Interviews in the digital age

Published: 28 Jul 2020
Last reviewed: 24 Oct 2020

Julian Smith, Executive Director of memcom recruitment, shares his top tips for interviewing in the virtual world.

We’re all having to adapt to new ways of living, and regardless of whether or not a second wave of coronavirus will be with us in the autumn, it is unlikely that many employers will fully open up their offices – even if they can guarantee the proper social distancing of their staff. This means that for the time being at least most employees will continue to work from home, and therefore, most (if not all) interviews will take place virtually rather than physically. In this brave new world, you might have to re-think the art of interviewing if you want to get that perfect job…

Why do I call it the art of interviewing? Because learning how to interview well is a bit of an art form and given the competition for each good role right now, it’s worth putting in a little effort to enhance your performance.

I’ve split this blog into two sections, before and during the interview, just to remind you of the basics to consider. Her are my top tips for each section:


Before the interview:


Think about which slot to choose

People complain of ‘Zoom fatigue’, so if you’re offered a choice of interview times, think carefully about which slot you want to go for. I’d always avoid the first and last slots if offered, since most people take a while to warm up with interviews, and the last slot in the day might mean that your interviewers are already exhausted (and might already have decided on someone brilliant). Try to go somewhere in the middle, or second to last if possible. That way, you still get remembered.

However, virtual interviews are often easier to arrange in people’s diaries, and may take place over several days, rather than interviewers being forced to block out an entire day to conduct in-person interviews. As a result I’m noticing more and more that clients are giving less notice to arrange interviews.


Think about your surroundings

When it comes to virtual interviews, you have control over your environment. Choose somewhere quiet where the wifi/internet signal is strongest, and try to pick a blank, uncluttered wall behind you. If you have to conduct the interview from your bedroom, consider temporarily rearranging the furniture. If you’re in a shared space, try to bribe your housemates or family members to leave you in peace for the hour. A home-cooked meal with wine as a celebration of you getting the job should do the trick!

Remember that in a virtual interview, employers will be looking for someone who they can trust to work from home, so the more conducive to work your surroundings, the more this might influence a potential employer.


Think about your appearance

So we’ve all embraced our inner caveman of late, but there’s no excuse for not making an effort for an interview. Smart dress is important even if you lose the suit jacket or the tie; if you’ve made an effort over your appearance, then this sends a signal to the interviewers that you’re taking them seriously. Even the ‘lockdown look’ can be tamed, and remember that interviewers won’t see the back of your head, so you only have to worry about the front and the sides…


And finally, strengthen your internet connection

There’s nothing worse than building a rapport with the panel only to suddenly lose the internet connection and then have to keep asking them to repeat the question, or struggling to get your answer heard. If your wifi is a little weak, try to turn off any appliances which might be sharing the wifi, including cordless phones, other mobiles and even microwaves apparently! If the wifi still isn’t strong enough, use your phone data (or that of a housemate/family member) to connect to your laptop for the duration of the interview. And try out the connection in advance, to check that everything seems to work.


During the interview:


Warming things up

Interviews often start with a little light conversation, often led by the interviewer, designed to both establish a connection, and put the interviewee at their ease. However, the favourite opener of many interviewers “where did you travel in from this morning?” tends to lose it’s appeal when the answer is “from the bedroom to the kitchen…”. Small talk is often reduced to a bare minimum, so the emphasis might be on you (the interviewee) to warm up the panel.

There are several ways to do this, but a lot of it is all about the body language. Nodding, smiling and generally demonstrating you’re engaged is a good start. If you look relaxed and confident, you’ll probably relax the panel too. If you’re brave enough, you can ask the interviewers how they’re adapting to virtual interviews, or something similar – anything to break the ice before you all plunge into the interview itself.


Stay alert

The more informal a process feels, the more relaxed we get – and in an interview situation, this is not a good thing. You’ll need to come across as relaxed whilst staying alert, and watch/listen eagerly to everything which is said to you. Interview questions often operate on two different levels, with a more subtle subtext to the question as well as the more obvious one. For example, a question on ingenuity in problem solving might seem obvious, but there may be a subtext, such as checking to see if the candidate understands the boundaries or is a safe pair of hands, rather than displaying a maverick attitude.


Stay on topic

It’s easy to side-track a conversation, and it might seem obvious, but don’t say anything which isn’t pertinent. Your examples still need to fit the question, and recent feedback from one candidate interview was that the answers given were somewhat inappropriate, and that the interviewers felt that the candidate might have got a little too relaxed. If you need little prompts, try sticking post-it notes to the edges of your computer screen; nobody’s going to know…because the interviewers won’t be able to see them.


And finally, stay on track!

Turning up late to an interview is unpardonable now that everyone has is logging on from home. You also have a clock on the bottom of your computer screen, so make sure you’re conscious of the time whilst the interview is going on. There’s nothing worse than finishing an interview and realising you forgot to ask them the questions you wanted to know – and of course, poor time management might mean you being turned down for the role in favour of someone who appeared more efficient.

In these times, managers are recruiting slightly differently, so it’s important to keep evolving, and learning from your mistakes. Hopefully the above tips will help you think about some of the other  differences between in-person and online interviews and help you raise your game in a competitive market. Good luck…


About memcom recruitment

Over the last 20 years, memcom has built an outstanding reputation within professional bodies, trade associations, membership charities and other not-for-profit membership organisations. Our recruitment services offer unrivalled sector knowledge and access to a large network of both candidates and clients.