By Jörg Kleis
Many companies conduct their interviews online – many before they invite you in person, some without inviting you to come by at all. This is basically because it saves the employer a lot of money and the technology needed to conduct online interviews has become mainstream. (By the way, in Germany you can and should ask for your money back, i.e. typical expenses such as your 2nd class train ticket with Deutsche Bahn, if you have been invited to appear in person for the interview. Ask your lawyer friends.) Also for you as a job seeker, it is easy to interview right from home. That being said, there are a few important differences between a personal and an online interview. Still, it is all about A-P-C. That is Atmosphere, Personality and Content. If you perform and deliver on these three, your maximize your chances of success. Here is how.
1 Never be late. Ever.
That does not mean being on time, it means being online at least 15 minutes before the interview starts. So do you know when the interview really starts? Well, you better double-check the message thread, then your calendar, then the time zone and the software you will be using. “Oh no, the email ended up in my spam-folder! The interview was today!” Well, too bad. It is your responsibility to regularly check your spam box. So, is the interview going to be on Skype? Google Hangouts? WhatsApp? Do you have your recruiter’s number, address or ID? Anyway, do make sure you check your wifi connection, for example by making a test call to a friend in the room you are going to have the interview in. (Do NOT switch rooms in between!) Your friend can tell you if you are visible and audible (see No. 3). Why? Because it is already your official job. By demonstrating you are able to deliver, i.e. ensuring a stable wifi connection and a call in a calm and quiet environment where you can speak freely, you are also showing your skill to perform other daily tasks at the office. If not, then unfortunately not. It’s as simple as that.
2 Always be honest.
Control the situation. That obviously means no multi-tasking. If you are using your computer and your phone keeps vibrating that’s already bad. If you start checking your phone, that’s just disrespectful. It also means that you make sure no one is running in on you. (“Joy, did you eat my samosas??”) If you can’t ensure the aforementioned environment, you need to cancel on time. Simply be honest about it. Let HR or the CEO know that unfortunately you are not able to guarantee the right atmosphere or whatever happened to you, directly connected with a new list of time-slots you are available. You think that means flunking? No, it means showing a professional attitude and is always better than “risking it” and failing to deliver (“oh, I’m sorry, but I thought I had enough data left on my phone.”). Again, the question is “how would you do it if this was already a situation at the office?” If you are in your private room with funny stuff that you forgot to put away, it is okay to smile. There is nothing you will be able to do about that anyway.
3 Be audible and visible.
This is about you having to compensate for not being in the same room as the interviewer. Please use headphones (e.g. a cable headset) to avoid unpleasant hallway sounds. It is okay to use your smartphone for the interview, especially if it has more RAM or CPU power than your laptop – as long as you keep it stable on your table. (Do not hold it in your hands!) Also, use a horizontal screen setting as it is generally more comfortable for the eyes of the interviewer than a vertical one. Ensure your head fills the screen and you look at it from a proper angle, just like you were going to take a pretty picture of yourself. And always turn on the lights.
4 Dress for success.
This may seem like a no-brainer. But we have just seen so much already (Pyjamas, sweatpants, “just-woke-up-look”) that it best be stated here once and for all. In short, if you dress better you will feel better. That means that just like in the “real world” where you are having an interview at the company you applying for, each outfit must at least match the degree of seriousness or reflect the level of professionality your new job will require. So unless you are applying for the position of a graphic designer at a hip startup where the average age of staff members is 26, you should tend towards a rather conservative business attire. By the way, If you decide to wear a tie, make sure the knot is perfectly tied – and the tie does not feature any cartoon heros from your childhood. (Seriously, seen it all before.) So no funny ties either. You may be a funny kid, but this is not the time to risk anything.
5 Be kind. Be patient. Be glad.
Please take a look at 3 again. Because whoever is going to do the interview with you, they have never met you. What they need to find out is if you are going to fit into their team. Since you must have already caught their attention, you can be sure that formal qualification issues are not their primary concern. Instead, they are going to want to get to know you, see what makes you tick, and for that matter, are going to push your buttons, and find out about that human touch. So be nice, be relaxed and – seriously – enjoy!
6 Know your company.
You are going to have to speak your employer’s language and know their stuff. There is no way around that. Even if you haven’t worked in their industry before, you need to make sure you know what your employer does – from A as in Artificial Intelligence to Z as in Zebras. You need to know their business model, what software they use. Who are their customers? And who are their customers’ customers? Know their markets, their figures, goals and corporate culture. Has your company been on the news lately? And what was it about? Please, just don’t be unprepared. Because this will kill you. You don’t have to go to the library for sophisticated research. As in real life, Youtube and Google are surely going to help you here.
7 Giving the answers right.
There may be a point where you are not able to give an answer. That is okay. You are not a robot. If you simply don’t know the answer to a knowledge-based question your answer needs to be about how you will go about finding the answer to that question. Show your methodological skills instead. If you didn’t understand the question or didn’t hear it right, you can always ask the interviewer to repeat it. If you need time, it is absolutely okay to think about an answer for 5-10 seconds and structure it in your head – either deductively or inductively, as long as you keep the order of your statements and arguments. In any case, be sure to enunciate your words clearly and to speak slowly. Don’t present yourself as if you were the embodiment of wild disorder. Express yourself in your words, step by step, thought by thought.
8 Keep cool and enjoy.
Just keep cool and your posture straight. Don’t nod with your head when you already know or think to know what the interviewer is going to ask you. (That can be very annoying.) Use your hands, but in a smaller radius than you would in a personal conversation. On a video screen, any moving object can suddenly appear disturbing. Also, against all allegations, if your interviewer keeps asking you questions then that is a good sign. It shows they’re curious and want to see how good you really are. Remember, they too are looking for a good time, especially since you may already be the fifth person they have interviewed today. If it all ends after 15 minutes, oh well… Vice versa, you better prepare some questions, too, that you can ask at the end of the interview. Questions about your role, your interaction with supervisors or team members or subordinates are always good. Again, this means you show your interest and that you are well-prepared. Anyway, every interview has its ups and downs, which will reveal your strengths and weaknesses. That is okay. Again, you are not a robot. So don’t let that discourage you. Ever. And now enjoy the interview.