Virtual Interviews: 25 Tips to Get You to the Next Round
Kaboom! That’s the sound of tech heavyweights returning to the office, with Apple and Google slated to be the latest come April.
Before you think corporate America’s return to the office move will be the virtual death of virtual interviews, think again. The practice is here to stay, according to a report by Indeed.com, which listed six reasons why. During the pandemic, 82 percent of U.S. employers surveyed said they implemented virtual interviews and 93 percent of these employers plan to continue to use them, according to an Indeed.com survey of 1,100 U.S. employers.
A separate survey by video interview and assessment provider HireVue found 41 percent of the 1,140 hiring leaders surveyed said they plan to use a combination of in-person and virtual interviews, and 23 percent plan to solely use virtual interviews.
6 Reasons Why U.S. Employers Use Virtual Interviews
- Mitigates the risks of the pandemic – 84 percent
- Makes the hiring process faster – 74 percent
- Improves the management of the interview process – 79 percent
- Makes the candidate’s experience better – 77 percent
- Offers ability for online skills assessments and other means to measure a candidate’s strength – 82 percent
- Helps to expand employers’ pool of diverse candidates – 84 percent
With virtual interviews gaining a permanent position in the job interview landscape, learning to excel at them will serve you well in the future.
Hiring managers, in-house recruiters and careers experts from Amazon, Zoom, BeyondTrust, Coderbyte and top tech universities, plus the author of Cracking the Coding Interview, offer salient tips for acing the virtual interview and the virtual whiteboard interview test.
Why Virtual Interviews Are on the Rise
Phone and video interviews both count as virtual. Still, since the onset of Covid-19, video interviews have become the preferred method for second-round and later-stage interviews. Phone screens, meanwhile, remain popular for initial interviews.
Video virtual interviews give hiring managers the best of both worlds — a candidate’s skills plus their personality, said B.J. Engelhardt, senior director of career services at the Illinois Institute of Technology. “It’s marrying the content you’re going to talk about with the interviewer with them getting to know you, your personality, your mannerisms, and your communications skills through a video meeting,” Engelhardt said, adding that such insight is not as apparent in a phone interview.
Virtual interviews also provide an efficient way for companies to conduct back-to-back interviews. They’re less expensive than flying someone out for an in-person interview, and they also benefit you by making it easier to do interviews from any location — even at work.
HireVue research, published in a report from the Society for Human Resource Management, indicates that video interviews are particularly beneficial and efficient for high-volume hiring and hiring remote workers. Leadership roles, which call for large investments by the company, are best conducted in person.
The takeaway: Virtual interviews are here to stay. Put yourself in a position to ace them.
How to Prepare for a Virtual Interview
Ask Which Video Platform Will Be Used in the Interview
Inquire which platform will be used in the virtual interview and virtual whiteboard test, if you don’t know. Practice using that platform and become familiar with its controls and features.
“Understand how the tools will work and what sort of functionality you will have during the interview. If you’re going to do a presentation during the interview, know how to use screen share,” Engelhardt said.
Test Your Internet Connection
Days before your interview, check the strength of your internet connection by doing an upload speed test. If it’s too slow, you have time to boost its strength before the interview.
A strong internet connection is especially important if you are seeking a remote job position, said Dermot Williams, senior director of engineering at cybersecurity firm BeyondTrust.
Internet lag when interviewing a job candidate was cited as the No. 1 pet peeve among 88 percent of recruiters surveyed, according to a report in the Harvard Business Review.
Find a Setting With a Professional Background
Seek a quiet setting for the interview, ideally with a blank corner with nothing on the walls to distract your interviewer, Josh Elmore, global head of talent and acquisition at Zoom Video Communications, told Built In. If your only option is a messy or cluttered room, consider using a virtual or blurred background.
Select a Location With Good Lighting On Your Face
Station yourself in front of a window where the sunlight is falling on your face, or place a lamp or light in front of you, hiring experts said. Avoid having the light source behind you, because it will cast a shadow across your face.
Turn On Suppression Features for Background Noise
Check the virtual interviewing platform you will be using for audio suppression features. If the interview will be on Zoom, click on the audio settings and review your background noise suppression options, which go from low to high.
“Whether your dog is barking, the neighbors are revving up the leaf blower, or there is construction outside your house, high noise suppression can keep these noises out of your meeting,” Elmore said.
Display Your Name On Your Screen
When testing the virtual interview platform, type out your full name so it’s discreetly displayed in the lower portion of the screen, said Rachel Amos, director of career services and employer relations at Carnegie Mellon University.
This will reinforce and remind the interviewer of your name — a helpful prompt on the days when they are interviewing multiple candidates.
Keep Your Resume and Notes In Front of You
Interviewers will typically refer to your resume, so have a copy in front of you for reference. The beauty of virtual interviews is you can have it close at hand without it being visible to the interviewer, Choudhury said.
Also, keep a pen and piece of paper handy to jot down questions you’ll want to ask at the end of the interview as they come up, he added.
Practice Your On-Camera Presence
For many, it’s a challenge getting comfortable in front of a camera to do an interview. A number of tools help prepare you for virtual mock job interviews if family or friends are not available, Engelhardt said.
Create a list of interview questions you think you’ll need to answer in the real job interview, and practice answering those questions with the virtual mock interview tool or with friends and family over the video conferencing platform.
Ask for their assessment of your video performance. Could they clearly see and hear you and vice versa? Was there an internet lag when you were talking? Was your face in shadows or could you be seen clearly? Did you look them in the eye, or did you appear to be looking down during the entire mock interview?
Use a Cell Phone Tripod
Planning to use your cell phone to conduct the virtual interview? Invest in a smartphone tripod or find items nearby, such as a stack of books or perhaps a small vertical box, to act as a tripod. It will hold the camera steady, which the interviewers will appreciate, and not tire your arm.
Select a Business Casual Interview Outfit — With Pants
“Many of us got accustomed to a style of dress that felt very comfortable at home but it may not be appropriate in the office. A suit and tie probably aren’t appropriate for a lot of these tech roles and many may wear super casual clothing, but that doesn’t mean as a candidate you should wear that,” said Sarah Sikowitz, director of career education and coaching for Harvard University’s Harvard Business School. “I think you can never go wrong with business casual or something neutral.”
Wearing “real” pants, rather than shorts or sweats, will put you in the mindset to crush the interview, Amos advised.
Power Up Your Laptop and Phone Batteries
Nothing is more frustrating than losing a call or video conference due to a dying battery, especially since it can be avoided. Before you go to bed on the night before your interview, make sure your laptop and cell phone are charging.
Virtual Interview Tips
“What happens in virtual interviews are people with small pets like cats and dogs get distracted during the interview when they snuggle by their feet, or they knock something down. You can get thrown off, especially when you’re doing a coding exercise that requires you to have a lot of concentration and focus,” Choudhury said. “It’s best to eliminate these distractions and keep them outside your door.”
Log On Early
Launch your own test meeting on the interview platform 15 minutes before it starts. Use this time to run system checks on your computer, webcam and audio.
Turn On Your Video Camera
Fight the urge to keep your webcam off during the interview and turn it on. If you use multiple computers while you work, make sure you have the right camera rolling, Sikowitz said.
Set Your View So You Can’t See Yourself
To help with self-consciousness and minimize distraction, check your framing on the screen and then hide yourself from your screen so only the interviewer can see you on their screen, said Elmore. If the interview is on a Zoom platform, click the three little blue dots in the upper right-hand corner of your picture to hide your view from yourself.
Turn Off Cell Phone and Laptop Notifications
“One of our interviewers told me that a candidate received seven Viber calls from overseas in the middle of their one-hour interview. They found it extremely frustrating and annoying,” Choudhury said. “This is common-sense stuff, but unfortunately common sense is not that common. A lot of people forget to turn off their notifications and calls.”
One way to avoid this problem is logging onto your device as a “guest.” In guest mode, you won’t have your email set up to ping you with new mail or your DM alerts, for example. Another option, of course, is to silence all notifications and calls, as well as close all windows except for the one with the virtual interview, hiring experts said.
“Looking at notes on your screen, chats, or emails can make you appear distracted,” Elmore warned.
Keep Your Cell Phone and Headphones Handy
Your silenced cell phone and a pair of headphones should be within easy reach in case your virtual interview suddenly goes offline or audio problems arise, said Gayle Laakmann McDowell, author of Cracking the Coding Interview: 189 Programming Questions and Solutions and founder of CareerCup, a job interview preparation service.
Maintain Eye Contact
Before you hide your image from the screen to avoid distraction, improve eye contact with your interviewer by raising the height of your laptop or sitting on additional pillows if you’re at a desktop so the webcam is at a similar height as your eyes. If you are using a Zoom platform, move your video conferencing window directly below your webcam, so you don’t appear to be looking off to the side during the interview, Elmore said.
Inform the interviewer ahead of time you may be jotting down notes and also referring to notes during the interview, so they will understand when you break eye contact to look down.
Don’t Overthink the Interviewer’s Body Language
The interviewer’s visual cues and body language are hard to read during a virtual interview, so their facial expressions and voice tone end up carrying so much more weight than maybe they would in an in-person interview, Sikowitz said.
“If the interviewer appears like someone else is distracting them off-screen, you could take that like, ‘they’re not paying attention to me. They’re uninterested in me. I’m not doing a good job in this interview. Oh, no, I’m having a panic attack.’ You could start spinning things over in your head that aren't true at all because you have so little context,” she added.
How to Prepare for Your Virtual Whiteboard Test
Familiarize Yourself With Virtual Whiteboard Tools
Take the time to familiarize yourself with whiteboard tools like Miro or Mural before your virtual job interview, said Daniel Borowski, CEO, and founder of code interview platform company Coderbyte.
Also, find online challenges and take-home projects and work through diagramming solutions, he added.
Acquaint Yourself With All the Buttons on Virtual Whiteboards
“Analog whiteboards are pretty straightforward. You have a marker and eraser. Virtual whiteboards, on the other hand, are much more powerful so familiarizing yourself with all the buttons beforehand is important,” Borowski said. “You can create a free account on any virtual whiteboard tool to get the hang of it and be ready to ace your interview.”
You may also find yourself collaborating with more than one interviewer on the whiteboard, he added. With software developer job openings, you may be asked, for example, to not only collaborate on a document or virtual whiteboard but also be asked to code in live editor and solve a specific problem, Borowski said. He noted that Coderbyte interviewers can toggle among fully-integrated code editors, Jupyter Notebooks and spreadsheets.
Brace for Virtual Whiteboard Drawing Snafus
“The biggest issue I have with doing virtual whiteboard tests is you can’t draw things anymore. The vast majority of the built-in drawing tools are pretty bad. You should practice using these tools and also find other ways to draw,” McDowell said.
Consider using a pen and paper to draw a binary tree that you can show via an external video camera that is easier to move around than a webcam embedded in your laptop, or have a few diagrams all ready to go that you can copy and paste into a text editor, McDowell said. These preparations can shave off a few minutes when doing a virtual whiteboard test.
How to Take the Virtual White Board Test
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
“The most important thing for candidates is just to communicate with the interviewer and don’t make assumptions about what their expectations are,” McDowell said. For example, one big question to ask the interviewer is whether they expect the code to run once it’s been compiled on the virtual whiteboard.
Communication with the interviewer is more apt to break down in a virtual whiteboard test than an in-person test. That’s because in-person whiteboard tests are usually more tedious, prompting you to talk out loud about your coding solutions. With a virtual whiteboard test, you’re more likely to start typing code without walking the interviewer through it and analyzing your code as you type it.
“Most of the time interviewers are really looking at your problem-solving process, so you want to make sure you’re talking out loud as you code,” she said.
Be Prepared to Write Code That Runs
Virtual whiteboard tests bring a double-edged sword when it comes to acing the interview, McDowell said.
The advantage of virtual whiteboarding platforms like CoderPad or HackerRank is you’ll be able to type code quicker on a computer and have assistance from a compiler and highlighting syntax that you wouldn’t have if you were writing code by hand for an in-person whiteboard test, McDowell told Built In.
The disadvantage is the interviewer may have the expectation your virtual whiteboard test code can be compiled and run, she warned.
“The syntactical errors that interviewers would have previously ignored in an in-person whiteboard test could potentially be an issue for the virtual one,” McDowell said. “You can type faster, but you have to make things more perfect to run.”
Expect to also write more code than in an in-person whiteboard test if you have to get the code to run, McDowell cautioned. Rather than just inserting one little function into a tree class for your in-person whiteboard, you’ll have to code the whole tree class for your virtual whiteboard and parse the input, things you could have ignored in an in-person whiteboard test, she added.
Troubleshoot Bug Fixes Thoughtfully
“If you find a bug, beware of getting in the trap where you make a quick fix, rerun the code to see if it works, if it still doesn’t, make another quick fix, and rerun it. The big piece of the interview process is problem-solving. So take the time to analyze why the bug occurred before you try to fix it, instead of making quick fixes,” McDowell said.
How Virtual Whiteboard Tests Are the Same as In-Person
Virtual whiteboard tests are largely the same as taking an in-person whiteboard test, said McDowell and Borowski.
“Beyond familiarizing yourself with using a virtual whiteboard tool like Miro or Mural, there isn’t that much of a difference compared to in-person interviewing. Ultimately, interviewers still want to understand your thought process, ability to critically think in low-context situations, and propose creative solutions,” Borowski said.
McDowell expressed similar views.
“There’s like a 5 percent difference between virtual and in-person interviews, so the other 95 percent requires the same advice,” she said. “Talk out loud as you code and when you get to a problem, realize that you aren’t expected to know all the answers. The interview is very much about the problem-solving process.”