Online interviews are part of the recruitment process and post-COVID, they are here to stay, says Sarah Howson

For any busy executive, a video interview can be an efficient use of time; we all know that first impressions count, whether it is a face-to-face meeting or online. Ensuring you approach your online interview seriously, showing up as your best self, is fundamental.

How you present yourself will not be forgotten; you must get comfortable operating in a virtual world, especially as a Business Support Professional.

Be Prepared

It goes without saying that you will have researched the role and the organisation and carried out some LinkedIn research around the company to get a sense of who you will be interviewed by. Preparation is key to the interview.

Being able to convey the passion you have for the role you are applying for is important. Finish your online meeting feeling proud, knowing that you gave everything you could. Coming across as professional whilst sharing your interest in the role and the company you are interviewing for is all part of the process. One quote that I always share, and feel is particularly in tune with the service mindset of the Business Support Professional, is:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

With this in mind, I hope this article will inspire you to step back and think about how you prepare for your next online interview. Being in the spotlight online can be nerve-wracking, but as a Business Support Professional, you will know that failing to plan is planning to fail.

Online Interview Preparation

Check the details

Prior to your online meeting, have you confirmed with the organiser that you have received all the details? On the day of the interview, it is always good practice and polite to reconfirm that you are looking forward to your interview and that the details you have been sent are correct – you could even include your CV. It does not hurt to add your telephone contact details to the email in case there is an issue with technology.

Check the tech

Have you checked that the tech works? Whatever platform you are using, it is best to test it with a friend or someone you trust just to make sure there are no issues. Is the Wi-Fi strong and working well for you? Are other devices turned off? Sound is key; test it to make sure you can hear. Check that the webcam is at the right height; ideally, you want to be looking straight into the camera. Lifting your laptop/device up higher is often required. Do this in plenty of time in case you need to restart your device or download an app. If something goes wrong – be ready to take control and steer to Plan B.

Check your surroundings

Your surroundings are important – your background is part of what you are presenting and one of the first elements your interviewer will see. Find somewhere quiet with a professional background, or better still, your usual home office environment. Lighting is important; think about windows and the impact the outside weather may have on where you are sat. What you are wearing matters too; you want to leave a professional impression. Clear your desk of distractions. Avoid drinking tea/coffee out of a branded or slogan mug. Think about your audience.

Taking notes

Do you have a pen and notebook handy to make notes throughout the interview? This is an obvious tip, yes, but when the webcam only shows the top half of your body, no one can see what it is you are doing, and you do not want to appear rude or dismissive, so just let your audience know you have a notebook and pen in front of you for taking notes. If you are not writing, be conscious to put your pen down so it is not a distraction for you or the interviewer.

Have important documents to hand

Have you got a copy of the job description printed out? Do you have the version of your CV you used to apply for the role with you? It is a good idea to save your CV on your desktop in case you are asked to screen share it online; think about your desktop and what is saved there – is it tidy and well presented? A screen full of random files does not scream ‘organised.’ When you are talking about your own experience, use the keywords you have seen in the job description. Have these to hand and in sight to remind you.

During the Online Interview

Listen intently

Without those obvious social cues such as a strong handshake, eye contact, or mirroring, how you navigate and openly show you are engaged during your interview may require some finessing. Are you smiling while you are listening? Nodding, rather than speaking the word ‘yes’? This will show you are following the conversation and works better on video interviews. Be wary that you are not breaking the conversation flow with a sound to ensure the person speaking does not feel like they are interrupted. Remember that a smile can mean so much on a video – and looking into the camera. As crazy as it sounds, a post-it note with an arrow pointing at the camera and a smiley face will prompt you to do this! Do not let lack of human interaction dampen your warmth; try and be as personable as possible.

Read the room

Even if you are online, having a high level of emotional intelligence is a unique skill; paying attention to the body language of those interviewing you throughout the call can pay dividends. As well as answering questions, asking questions, when appropriate, keeps the online interview balanced; there should be a natural flow of conversation back and forth. Aim to feel a connection and a building of rapport. Emotional intelligence is one of the key strengths of a high performing Business Support Professional, and being able to communicate effectively over video and have an element of gravitas online will only stand you in good stead. Your posture and ensuring you are sitting up straight are two little things that will have a big impact; be comfortable with where you are sitting.

Be confident and own your answers

Only you know your strengths, your experience, and your career journey. You are unique to you! However, effectively articulating and communicating those strengths in a pressurised environment can be a challenge. Ensure you are prepared: think of various examples to use if you are posed certain questions, and have the STAR method in the back of your mind (this is an interview technique that gives you a straightforward format you can use to tell a story by laying out the Situation, Task, Action, and Result).

Be thoughtful with your words. No matter how comfortable you feel disclosing information, always speak in a manner that is professional and courteous. Be authentic and above everything, be kind; no one takes well to hearing from someone who is negative about previous employers. A positive attitude far outweighs a pessimistic mindset.

Following Up – Post-Online Interview Advice

Once your online interview has finished, it does not stop there. How you follow up after an online interview goes a long way in making sure you stand out as a professional candidate. Send a polite thank you email; follow up with any information you promised to send promptly or confirm next steps as you understood them. This could include a mention of any resources, books, salary details, references, etc. It is also an opportunity to share your excitement about the role and summarise a few of your key strengths. If there is an element of your experience you feel you did not share throughout the discussion, this would be the perfect opportunity to reiterate.

Whilst first impressions count, the last impression you leave is just as important. Perhaps you would like to connect with the interviewer on LinkedIn too? There is a fine line; be careful not to appear too keen. Getting the balance right will leave a positive impression.

Sarah Howson is a PA/EA professional with over twenty years of C Suite-level experience. Sarah’s talent for building relationships and connecting people, as well as her extensive EA experience, was a great foundation for launching Strategic PA Recruitment ... (Read More)

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