20 Tips to Perfect Your Online Interview

 

Online teleconferencing services — Zoom being one of the foremost among them — have become popular tools for people to keep in touch with each other over long distances. And even over short distances, they have become indispensable for connecting people who are isolated due to sickness or other safety concerns.

As applications for these technologies broaden, many companies have begun using them to conduct hiring interviews. So if you’re looking for a job in this day and age, you’d better be ready for the possibility that you’ll have to go through an online interview over a platform like Zoom. But what is a Zoom video interview, and how is getting ready for one different than with a regular interview?

Fear not! With some slight adjustments to your prep work and execution, you can nail an interview over Zoom in much the same way you’d do it in a face-to-face setting. We have a list of over 20 things you can do to set yourself up for success!

What is covered in this article

Let’s start off by discussing what a Zoom interview is, why an employer might want to hold one, and a couple basic ways that it might be different from the standard in-person interview.

 

What is a Zoom interview?

A Zoom interview is any job interview that takes place over the Zoom Meetings teleconferencing platform. Zoom Meetings is a popular service that can be used in business and casual settings for both group meetings and one-on-one calls. Naturally, it’s also possible to use Zoom for interviews.

These types of interviews may come up if the interviewer and interviewee are unable to meet in person for any number of reasons. It could be that both parties are in different countries, or perhaps they are in different time zones and just can’t get their schedules to line up.

[file: “zoom-interview-tablet” alt= “Zoom meeting over tablet”}

So what is a Zoom interview like? Well, it differs from an in-person interview in that some parts of it are easier, and other parts are more difficult. For example, the ability to share computer screens makes it easy to pull up important documents (like your résumé) for both parties to see and discuss. On the other hand, social cues can be more difficult to pick up on depending on where each person positions themselves, as well as how high their camera resolution is (if using video). And some things, such as a simple handshake, are downright impossible.

Fortunately, there are ways that you can work around Zoom’s quirks — and even use some of them to your advantage — to make your online interview as successful as an in-person one would be for you. Read on for over 20 of the top tips we’ve found.

 

20 Zoom interview tips: how to prepare for before, during, and after your interview

If you’re intimidated by having to do an interview over a teleconferencing platform like Zoom, it can be helpful to break down the process into three categories. First, make sure your technology works, and that you know how to use it. Second, practice non-verbal communication and other behaviors that make up for Zoom’s limitations. The rest is common sense stuff that you’d do for regular interviews: dress up nicely, don’t be late, practice with a friend beforehand — those sorts of things.

Each of the tips below will elaborate on one of those three themes.

 

1. Familiarize yourself with the Zoom app

When to do this: Before

Before anything else, you’ll need to download and install the Zoom Meetings app on the device you’ll be conducting the interview on. Once you do, you’re going to want to play around with it a bit to get used to the interface and the different options at your disposal.

We suggest trying this out by hosting a test meeting.

More generally, you should also familiarize yourself with how to join a Zoom meeting, and maybe even how to host one. That includes how to spot and interpret the required information, such as the invitations that include personal meeting IDs, meeting room passwords, etc. That way, you know what to look for in advance; check places like your spam or junk folder, or contact the company you’re applying to, if you don’t find what you’re supposed to have.

 

2. Eliminate all distractions

When to do this: Before

When conducting an interview, your focus should only ever be on one of two things: the interviewer, or (briefly) the supporting documents and notes you’ve brought to help you answer questions — that’s it. By the same token, you want the interviewer’s focus to be on your skills and credentials, not something that’s happening in the background. So you’ll want to conduct the interview in an environment where you’re unlikely to be distracted or interrupted.

We’ll discuss some specific strategies in detail later, but here are some general tips to keep in mind:

  • Let people in your general vicinity know ahead of time that you’re doing an interview, so they can accommodate you by minimizing both interruptions and outside noise.
  • Conduct the interview in a private room with a door and windows you can close and, preferably, lock. If locking the door is not an option, consider hanging or taping a sign on the door reminding people not to disturb you.
  • Pick a room where you can set up against a plain or otherwise neutral background. Backgrounds with bright colors or too many decorations hanging on the walls can be distracting.
  • Put away objects in your immediate work area that aren’t directly related to the interview. Concerns about bills, household chores, and most anything else can wait until the interview is over.
  • Remove or turn off all audio and video devices in the room that you won’t be using for the interview. Having a TV, radio, alarm clock, smart speaker, or the like running or going off in the background isn’t very good for your focus.
  • Close all programs you aren’t currently using on the device you’ll be holding the interview on, or at least temporarily silence their notifications. Again, your focus should solely be on the interview, not anything else you could just as easily do later.
  • Use headphones or earbuds as opposed to your device’s speakers or an external sound system. This makes it easier to hear what the interviewer is saying without having to crank up the volume, which can be disturbing (or potentially revealing) to other people in earshot.

 

3. Set up a professional background

When to do this: Before

If you can, set up against a backdrop that looks business-like. This could be something such as a bookcase, a wall with a few plaques, or other professional-looking items. Make sure your background isn’t cluttered with too many items, though, as they can become distracting! You’ll want to consider how you frame yourself properly and establish adequate lighting.

Example of setting up a Zoom virtual background

If you have a green screen or a plain-looking, solid-colored wall, you can use Zoom’s “Virtual Backgrounds” feature to swap in a fancy-looking image behind you: either one of Zoom’s presets, or one you find or create yourself. Just be careful not to wear clothing that’s a similar color to the wall you want to project the image onto, or the picture might be projected onto you as well! 

Also, be sure to set up and practice with your virtual background ahead of time so you aren’t fiddling with your settings to turn it on or fix it while the interview is in progress.

 

4. Use a professional display name

When to do this: Before

While a funny, cute, or otherwise unique user name may be acceptable on semi-anonymous chat forums, private chat programs, or some social networking sites, you shouldn’t use one when doing a job interview over Zoom. The interviewer may not understand (much less care) what it refers to, and it just generally looks unprofessional. You’re better off using your real name, as the interviewer (and anyone else on the call) will be able to see it at all times.

If your display name needs a touch-up, sign into your account at Zoom.us and click My Account (or click your profile picture, and then select your display name from the menu that appears). This should bring you to your Zoom profile page; click Edit beside your profile name and picture to change how your name appears. 

Button for changing your basic Zoom profile information

If you want to, you can also change a few other pieces of information here, such as: your phone number and country code, your location, your company and department name, and your job title. This can be useful for aiding follow-up communication.

 

5. Dress to impress (and wear pants)

When to do this: Before

Another way to project a good image is to make sure you look the part. What exactly that is can vary depending on the culture of the company you’re applying to, and/or the specific position you’re applying for. However, the point still stands: dress for an interview over Zoom the same way you would if you were going to the interview in person. 

That includes being sure to wear pants, even if the interviewer will likely see you only from the waist up for most of the call (if at all). You don’t want to be caught having to move away from the camera to go to the washroom or handle anything else that comes up, only for the interviewer to see you in your underwear!

This is one of many Zoom video interview tips that’s applicable even if you and/or the interviewer aren’t using your cameras (or you don’t know if you will). Dressing as if it were an in-person interview puts you in the mindset of being in a professional atmosphere, and inclines you to act like it. Staying in your pajamas keeps you in a “rest and relaxation” mode — not a good state to be in when you’re being tested on your fitness for a new job or career.

 

6. Write up a cue or prompt sheet

When to do this: Before

A good safety net against being caught off guard or forgetting to say certain things in the interview is to draw up a sheet of short cues beforehand. These can be things like questions you think you may be asked, abbreviated versions of answers you want to give, or questions you yourself want to ask after the interview is over. We suggest either writing it out by hand or typing it on the computer and printing it; you don’t want to be seen fidgeting with browser tabs or windows on your computer to pull it up when you need it — it’s unprofessional and distracting!

An advantage of this tip is that it works much better in an audio or video call interview than in an in-person one, since the participants’ fields of vision are blocked or limited. Try running a test meeting with your camera on and find a place where you can set your sheet so that the camera doesn’t pick it up, but you can still easily see it. That way, you can give it a quick glance if you lose your place or need to remember to ask something, and the other person or people on the call may not even notice.

 

7. Do a practice run with a friend

When to do this: Before

How does a Zoom interview work? One of the most efficient ways to figure this out is to do a mock one with someone you know. Preferably, they should be as proficient in using Zoom as you are, if not more so. 

If you’re still a relative newbie to Zoom, then in-between asking you questions, you may want to have your assistant walk you through some of the functions of Zoom that might be used during the interview. These include enabling or disabling your audio or video, switching the participant view, sharing your screen, and using the chat sub-window.

This is also a good opportunity to test your positioning with respect to your camera and microphone, and your helper can give you a hand with this. You want to be close enough to your microphone to be heard properly, but not disruptively loud. Likewise, you want to sit at a distance and angle to the camera that lets others see your face and any expressions you make clearly, without making it look like you’re invading someone’s personal space.

PRO TIP

You can even record your practice interviews so you can go over them with your friend later and see how you did! We’ll have more details on recording Zoom meetings later in this guide; we also have an entire post covering how to record a Zoom meeting.

 

8. Be aware of time zone differences

When to do this: Before

If your interviewer may be in another country — or a different part of a country large enough to encompass multiple time zones — then it’s a good idea to keep time changes in mind when setting up the call. So be sure to ask your interviewer what time zone they’re measuring by when negotiating or being assigned the time for the interview. This is important for at least two reasons.

First, it helps both you and the interviewer work out a time that fits your schedules while taking into account possible time changes. After all, you don’t want to schedule an interview for the early afternoon if one of you is halfway around the world and probably asleep for the night!

Second, it helps you calculate and plan in advance what time you need to be available for the interview in your particular time zone. It won’t go over very well if you’re late — or miss the interview altogether — because you showed up at the right time, but for the wrong time zone!

 

9. Close programs you aren’t using on your device

When to do this: Before

There are at least two reasons why it’s a good idea to quit any idle programs or apps running on your device before doing an interview over Zoom. The first is to keep them from competing with Zoom for Internet bandwidth and device processing power. Though Zoom is usually pretty reliable when it comes to call quality, low bandwidth or CPU dedication can sometimes cause hiccups such as lagging or frozen video, or delayed or dropped audio.

The second one is that it gets distractions out of your way! Potential sounds and animations from programs running in the background are sure to disrupt your attention, so don’t give them a chance! And while you’re at it — particularly if you’re using a mobile device — put as many other notifications as you can on silent so that you aren’t interrupted by messages, vibrations, or notification chimes while you’re in the middle of an interview.

 

10. Troubleshoot your device, network, and Zoom app prior to your interview

When to do this: Before

Running a test Zoom meeting can also be helpful to check whether your settings for Zoom — and your general technical setup — are configured properly. Be sure to check your device’s run speed, Wi-Fi connection, camera, and audio — especially your audio — and take steps to fix them if necessary. Zoom actually has specific audio tests built in to check your microphone and speakers, so use them both to make sure your whole sound setup is working correctly.

Location of the audio settings test in Zoom

Another critical thing to check: ensure that whatever device you’re going to use for the interview has a full battery charge — and/or is plugged in, if possible — before you start! It won’t look very good on you if the interview is interrupted or cut short because your device ran out of power!

The point is to get all your troubleshooting issues out of the way while you still have time before your interview. You really don’t want to end up trying to fix something after the interview has already started — it’s embarrassing and wastes the other person’s time.

PRO TIP

If you do encounter serious technical difficulties that cause you to be late for the interview or to leave it prematurely, make sure that you apologize to the interviewer and explain what happened once you are able to get (back) in the meeting room.

 

11. Psych yourself up with some exercise

When to do this: Before

If you’ve been indoors working on the computer all day, it can be difficult to show enthusiasm and a positive attitude. And good interviewers will be able to pick up on that. So before the interview, do some light stretches or free weight lifts, or go for a quick jog or swim. Getting active can boost your mood and ease some of the anxiety you may be feeling.

 

12. Arrive on time, but not too early

When to do this: Before

Though you want to avoid arriving for an interview late, and should take some time beforehand to prepare, you also shouldn’t leave too much time for waiting until the meeting actually starts. This results in a greater chance that you’ll get distracted or otherwise lose your focus. And if you try to join the meeting too early, you may accidentally interrupt someone else’s interview — totally not a good way to make a great first impression.

What may be useful is to set two time deadlines. At the first one (~10 minutes), you should have your workspace fully ready with enough time to read over your supporting documents and troubleshoot any technical issues you might have. At the second one (~2 minutes), you should be booting up Zoom, finding the invitation information, and preparing to join the meeting. Set a quiet alarm on a clock, watch, or phone if that helps you stick to those times.

 

13. If you’re able to, use your device with the best camera

When to do this: During

If you know you’ll be having a Zoom video interview, it’s more important for the interviewer to be able to see you than for you to see them. To that end, if you have a choice of devices on which you can hold the interview, pick the one with the highest-resolution camera.

This may mean using a tablet or smartphone over a desktop computer. If it does, then you’ll have to get creative in how you position it. You want to keep it as still as possible, and get the camera as close to eye level as you can. A flexible mount of some sort can help with that, if you’re unable to make it work with what you have on hand.

 

14. Use headphones for crisp audio

When to do this: During

Though you can use your device’s built-in speakers (or an external sound system) for a Zoom interview, a better choice would be to put on some headphones — or at least a headset or a pair of earbuds. This puts the interviewer’s voice closer to your ears, so it’s easier to hear them over any background noise you may encounter. After all, you don’t want to be asking the interviewer to repeat a question or something else they said too often — it wears on their patience, and can come across as you being distracted or even disinterested.

The other benefit to using headphones is that you won’t have to compensate for background noise by turning the volume up to extreme levels. If you did this using regular speakers, it would disturb those in your surrounding environment — or even let them eavesdrop on a call that might contain confidential information!

 

15. Record your interview to review

When to do this: During / After

A neat feature of Zoom Meetings that you may be able to take advantage of is the ability to record meetings. By recording an interview, you can replay it later to analyze which parts of it you nailed, and which things you could have done better. It will also help you become more familiar with how to use Zoom for interviews.

Before anything else though, ask the other person or people on the call for their permission to record. Also let them know the purpose for doing so is to review and improve your interview skills. Recording certain forms of telecommunication without consent is a crime in some places, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Once they give the go-ahead, click the Record button in the bottom menu of the main meetings window.

Button for recording a Zoom meeting

IMPORTANT

Your recording options (and file space limit) are determined by the tier of Zoom Meetings plan you are subscribed to.

  • Basic: local audio, video, and chat recording to desktop computers only (not supported for iOS or Android)
  • Pro: local or Zoom cloud recording for audio, video, and chat; 1GB cloud storage limit
  • Business: local or Zoom cloud recording for audio, video, chat, and transcripts; 1GB cloud storage limit
  • Enterprise: local or Zoom cloud recording for audio, video, chat, and transcripts; no cloud storage limit

See our article on Zoom pricing and subscriptions for more details.

 

16. Mute yourself when not talking

When to do this: During

When you aren’t answering the interviewer’s questions, it’s a good idea to temporarily mute your microphone on Zoom. You may not realize it if you’re used to the environment you’re in, but background noise — such as dogs barking, car horns honking, or construction work — can be distracting to not only you, but also your interviewer. And it doesn’t make a very professional impression on your potential employer, either.

Fortunately, all you have to do is click the Mute button (the one with the microphone) in the main meeting window. This is also useful in a pinch if you suddenly start coughing or sneezing uncontrollably, as the interviewer likely doesn’t want to hear that, either.

The button for muting or unmuting your microphone on Zoom

Just be sure to click the Mute button again to unmute when you’re ready to start talking — trying to say something that the other person can’t hear because your microphone is disabled is embarrassing in its own way!

PRO TIP

If you’re the type that gets frustrated with remembering to turn your microphone off and on all the time, there are shortcuts on some devices that let you quickly toggle between mute and unmute. On desktop computers, that’s the Space Bar on your keyboard.

 

17. Speak slowly and clearly

When to do this: During

Part of the reason Zoom is popular is because it keeps audio and video feeds up fairly consistently. However, drops and freezes still can happen when Internet connections experience hiccups. So it’s best to pace yourself whether you’re giving responses to questions or asking a few of your own, as it will help the interviewer more easily understand what you say, even if the audio cuts out briefly on either side.

Besides, talking quickly gives off the impression that you’re tense or uncomfortable. Slow things down, and you’ll appear more confident and relaxed — which is what the interviewer wants to see.

 

18. Interject cautiously

When to do this: During

Interrupting someone during an online interview can be much more disruptive than during an in-person one. This is because Internet connection speeds aren’t always perfectly synchronized, so there may end up being a delay between what one person says into their microphone (or does on camera during a Zoom video call interview) and what the other person hears through their speakers (or sees on their screen). This delay can make it difficult to judge when a person is finished speaking or performing a task, and cutting in before they’re done can come across as downright rude. 

Instead, be patient and give the interviewer a couple of extra seconds after they appear to stop talking or doing something. This makes up for any potential delay, and ensures that you actually have the floor before you unmute your microphone and begin to reply. Another good idea is to have a pen and paper at the ready so you can write down points you want to address. Then, you can ask about them later without needing to interrupt at all.

 

19. Be conscious of body language

When to do this: During

If you’re doing a video Zoom interview, you’ll need to be conscious of how you’re moving your body during the interview. Work hard on curbing habits that make you appear nervous, such as tapping your hands or feet, clenching your jaw, grinding your teeth, or needlessly fiddling with your papers. Also be aware of your posture; try using a chair or other seat where it’s easier to sit upright instead of slouching.

Eye contact can also be tricky in a video interview. It’s easy to get caught up looking at someone’s video feed (especially your own), or at a screen someone is sharing in another window, and forget that you should be looking at your camera when it’s time to talk! This is another good reason to run test meetings and practice sessions with friends: it helps you to train yourself to look at your camera when you’re speaking, which lends itself to a more natural-feeling conversation.

PRO TIP

Remember that body language can also be used to your advantage in a video interview. For example, you can use expressions like nodding your head or smiling as introductory greetings (in place of, say, a handshake), to convey understanding or agreement without interjecting, or to signal to the interviewer that you’re done answering a question.

 

20. Don’t be afraid to address any awkwardness

When to do this: During

Technical limitations and difficulties can get in the way of doing things in an interview over Zoom that are otherwise routine in person-to-person interviews. For instance, poor camera positioning and resolution can create problems with reading non-verbal cues. This can lead some actions — like taking or checking notes, pulling up computer files to share, or even just pausing to think over what to say — to create awkward silences, or even be mistaken as Zoom not working properly, if they are not verbally given context. And, of course, genuine glitches can happen, too, such as audio or video cutting out or losing quality, or even the call being dropped due to bad connectivity.

However, it’s okay to acknowledge and explain hiccups like this that might happen over the course of the interview. On one hand, it shows the interviewer that you’re willing to take initiative and be honest about issues you encounter. On the other hand, it’s also a good way to break the ice, because it lets the other person know that you’re aware of these technological shortcomings and are trying to be accommodating in spite of them.

 

Preparing for and conducting a Zoom interview may be a bit different than what you’re used to with traditional face-to-face interviews, but it doesn’t have to be all that more difficult. A lot of the things you already do for in-person interviews should still be done for online interviews; the only extra part is making sure your technology is working right, as well as that you know how to work it properly.

And even that part isn’t as hard as it sounds, since Zoom gives you all the tools you need to help you practice. It even lets you record your practice sessions so you can review them afterwards and see what you need to work on!

But if you need a springboard to get up to speed with Zoom, check out our Zoom course for some basic lessons!

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