Smiling male recruiter with a clipboard greeting male job candidate during virtual online job interview

Virtual interviews have gone mainstream, used by nearly 90% of employers to supplement or replace in-person interviewing. If there’s one looming on your calendar, the virtual interview tips in this post will help you nail it. But first, let’s touch on why you need to prepare a little differently for a virtual interview than a traditional one. 

What makes virtual interviews different?

In theory, virtual interviews are no different from in-person ones: a bunch of questions, a bunch of answers, and a decision about whether to make an offer. But the setting matters a lot. 

Just like having dinner on a candlelit rooftop differs from sharing a meal in a dark basement, interviewing from behind a computer screen differs from chatting up an interviewer face to face. The substance might be the same, but the setting changes a lot. 

First, there’s the technology. It’s an added consideration on top of the usual ones, like how to dress and how to get there, and it’s important to prepare for. 

Then, there’s your appearance. When you’re interviewing in person, you’re literally 3D. You have so many more tools to express yourself, from your body language to subtle facial cues. These things don’t translate as well on screen, so you need to pay attention to how you look beyond just what you’re wearing. 

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, there’s the increased potential for mishaps. When you’re in a face-to-face interview, it’s a mostly controlled environment. Unless the building is burning down, it’s highly unlikely someone will come barging into the room. Not so with virtual interviews, which seem to be magnets for unintentional interruptions from spouses, children, and roommates (not to mention ringing phones and barking dogs). 

With all these things in mind, it’s easy to see why you need a special protocol to prepare for a virtual interview versus an in-person one. 

Virtual interview tips to impress the hiring manager

Since these tips focus specifically on the nuances of a virtual interview, we’re going to assume you’re already taking all the requisite steps to prepare, like researching the company and getting a good night’s sleep (for more on these, check out our interview preparation checklist). 

1. Test your WiFi connection

A third party will play a major role in the success of your virtual interview: your WiFI connection. Test it out beforehand to ensure it’s strong and consistent. This free tool offers a speed test and an explainer of what your results mean. 

If your results are less than ideal for video conferencing, you may need to move closer to your router or opt to change locations for a better connection. 

2. Do a technology dry run

Your interview invite should include a link to the video conferencing platform you’ll use for the call. Use the company’s selected app (Zoom, Teams, etc.) to do a test run ahead of time with a friend, having them send you a meeting invite and then fully launch a call together. 

Check that your plugins are up to date, your microphone and camera are in good working order; your name displays correctly, and so on. 

3. Create an interruption-proof space

To eliminate interruptions, the space you’re using for your virtual interview must be a completely private, full stop. If you don’t have a dedicated room with a door in your house, reserve a private conferencing room at a coworking space or your public library. 

4. Set up your shot

Put on your set designer’s hat and spruce up your interview surroundings. You want to utilize the area to help make a positive impression. 

It should have good lighting and pleasant, neutral aesthetics (think plants, bookcases, pictures in frames, etc.). Avoid visual distractions like posters and knickknacks. 

5. Position your seat

Once you’ve established your shot, plan where you’ll sit. You don’t want to sit so close that the camera is looking up your nose, but also not far enough away to be showing much more than your head and shoulders.

Position yourself so that there are a few inches of headroom above the top of your head, and the bottom of the shot hits around the mid-chest area. You can even make an X on the floor where your chair should be once you’ve found the perfect spot. 

6. Test the lighting

Offices have the advantage of consistent lighting throughout the entire day (thanks, to overhead fluorescents!). In your house, however, lighting can vary dramatically based on the time of day as the sun moves from one side of the building to the other. 

Test the lighting of the spot where you’ll be sitting at the same time as your scheduled interview, ensuring there’s no dramatic shade or sun glare. Also, have a backup plan for what you’ll do if it’s cloudy and the natural light is bad on the day of your interview.

7. Practice your facial expressions

Your facial expressions influence your interviewer’s perception of you, and this is even more true in a virtual interview where your face is the main visual focus. 

Practice your interview answers in a mirror to ensure you’re incorporating facial cues like smiling at the appropriate moments, and that you’re not too deadpan. 

Master your interviewing skills by enrolling in Coursera’s Advanced Interview Techniques course.

8. Arrive early

It’s Murphy’s Law that your computer will decide to do a force update just as you log on for your interview. Avoid this by logging on five minutes before your scheduled interview slot. 

Most platforms will place you in a virtual waiting room until the interviewer logs on, and you’ll make a positive impression by being there ready to begin when they arrive.  

9. Look into the camera

It’s a common virtual interview mistake to watch yourself on the screen instead of looking at the interviewer–which is best achieved by looking into the camera. 

To help make this more natural, position the interviewer’s window as close to the camera as possible, i.e., at the top of your laptop screen. This way, your eyes appear to be looking at them even if you’re glancing between the camera and their image.

10. Keep notes handy

One of the great advantages of a virtual interview is that you can have something in your hand without it even being visible. While you shouldn’t rely too heavily on notes, keeping a cheat sheet of a few talking points close at hand to refer to if you get tripped up on a question or lose your train of thought is good. 

11. Put your phone out of reach

It’s not a good look to check your phone during an interview. Even if it’s on silent (which, of course, it should be) you’d be surprised how much of a knee-jerk reaction it is to glance at your phone when you see it light up with an alert. 

Avoid the temptation by placing it across the room–again, on silent. 

12. Stay engaged 

It’s a lot easier to zone out when you’re looking at a computer monitor versus a person right in front of you. Be mindful to stay visually engaged for the duration of the conversation, even if the interviewer goes off on a long tangent. 

Nod your head or jot down notes to show that you’re listening rather than staring blankly ahead. 

13. Make sure the call has ended

You’ve answered all the questions with poise and professionalism. You’ve asked a few of your own well-thought-out questions to reinforce your interest. You’ve said goodbye and given a little wave. You nailed it! 

But before you get up and stroll offscreen, be absolutely sure the call has ended. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently leave the camera rolling while you debrief your roommate or take a bathroom break. 

With a little additional preparation, you’ll ensure your virtual interview is free from interruptions of the technical or human variety, keeping the focus on how great you are for the job.

Check out these unique interview questions to ask employers to ensure you stand out!

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn