Six tips for acing your next virtual interview

Virtual Interviews

Illustration by Michael Pilon

By Michael Pilon

The pandemic has changed many things across the globe from an employment perspective, including how common virtual interviews are now. It can be frustrating to learn how to navigate, but virtual interviews are here to stay; according to HireVue’s survey, 54% of hiring managers said the virtual interviewing process was speedier, and 41% said that it helped them find better candidates. 

So, the next interview you land might be a virtual one — and that’s nothing to fear. Sure, it can be a bit more difficult to connect with your interviewer in an already intimidating conversation, but there are still ways you can leave a dazzling impression. We’re here to help show you how.

Along with the usual skills you’ll need to nail your sales interview (read more about that here), online interviews have a few added layers of planning that you’ll need to consider. Here are six of our best virtual interview tips to get you ready for that video call.

Research comes first

Whether you’re attending an in-person or virtual interview, your first step is the same – research the company! You want to be prepared for whatever questions they may ask, and according to a survey from Express Employment Professionals, 2 in 5 hiring decision makers are more tough with candidates virtually. Answering their questions thoughtfully and coming in with knowledge of the company can really help you stand out. 

STA Tip: “Practice your ‘elevator pitch’ so when you’re asked ‘tell me about yourself,’ you have a quick, two minute intro prepared that highlights your achievements but also gives the interviewer a glimpse of your personality.” – Nada Yates, ​​​​Talent Acquisition Consultant 

To further prepare, have notes ready about the company’s purpose and values, what you like about their brand, some ideas you would bring to the table, and your unique qualities. You should also have a list of your performance metrics so you can highlight them while you answer, and of thoughtful questions you have about the company or its offerings to ask at the end of the interview.

STA Tip: “Elite professionals always ask the hiring manager if they have any concerns about their candidacy at the end of the interview, and then address those concerns if there are any before asking what the next steps would be. Hiring managers – especially in sales – love it when this happens, but only a small percentage of candidates consistently do this.” – Asad Zaman, Chief Executive Officer

Test your technology

There’s so much that can go wrong when dealing with technology, so instead of letting a nightmare happen during the virtual interview, test that everything is working properly before you join. Your webcam and microphone should be connected and functional, and you should have the software you need already installed, if it’s something like Zoom or Teams.

Take some time to learn how the program works if you’ve never used it before, too. Some will mute the other person speaking if you make a noise or chime in — you don’t want to accidentally cut your interviewer off with an “mhm!”

It’s also good practice to test your internet connection about half an hour before your interview,  and make sure it’s fast enough to carry the call smoothly. Have a backup device planned and ask for the interviewer’s phone number beforehand, so that if your computer or internet dies, you can give them a quick call to sort it out.

STA Tip: “Logging on to the meeting early can make you look eager and interested in the role that you are interviewing for. This will also give you some leeway in case your connection is bad or if you need to update anything, and you can double check to ensure sure your camera and microphone are working.” – Audrey Bell, STA NEXT™ Account Manager

Still dress to impress

Wondering what to wear to a virtual interview? While you might be tempted to wear sweatpants with your formal button down since nobody can see your bottom half, we suggest that you wear proper virtual interview attire head to toe. If you look the part, it can help you feel the part, and give you the confidence to put your best self forward. Even in a study, research showed that the clothes you wear can actually change your demeanor, just like theatre actors when they get up on stage for a performance.

When it comes to colour, neutrals like white, black, grey, or blue are always a safe and professional choice for a sales interview. If you’re a vibrant and creative person and don’t want to feel stifled by your clothes, feel free to wear a colour that isn’t too bright or distracting. It’s usually best to avoid loud prints, though — you don’t want your clothes to speak over you.

STA Tip: “Wear something that is sharp, structured and has a good collar or neck line, like a navy blazer with a white button down or camisole. Or, try a top with a cool collar, like something with ruffles or that goes higher on your neck. Colours also have meaning behind them. Navy represents trust, honesty and credibility, for example – a powerful colour for an interview, if you ask me!” – Lidia Aiello, Operations Manager

Plan your background

Your clothes aren’t the only visual choice that matters in a virtual interview, your space matters too! The camera is a little window into who you are, and if your lighting is off or your space is unkept, that can send a negative message to your interviewer. Soft, indirect light from the front is best, and there shouldn’t be a bright window behind you, since it can cast a dark shadow. Anything visible in your frame should be clean and organized.

Don’t feel like you need to hide everything in your room, though — your background can tell your interviewer positive things about your personality. That painting on your wall could be a great conversation starter, or that stack of books could show them what you love to read. As long as everything is tidy and won’t be distracting throughout your conversation, you’re good to go.

STA Tip: “Ensure you are sitting in a place with a professional, clean background, which could mean a number of things depending on the person. Or, you can get creative and create your own unique background. I had a candidate that took images of the inside of the company’s office and used it as his background to look like he was actually sitting in the office – the client LOVED it!” – Netty Kim, Executive Search Consultant

Finally, make sure to do a test run beforehand wearing your interview outfit, so you can see the whole scene together. There should be some contrast between your clothing and the background — you don’t want to wear red against a red wall!

Have interview notes ready, but don’t read from them

We can all agree that pulling out notes during an in-person interview isn’t professional, but the beauty of a digital interview is that you can quickly check your preparation notes discreetly. Virtual or not, you should prepare speaking notes on your work history, experience and sales KPIs, any research you have about the company, and your thoughtful questions to ask your interviewer. Keep a couple of those tabs open on the screen during the interview just in case something comes up and you want to reference an amazing feat.

STA Tip: “You always want to have notes that you can reference, but don’t have them on paper in front of you. When you have tabs open on the screen, it looks like you’re keeping eye contact with your interviewer, even though you’re flipping through tabs.” – Andrew Cook, Key Account Manager

If you lose your way and stumble over your thoughts, quickly glancing at a bullet point can get you back on track, but never rely on them or prepare a script full of answers to read from. Interviewers can tell when you’re not in the moment and aren’t speaking from the heart, which brings us to our next point.

Stay present and engaged

Even though you’re in front of a computer screen, you need to connect with your interviewer as much as possible. This is still a sales pitch, after all. It’s a bit harder than being in person, since you don’t have as many non-verbal cues, but you can stay in the moment by reacting with facial expressions and nods of understanding. You can also start off on the right foot by starting your interview with some small talk; you don’t get to shake hands, but a pleasant chat can set the tone for the rest of your conversation.

Try to look into your camera lens as much as you can, especially if you’re on an iPad and looking at the screen means you’re staring off into space. It might feel strange to look there instead of your interviewer’s face, but establishing proper eye contact can make or break an interview.

STA tip: “Remember to emote, smile, and be enthusiastic. Video calls can limit body language and expressiveness, so you need to be aware of that.” – Dean Mitchell, Managing Director UK/Europe

You’ll also want to keep your space as free from distraction as possible. Close your windows to avoid outside noises, leave pets in another room if you can, and ask your family not to bug you during that time. Everyone’s understanding, though — if a distraction happens, just take care of it calmly and get back to your chat.

With all these virtual interview tips in hand, you’ll be ready to ace your next one. You might be wondering… what’s next? Send the perfect follow up email, of course! These emails can make or break a hiring decision, since 22% of employers are less likely to hire someone who doesn’t follow up. Make it the cherry on top of all your thoughtful preparation.