interviews go according to plan?  As with most professional challenges, the solution is to be prepared. Here, we explain how to conduct a video interview that will allow you to find the best candidates.

Invest in tech, software, and training

Employers have never had more options when it comes to remote video calling software, with Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and SparkHire being among the most popular. All of these programs offer slightly different capabilities, so do some research to work out the best option for your business. Once you’ve chosen a particular program, your hiring managers and those conducting the interviews should be given training on how to use the video conferencing software.

In order to do their jobs effectively, your hiring team will also need to have access to reliable, high-quality equipment. If video interviews are going to become a big part of your long-term recruitment strategies, you may want to consider investing in high-spec laptops or quality webcams and microphones for your staff. This will facilitate a clear picture and better audio in interviews.

Provide clear guidance and instructions

With an in-person interview, it’s often considered standard practice to provide clear instructions and directions to make it as easy as possible for candidates to find your office. And, even though they won’t need to leave the house to attend their video interview, it’s still polite and helpful to provide clear guidance and instructions about how to access the interview, and what they can expect.

At least three days prior to the interview, you should send out an email with the following details:

  • The time and date of the interview
  • How to access the interview platform: If the applicant will need to download some software, create an account, or enter an access code, there should be clear guidance on how to do so.
  • A backup phone number in case they experience any connectivity issues
  • What applicants can expect during the interview
  • Approximately how long the interview will last
  • Any supporting materials they should have in front of them (e.g. their CV or a portfolio of work).

Allow extra time

It’s not unusual for any kind of interview to overrun and, with a video interview, there’s also the added possibility of technical difficulties. So, it’s always sensible to allow a generous buffer between each interview in case of delays.  

Depending on the type of software you use, it may be the case that you only have one type of online meeting space, which could potentially lead to other candidates accidentally interrupting interviews that are still in progress — and that certainly won’t give your applicants the best impression of your business. So, allow plenty of time for each interview, and set up your software in a way that allows you to generate a unique access code for every session. This will prevent early birds from accidentally joining them before their allotted time.

Be professional and personable

Your interview panel are representing your company, and that means they need to project professionalism at all times. Your team should ensure that they look and behave just as they would if they were welcoming a candidate into the office in person. If they’ll be hosting the interview from their own homes, they will need to make sure that any areas that the candidate can see in the video look tidy and presentable to give the best impression of your company.

Behaving in a professional manner also means knowing how to react if things don’t go quite to plan. So, make sure they know how to help get an interview back on track smoothly if there’s a problem with the sound or video. They should be patient and accommodating if the candidate experiences any technical difficulties or other interruptions, working to put them at ease and get the interview back on track without getting flustered.

Create a welcoming environment and put the applicant at ease

When you welcome a candidate into your physical office space for an in-person interview, there are lots of opportunities for small talk to develop naturally before the interview has formally begun. This gives them a chance to relax and get into the swing of things, which can help them to be at their best. But, with a video interview, they’re thrust straight into the action, which can be quite intimidating and disorientating.

To help compensate for this, it’s best to make an effort to put the candidate at ease before you start grilling them. Open the interview with a few informal ice breakers to get the conversation flowing, whether that’s talking about the news, or just asking about the weather where they are. You can then move on to discussing the role in more detail.

Whether you’re a job seeker or an employer, it’s important to do everything you can to make sure your interview goes as smoothly as possible. And, as long as you take the video interview tips we’ve shared here on board, you should be on track for success.

Here at Edward Reed Recruitment, we specialise in finding the best candidates for executive jobs across a range of industries, including finance, business operations, HR, sales, and marketing. So, whether you’re a candidate looking for your next career move, or an employer who wants to recruit the best talent for your company, be sure to contact us today. You can also keep up with the latest news from the world of professional recruitment on our blog.