How to Ace an Online Job Interview

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The in-person job interview went away when offices emptied this spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. On the plus side, no more flying out to company headquarters and staying at a hotel, just to spend a day of meetings in an uncomfortable suit and then heading right back home. On the downside, common technical snafus and fewer body language clues can make the online process feel fraught. To successfully make the jump to team member from virtual job seeker, brush up on classic interview techniques and adapt them to the new world of internet interviews.

Research the Company and Your Interviewer

Interview basics still apply, so start by learning about the company, delving deeply into its website, related news coverage and employee reviews like those on Glassdoor or Indeed. Know why you want to work there because you are sure to be asked.

To research publicly traded companies, Amelia Ransom, senior director of engagement and diversity at the tax compliance software company Avalara, suggests examining their online 10-K forms, which summarize annual performance, paying close attention to the “risk factors” section that describes the key challenges a company is facing. “Connect how hiring you can help them solve those challenges,” she said.

Check out your interviewer’s LinkedIn profile, to understand his or her background and perhaps find things in common. Make sure that your own LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and that you’ve asked past managers to post a recommendation in case your interviewer is checking you out, too.

Set the Scene

For video interviews, make sure your lighting, camera angle, outfit and background all help you look polished. Best bets for lighting are sunshine from a window that’s facing you, a lamp bouncing light off a wall that reflects softly, computer screen clip-on lights, or an inexpensive ring light. The New York Times Wirecutter site provides a video with more details.

Place your computer’s camera at eye level or slightly above and tilted down (a stack of books underneath can help). Wear a professional-looking top that makes you feel confident.

Virtual backgrounds can be tricky, so it’s best to find a clean uncluttered space, with nothing to distract the interviewer. Shut the door in case someone walks by.

“Do the best with what you have,” Ms. Ransom said, “but don’t worry too much about it.” Recruiters understand the limitations of home-based interviews. “Don’t beat yourself up” if your child wanders by looking for a snack or the dog bursts in, she said. The interviewer is sitting at home “dealing with the same things.”

Double-Check the Tech

Technical difficulties are understandable, but do all you can to avoid them, said Eliot Kaplan, a former vice present of talent acquisition at Hearst Magazines who is now a career coach. Start by ensuring your Wi-Fi is as strong and reliable as possible. That might mean setting up your video call in the part of your home that gets the best reception, asking housemates to stay off the network during your interview or even paying for better Wi-Fi for a few months while you are job hunting.

Make sure your laptop is fully charged. Keep your cellphone by your side (on “do not disturb”) with the interviewer’s phone number handy in case you need a backup communication method. Close other apps on your computer so you are not distracted by pop-ups. Double-check what will be in sight because video software programs differ in how they crop web camera views.

Practice Your Answers and Your Presence

Think ahead about common questions and how you will answer (without sounding too rehearsed). So-called behavioral questions are in vogue: asking for examples from your experience, like a time you overcame an obstacle, led a team or creatively solved a problem. It’s important to answer concisely and listen closely, especially on a phone interview because you can’t see the interviewer’s responses and other visual cues, said Karen Amatangelo-Block, a talent acquisition executive at a global hotel company and a private coach. “You’ll definitely lose them after five to seven minutes.”

Practice your posture as well, Ms. Block said, because it’s important to communicate that you are engaged in the video conversation and excited about the opportunity. A tip Ms. Block learned from newscasters is to “sit on the edge of your seat,” which helps you to sit up straight. Pull your shoulders back to convey confidence, she said.

Even phone interviews should be conducted this way. “If you don’t think about your presence,” she said, “you’ll be more likely to start slouching, feel less engaged and be more likely to ramble.”

Set up a video call with a friend to check on setting, posture and to practice questions.

Convey Your Value

Think of the three things about yourself that you can bring to the job that are not on your résumé, Ms. Ransom said, and communicate those. “Maybe you are going for an engineering job but are also a great public speaker.” As an interviewer, Ms. Ransom said, she wants to know the candidate beyond the résumé page and understand “their motivations and communication style, their personality. How will they expand the company culture?”

Some of the qualities that companies have traditionally looked for — adaptability, flexibility, showing up as a self-starter and an independent worker — are more important than ever in a work-from-home world in which the boss isn’t around to see what you are doing, Mr. Kaplan said. One way to demonstrate those qualities in the interview is to talk about what you’ve done during the pandemic. “If you’ve used the extra time at home to pick up a new skill or take on extra work responsibilities to help out your team, let the recruiter know,” he said. If you relearned 10th-grade geometry to help your high schooler pass their math class, that’s impressive, too.

Questions for the Interviewer?

Interviewers often conclude by asking “Do you have any questions for me?” Let your curiosity shine through and ask something that will help you decide if the position will be a good match for you, Ms. Ransom said. “Asking something like ‘Tell me how you got to where you are’ feels like a template question” and won’t help your decision-making process, she said.

After You Hang Up

Always send your interviewer a thank-you email and make it as specific as possible, mentioning a topic you discussed or something that inspired you. If you don’t have the interviewer’s contact information, send the email to your recruiter and ask her or him to pass it along.

Each Experience Helps Prepare You for the Next

Emily Chang, a recent graduate of Duke University, interviewed with 10 companies by phone or video before recently accepting an offer to work as a researcher for Rubius Therapeutics, a cell therapy biotechnology company in Cambridge, Mass. She said she was nervous when she began interviewing and after each interview would “think of something that could have been done better and file it away for the next time.”

Ms. Chang said signing into the interview web link 10 or 15 minutes in advance to make sure it was working, and to take some time to collect her thoughts, helped her avoid feeling rushed. She also placed a glass of water just off-camera and set up slips of paper she could glance down at with notes she had prepared, such as how her skills matched the job requirements. After getting interrupted a few times, Ms. Chang started letting her household know when she would be interviewing, so they would be quiet. Specifically, “I had to ask my dad not to play the piano,” she said.

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