Virtual Interview Hacks: Before the Interview

How can a paper cup and a spatula help you dazzle potential employers at your next interview? Alaska’s People has the answer – along with other tips and tricks to land the job you want

Workforce Development Coordinator Nathan Starbard (left) prepares a job-seeker for a virtual interview.

Video interviews are here to stay, according to Nathan Starbard.

“Virtual interviews went from being a COVID novelty to making up about 80 percent of the interviews I’ve done recently,” said the Alaska’s People workforce development coordinator. “Whether it’s for safety or convenience, virtual interviews have become part of the job search.”

When Nathan helps job seekers prepare for an interview, it’s about more than knowing the right answers for questions they may be asked; it’s about putting someone’s best foot forward, regardless of where the interview takes place.

With virtual interviews, Nathan has seen it all: bad lighting, fumbling, people leaving their camera on and wandering away, job applicants holding their pet cats through an entire interview.

Alaska’s People provides a quiet, private space for individuals to conduct virtual interviews.

Nathan and fellow Workforce Development Coordinator William McDonald offered these tips on how you can be ready for your next virtual interview:

Countdown too a great interview:

A week before the interview

  • Do your research. “80 percent of success in any interview is preparation,” William said. In addition to the usual research you would do before any job interview, remember to make sure your computer software is updated and that you know how to use it.
  • Prepare your answers. Today, interviews are less about “What’s your greatest strength and weakness?” and more about behavioral-based questions, said Nathan. “With those, employers are looking for specific responses about experiences you’ve had in the past. These questions force applicants to talk about a time when they’ve had a disagreement at work or haven’t met an expectation. Not being prepared for those kinds of questions can make or break an interview.”
  • Do a mock interview. You don’t have to be caught off-guard by unexpected questions, though. Alaska’s People can orient you to the interview process, help you prepare specific examples to illustrate your answers – even practice the interview itself! Contact Alaska’s People to set up a mock interview with an expert today.

The day before the interview

  • Prep your interview space. Lights, camera, action! Test these details before the day of your interview:
    • Lighting. If you’re backlit, all your interviewer will see is a silhouette – so position yourself away from windows and make sure you’re lit from the front.
    • Audio. Test your computer microphone or your phone + headphone setup ahead of time. Don’t sit too close or too far away from your device. Test your set up with a friend – or come to Alaska’s People for a mock interview, where staff will help make sure you look and sound your best for your virtual meeting!
    • Background. Now’s not the time to show off your Grateful Dead poster or your dirty laundry. Try to sit somewhere with a neutral or clean background.
    • Get real. Virtual backgrounds are fund – but your interview isn’t the best time to show your sense of whimsy. Virtual backgrounds can be distracting. And remember – once you turn that background off, your interviewer can see what’s really behind you, including the dirty socks you left on your coffee table.
    • Distractions. Put your dog in the other room, close the door, put your phone on silent – cut out as many distractions as possible so you can focus on the interview. However, if distractions happen, don’t let them throw you, said Nathan. “The worst interview of my life, my phone fell over, and I never recovered. If you can be prepared to deal with little interruptions, that shows your problem-solving skills in real time.”
  • Test your internet connection. “An employer can’t fault someone for having a bad internet connection,” Nathan said. “But you can get ahead of it by warning them, ‘My internet’s not working well, so if we start to have problems, do you mind if I try turning off the camera?’” As long as your interviewer can hear your answers to her questions, that’s the most important thing.
  • Be a MacGyver. If you’re doing a video interview on your phone, you will want to stabilize your device so you’re not waving it around or at risk of dropping it. Here’s a trick Nathan uses: Grab a paper cup, a spatula, and some uncooked rice. Fill the cup about halfway with rice, stick the spatula in, the rest your phone on the top of the cup, supporting the back of the phone with the spatula. Take a look:

  • Find a better space. Instead of cleaning the house and worrying about your internet, you can conduct your interview from Alaska’s People’s offices. “We offer a space that’s private, quiet, the internet’s great, and there’s a nice, professional background,” said William. Contact alaskaspeople@citci.org to learn more!

Two hours before

  • Dress to impress. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you can wear your leopard-print pajamas. And if you’re tempted to dress business up top/casual from the waist down, just remember: If you have to stand during your interview for some reason, everyone will see that you’re wearing boxer shorts instead of slacks.
  • Gather your tools. You may want to have helpful items on hand, like a copy of the job description, the company’s mission and values, or a pen with which to take notes during the interview. You can even have talking points to help you during the interview – just remember to reference them, rather than reading directly from your notes. 
  • Show up early. “In real life, you would show up for an interview early and sit in the lobby, ready to impress,” William pointed out. Treat your virtual interview the same way. Open Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or your virtual platform of choice, sit down, and be prepared to start early if your interviewer prefers. Use the extra time to review your talking points.