While video interviews have always been a part of recruitment the COVID-19 pandemic has made them crucial to the application process.
Traditionally used in the early stages of the interview process to filter out large numbers of candidates they can vary in style and length. However as COVID restrictions were put in place the majority of things moved online and interviews were no exception.
The obvious benefits are the money and time savings for both you and the company. It also means that the recruiter and their colleagues can watch the interview again rather than just relying on notes.
The format isn’t without its challenges though – the main ones being connectivity problems and time delays. Not everyone is comfortable on camera and this may put some candidates at a disadvantage. However, with some preparation these issues can be overcome and help you move on to the next stage of the process.
Research the format
It’s vital that you know in advance what format the video interview will take, as the two main types are very different experiences.
• Live – this is similar to a regular face-to-face interview. You’ll speak to the interviewer (or panel of interviewers) in real-time over a video connection using a service such as Skype or Zoom. Live videos enable employers to recreate the traditional interview format without requiring the candidate to travel to their office, meaning they can recruit from anywhere in world. Try to treat the conversation as you would an interview at the employer’s offices and build a rapport with the interviewer.
• Pre-recorded – this is a much less personal experience as you won’t be speaking to a real person. You’ll be presented with pre-recorded or even written questions on screen, and then you’ll have to record your answer on video, often to a time limit. This helps employers who have lots of candidates, as they can simply watch your answers later at a time that suits them – but it can be awkward if you aren’t used to recording yourself. This makes practice even more important. On the plus side, you will be able to do the interview at a time of your choosing up to a set deadline.
Choose your location
Plan well in advance where you’re going to do the video interview. Use a quiet location, where noises and people won’t disturb you. Make sure the room you choose is tidy and use a clean and simple background so that the recruiter focuses on you.
You need to think about the lighting, as it won’t be a great interview if you can’t be properly seen. To ensure you don’t get a shadow either use natural light from a window or put a lamp in front of the camera and adjust the distance to get the best result.
Close any software on your computer that might play notification sounds, and switch your phone to silent to guarantee you won’t be distracted. Also, let everyone in the house know you’re about to start the interview so they don’t interrupt.
You may be at home but it’s still a job interview and this is your opportunity to give a professional first impression – this means dressing appropriately. You should wear the same outfit you would have chosen for a face-to-face meeting with the employer. Think about how your clothes will look on screen and avoid busy patterns and stripes.
Use positive body language
It’s best to avoid slouching, moving too much or touching your face. Instead employers will be looking for you to make good eye contact, smile, listen and take an interest in what they’re saying. To help you do this your camera should be at eye level and you should look into it rather than at the screen.
For pre-recorded interviews, try to imagine you’re speaking to a real person, maintaining your enthusiasm and positive body language. This can be harder to do when you’re simply recording your answers.
If you’re nervous it can be easy to rush what you’re saying but remember that the employer wants to hear your answers. Speak clearly, and be careful not to interrupt as this is more easily done with the slight delay over the internet than during a face-to-face meeting.
A few days before the interview you should test the computer, camera and any software that you’ve been asked to use. Make sure the picture is clear and the sound quality is good. It’s also worth checking your internet connection.
On the day of the video interview ensure everything is fully charged or plugged in, as you don’t want the battery to run down. You don’t want to be still sorting things out as the interview starts, so switch everything on at least half an hour before the interview and sign in to any software that you’ll need.
If there are any technical hitches, for example if you can’t hear the questions very well, don’t struggle through, as you won’t put in your best performance. If it’s a live video interview, mention the problem. It may easily be fixed, or the interviewer may be happy to end the call and redial.
For pre-recorded video interviews, check beforehand whether you’re allowed to stop and restart in case of technical issues.
While you never know exactly what you’ll be asked you can prepare by planning how you’d answer some of the most common interview questions.
While you never know exactly what you’ll be asked you can prepare by planning how you’d answer some of the most common interview questions
Employers need to understand why you want the job, why you’re the best person for the role, and how well your personality will fit into the organisation. How you answer interview questions will be the key factor in their decision.
What you say is obviously the most important thing but the way you answer also plays a part. Confidence and enthusiasm are particularly important. Preparing in advance for some of the questions you expect to come up against will enable you to put in the best performance on the day. Here are some of the job interview questions you’re most likely to face…
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
This question, usually the opener, tops the list of typical interview questions. It’s incredibly important, as you can provide the interviewer with a great first impression. Preparation is important, but your answer shouldn’t sound rehearsed. Focus on your skills, characteristics and successes, and how they make you a strong candidate in terms of the job description.
Keep your answer to less than five minutes. Generally, begin with an overview of your highest qualification and greatest achievements, before running through your work experience and giving examples of the skills that you’ve developed. If your work history is limited, focus on the areas of academia that you’ve most enjoyed and how this relates to the job.
Why do you want to work here?
Demonstrate that you’ve researched the role by discussing the skills and interests that led you to apply. Draw on what you enjoy – use examples from your academic, professional or extra-curricular life that suggest you’re strongly motivated and can relate closely to the organisation. Talk about particular aspects of the job advertisement that enticed you.
Similar questions include:
• What do you know about the company?
• What motivated you to apply for this job?
What are your strengths?
Pick three or four attributes desired by the employer in the person specification, such as teamwork, leadership, initiative and lateral thinking. Whichever strengths you pick, you must be able to evidence them with examples.
Similar questions include:
• How would a friend describe you?
• How would you describe your personality?
• What are three positive things your last boss would say about you?
What are your weaknesses?
You can positively frame your answer by picking characteristics that you’ve taken steps to improve. For example, self-confidence issues could have previously led to difficulty accepting criticism – but tell the interviewer that you’ve learned to embrace constructive feedback as it allows for self-improvement. Alternatively, discuss how you overcame a potential downside of your greatest strength. For example, you might have had to learn how to cope with conflict if you’re a great team worker.
Never say that you have no weaknesses, that you’re a perfectionist, or that you work too hard. These are clichéd responses that portray you as arrogant, dishonest or lacking in self-awareness.
Similar questions include:
• How do you respond to criticism?
• How would your worst enemy describe you?
How do you prioritise your work?
The employer wants to know whether you’re organised, can meet deadlines and are able to handle multiple projects at the same time. The best way to answer this question is to provide examples of times when you’ve juggled a number of different tasks and still delivered them to a high quality and on time. These examples can come from previous jobs, university study or your extra-curricular activities. Give some detail about what methods you use to keep track of your progress and productivity.
How would you improve our product/service?
Your knowledge and understanding of what the company does will prove invaluable. Don’t be too critical of the product or service – you want to work there after all – but at the same, don’t say you wouldn’t change anything. The interviewer wants to hear some ideas.
Try to come up with one or two things that you think could be improved. The key is to offer an explanation of how and why you’d make these changes. Make sure you focus on relevant areas that you would have some responsibility for if you got the job.
Can you give an example of a time when you had to cope with a difficult situation?
This question is one of the most popular competency-based interview questions. It allows the employer to assess how calm and reliable you are under pressure. Outline an instance where you’ve coped with an unexpected problem, discussing how you reorganised and managed your time. Think about times where you’ve had to meet tight deadlines or handle difficult people.
Similar questions include:
• Give an example of a time when you had to cope under pressure.
• Give an example of a time when you’ve handled a major crisis.
• How do you manage your time and prioritise tasks?
• How do you respond to stress and pressure?
What has been your greatest achievement?
Ideally, your answer should evidence skills relevant to the job – such as teamwork, initiative, communication, determination and organisation. For inspiration, think about a time when you’ve received an award, organised an event, learned something new or overcome a major fear. Always prepare several examples.
Avoid the achievement of graduating from university – this won’t distinguish you, unless you’ve had to deal with major difficulties such as illness or personal problems.
A similar question that you may be asked is ‘What are you most proud of in your working life?’
What are your goals?
This is your chance to show the recruiter that you’re ambitious and professionally determined. Talk enthusiastically about your realistic short and long-term targets, basing your answers on the employer, the industry and your skills and experiences.
Outline the various steps to your ideal job, but only in relation to the position that you’re applying for and the company’s career development offering. It’s vital that you explain how your goals make you valuable to the organisation. You could mention your knowledge of relevant professional bodies and qualifications or reveal that you’ve researched the career paths followed by other graduates.
A similar question is ‘What do you expect to be doing in five years’ time?’
What are your salary expectations?
This can be an uncomfortable question to answer, as you don’t want to undervalue yourself or give a figure so high that you rule yourself out of the job. If you decide to suggest a range, don’t make it too wide as it will appear as though you are avoiding the question. Instead, narrow it down and mention that you’re willing to be flexible and negotiate.
To prepare, check whether a salary or salary range is indicated in the job description and take that as your starting point. Then research similar roles to see what the average salary is across the industry or sector you want to work in. Job profiles will give you some examples.
If you’re already in work, you may have been asked for your current salary when you applied for the job. Since gradual progression is most common, the employer may be surprised if your expectations are either below or significantly higher than your current salary.
Do you have any questions?
Arriving with no questions will give a bad impression. Anything that you ask should cover the work itself or career development. Prepare questions in advance and remember to ask questions if the moment naturally arises during the actual interview. For some ideas, see 7 good questions to ask at an interview.
If you need further help, university careers and employability services provide practice interview sessions. It’s worth contacting them if you are a student or recent graduate.
The key to putting in a good performance and securing the job is preparation. Take a look at these tips to get you interview ready.
Types of interview
There are different types of job interview. In some cases, you’ll only need to succeed at one of these to land the role. In others, particularly at large graduate employers, you may face several interview formats throughout the application process.
- Face-to face – the traditional and still most common form of interview. You’ll attend the employer’s office and be questioned on your suitability for the job by an individual or panel. Face-to-face interviews usually last between 45 minutes and two hours, and may be preceded or followed by tests and exercises. Questions may be strength-based or competency-based.
- Telephone – often used by employers early in the application process to filter large numbers of applicants. If you’re successful you’ll typically be invited to a face-to-face interview or assessment centre. Expect a telephone interview to last around half an hour.
- Video – increasingly popular among large employers, particularly for applications to graduate schemes. Video interviews can be live or pre-recorded and tend to last around half an hour. These have increasingly been used due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the majority of things move online.
- Assessment centres – enable employers to compare the performance of lots of candidates at the same time. You’ll attend an assessment centre with other applicants and take part in tasks such as presentations, team exercises and psychometric tests. Assessment centres usually last a full working day and have more recently been adapted to be held online.
Your performance in an interview depends, to a significant extent, on how well you prepare. Don’t leave this until the last minute. In the days leading up to the interview, focus your research on the:
- Employer – you need to show that you understand the business beyond the basics. What sector does it operate in? What challenges does it face? Who are its competitors? What major projects has it recently completed? What are its culture and values? This kind of knowledge demonstrates a genuine interest.
- Role – read the job description again and, if you completed an application form, go over it to refresh your memory of how your skills and qualifications match the job. It’s vital that you can explain why you want the job, that you understand the role and, even more importantly, why the employer should choose you over other candidates.
- Interview panel – try to find out who will be interviewing you. The email inviting you to the interview may include this information. Use LinkedIn and the ‘About us’ section of the company website to find out more about their professional interests and experience. This may help you to connect with your interviewers and create a positive impression during the interview.
- Questions – consider how you’ll answer common interview questions, as well as preparing some questions you’d like to ask the interviewer.
There are also some practical things to plan. Exactly when and where is the interview taking place? Have you planned your journey and checked the timetables for any public transport you need to take? Does all your equipment work for video and telephone interviews?
Avoiding alcohol the night before and having a healthy breakfast on the morning of your interview will stand you in good stead. If your interview is scheduled after lunchtime, make sure you eat something even if you’re feeling nervous – you won’t put in your best performance on an empty stomach.
Practice job interviews
It’s a good idea to do at least one mock interview before the real thing. Your university careers and employability service will help you to practice your interview technique.
You can also write and practise answers to common interview questions with someone you trust – possibly even recording yourself and then reviewing your performance.
It’s also worth testing your telephone connection and making sure that your laptop, microphone and any other technical equipment you need is working and you know how to use them.
What to take
- pen and notebook
- your CV and interview invitation
- your academic certificates and work examples if requested
- photo ID
- breath mints or gum
- a bottle of water
- money for transport and food.
In addition for online interviews you may also need:
- log in for the software you need to use.
What to wear to an interview
While many employers expect candidates to dress smartly, a growing number encourage casual wear at work, making it trickier than ever to choose an interview outfit.
What you’ll be expected to wear depends on factors such as the size of the company, the industry it operates in and the culture it promotes. For example, a small creative agency may have different standards to a major accountancy firm.
If you’re unsure on the dress code, ask before attending the interview. The key point to remember is that it’s better to be too smart than too casual. Only opt for a more casual outfit if you’re certain that’s acceptable – if there’s any doubt, go for smart business attire. Whatever you choose, make sure that your clothes are ironed and your shoes are clean.
For telephone and online interviews make sure you dress as though the interview is in person. Sitting in your tracksuit bottoms trying to act professional probably isn’t going to go too well.
After the interview
As your job interview comes to an end, make sure you find out when you’ll be informed of the outcome – and thank the interviewer for giving you the chance to attend.
Make some notes about the questions that were asked and how you answered them while the interview is still fresh in your memory. This will help you prepare even better for future interviews.
There are three potential outcomes:
• Success – if you’re offered the job, make sure it’s right for you by discussing it with friends and family, and double-check details such as the salary before deciding whether to accept.
• Rejection – if you’re unsuccessful, don’t be too downhearted as graduate employers receive large numbers of applications for every role. Email the company to thank them for the opportunity and request feedback from your interview so that you can improve your performance next time.
• Further steps – interviews are typically the final stage in the application process, but if the employer has not been able to make a decision you may be asked back for a second interview.
4 ways to make a good impression
As you’re preparing for the interview, think about ways you can show yourself in a positive light:
- Punctuality – arriving late will increase your stress levels and give the employer a bad first impression, so do your best to arrive in good time.
- Positivity and enthusiasm – be polite and professional with any staff you meet before or after the interview and, if you’re feeling particularly nervous, remind yourself that the worst thing that could happen is not getting the job. During the interview, respond to questions with positive statements, be enthusiastic about the job and avoid badmouthing your previous employers or university tutors.
- Body language – give a firm handshake to your interviewer(s) before and after the session. Once you’re seated, sit naturally without slouching in your chair or leaning on the desk. Throughout the interview, remember to smile frequently and maintain eye contact.
- Clarity – answer all questions clearly and concisely, evidencing your most relevant skills, experiences and achievements. It’s acceptable to pause before answering a difficult question to give yourself thinking time, or asking for clarification if you’re unsure what a question means. When answering, don’t speak too quickly.