How to Navigate Phone and Video Job Interviews

You don't need a great setup, but you should dress the part -- even if they can't see you. (Teltris)

If you're currently in an active job search, you'll likely be asked to interview for open positions by phone or video meeting.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, employers often brought candidates into the office or site to meet in person. Today, with remote work and safer-at-home orders still in place, many employers find phone and video interviews to be as effective and often easier and more efficient than in-person interviews.

You, the interviewee, have to navigate the limitations and opportunities phone and video interviews offer. Let's look at some of those.

Phone Interviews

Positive aspects of phone interviews include:

  • You can have notes, informational sheets and data in front of you for easy reference as you navigate the interview.
  • Your facial expressions and body language aren't shown to the interviewer. So if you cringe at your answer, they won't see you.
  • You can be anywhere in the world to take the call.

Negative aspects of phone interviews include:

  • Lack of body language cues means the listener needs to get the full intention of what you're saying from your words.
  • Background noise can sound amplified, requiring you to be someplace very quiet.
  • It's easy for the interviewee and interviewer to get distracted.

Tips for navigating phone interviews:

  • Limit distractions in your environment when you take the call. Go to someplace quiet, where you won't be interrupted by small children, pets, dishwashers, etc.
  • Gather any reference materials you'll need -- your resume, notes on the company, bulleted lists of your accomplishments, etc. -- and place them in front of you. Highlight or underline the key points you want to make in the interview. This will make it easier to find when you need to look at your notes.
  • Dress professionally. While the interviewer can't see you, you will feel more ready and polished for the call. This really works!
  • Smile. Just like dressing professionally, they won't be able to see you, but your smile actually alters your vocal tonality and makes you sound more approachable.
  • Pace yourself. It's common to speak really fast during a phone interview. Instead, put a note in front of you with the word "SLOW" written on it to remind you not to rush.

Video Interviews

Positive aspects of video interviews include:

  • Body language and facial expressions help you assess how you're doing. Are they nodding in agreement as you speak? Did they appear confused by your last statement?
  • It's easier to not interrupt each other when you can see who's about to speak.
  • You can still have notes in front of you, but you'll need to look at the camera more than the notes.

Negative aspects of video interviews include:

  • You aren't able to shake hands and greet them as you would in an in-person meeting.
  • Technology can fail or become cumbersome to use.
  • Interviewers and applicants can get distracted by email notifications, people walking into their room and cellphones ringing.

Tips for navigating video interviews:

  • The interviewer expects that you'll dress professionally and act as you would in an in-person interview. Be sure to wear what you'd wear in person, sit comfortably and look at the camera (not at the computer screen).
  • Control your environment. Remove distractions (close the door to keep children, pets and other interrupters out) and ensure the background of your video is appropriate for the meeting. Dirty dishes piled up in the sink, an unmade bed or laundry on the floor send a negative image.
  • Frame your face. Ensure the top of your head is about one-quarter of the way from the top of the video frame. Sitting too far back makes you look really small, and if you're too close, your face becomes too large for the frame.
  • Speak naturally, at a good pace and smile when appropriate. While you're not with them in person, you can still communicate friendliness through facial expressions.
  • Give a brief pause after they ask a question. In some cases, the technology of video calls means a small delay in transmission. Giving a pause after you're asked a question ensures the video catches up to everyone interviewing you.

Phone and video interviews can be unnerving if you're not used to the technology or the idea. Practice with a friend ahead of time so you can ensure you sound confident and clear as you communicate.

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