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Virtual Interview Do's and Don'ts

A woman wearing headphones is using a laptop at home.

​While virtual interviews have many benefits and minimize inconvenience for both the interviewer and interviewee, a majority of college students and emerging professionals today still report feeling awkward or nervous about these remote recruiting interactions.

In a recent survey by Handshake, nearly 53 percent of college students said they were worried they wouldn't be able to make as strong of a connection and communicate as effectively with recruiters remotely as they would in person.

Virtual Interview Do's

Renowned business leader Aaron Craig Mitchell, the former HR director at Netflix, has conducted job interviews for over 20 years. He addresses students' concerns about creating genuine connection with these do's for virtual interviews.

1) Do Aim for Authenticity

Mitchell encourages students to "lean into authenticity" as they assess an organization. Aspects such as authenticity and vulnerability are now major parts of discussions around leadership and business. "That's the one thing [students] have that nobody else can replicate," he says.

The assimilation process remains the toughest challenge for a college student transitioning into a role in corporate America. "The more of you shown through the interview that actually gets you the job means that organization is a place that embraces these aspects of you," Mitchell says.

For Mitchell, authenticity was what initiated his success.

"When I was interviewing in college, I heard 'no' much more than 'yes'—I didn't get any jobs coming right out of college," he says. "But finally, I got tired of trying to be somebody, and I started being myself. That's when I started landing jobs, and I've been doing that ever since."

Present Your True Personality

Including bits of your personality in your responses is a part of authenticity during virtual interviews, for several reasons. "One, because you can assess whether or not this organization is one where you can be successful with the knowledge you have," Mitchell says. "Two, if you were to fake your persona, and that's the one that got you the job, then what do you do when you show up?"

To be authentic, "[w]eave in your personal narrative and topics important to you in every question," Mitchell advises. Presenting your personality in subtle ways to virtual interviewers highlights elements of authenticity by "leaning into your personal truths, your personal stories and your actual interests."

Mitchell believes the interviews he aced with his authenticity resulted in the most fulfilling jobs for him, compared with the jobs he obtained via responding to questions in a very structured format. He notes that "the person who shows up on Monday is the person that they really hired. If there's a whole bunch of dissonance between those two versions, then there's going to be a hard situation."

2) Do Prepare to Pivot

"You almost have to practice being yourself in this new medium so that you can work out the kinks of the awkwardness," Mitchell says. He strongly recommends that all students and emerging professionals practice a few iterations of virtual interviews prior to the actual one.

Practicing virtual interviews helps students smoothly ease into the real call and predict how their interactions will play out with the recruiter. According to Mitchell, this helps interviewees assess "whether the interviewer is just going to rattle off questions or we're actually going to spend time talking and getting to know each other."

During practice interviews, "use your video to get feedback on how you're presenting yourself," Mitchell advises. "One thing I always encourage people to do during virtual interview preparation is to look at yourself on screen while responding to interview questions."

3) Do Express Genuine Interest

Students and emerging professionals should express genuine interest to keep the interviewer engaged throughout the entire virtual conversation. "If you're boring yourself, you're probably boring the interviewer," Mitchell warns.

Incorporate Body Language

"[I]f it's a video interview, keep your video on" to maximize nonverbal communication, Mitchell advises. "I think there are some people who are not necessarily comfortable with video, and think maybe it's an option, but it's always best to ask at the minimum." Mitchell sets his camera at an angle that frames himself speaking in a natural way and allows the interviewer to read his body language, and he encourages students to do the same.

Mitchell stresses the importance of body language "because what a lot of people lose in video interviews is that nonverbal communication, which adds a lot to how we as people communicate." While radiating genuine interest to the interviewer is not necessarily a breeze, Mitchell says body language amplifies your verbal expression.

Virtual Interview Don'ts

For virtual interview don'ts, "there are certain things that are probably going to increase the chances the interviewer gets annoyed or takes points off, and it really depends," Mitchell says. "At the end of the day, remember that there's no hard rule."

1) Don't Distract

Remove distractions that could otherwise appear on screen. Mitchell urges students to shut off their notifications and close other browsers prior to joining a virtual interview. "It's really obvious when you're looking at something else or you've got your phone. It's really easy to get sucked into something, and because we can't multitask, we're not listening actively," he explains.

To further minimize distractions, don't check your phone. "You may be looking off camera, but your eyes aren't off camera, and the reflection from your eyeballs or your glasses may be reflected in your video," Mitchell says.

Avoid Virtual Backgrounds

Virtual backgrounds generate mixed responses from employers. However, Mitchell prefers a blank wall instead because "virtual backgrounds can be distracting."

For students who choose a virtual background due to their living situation, Mitchell advises them to "use the least amount of distraction or elements that add to your personality" to successfully present themselves to interviewers.

2) Don't Impersonate

"The job of interviewing is not to get every person to like your responses, but to figure out where you fit the best," Mitchell says. He recommends that students and emerging professionals use "I don't know" as a safe answer when they truly don't know how to respond to an interviewer's question.

"Probably for 90 percent of my interviewing life, I have said, 'I don't know,' and it's worked wonders for me," Mitchell says. He urges students to recognize the power "I don't know" holds, recalling how this simple strategy landed him his job at Netflix.

When asked how he would succeed with his background, Mitchell replied, "I don't know." He then added, "I've never known how to do the job until I got into the job, but I've succeeded in industries I've never worked in before."

Honesty Is the Best Policy

While students may worry that "I don't know" seems inauthentic, as opposed to making up a response on the spot, Mitchell reassures them that it's the exact opposite. "If the concern is lacking authenticity, then 'I don't know' is the best thing to say, because it's often very obvious when people do make things up on the fly."
Interviewees can immediately follow up "I don't know" with "However, is it all right if I take a stab at how I might do that?" Mitchell says this disarms interviewers and makes them curious to hear what's next.

3) Don't Ramble

"Be as clear and crisp as possible. If you're naturally nervous, and your energy is usually one where you ramble, then that calls for more practice," Mitchell says.

That means leaving room for the interviewer. "It's a great interview when you create a space for them to follow up. It's a really terrible interview where you've been talking for 15 minutes after the first question," Mitchell says. "You should never allow yourself to talk that long without creating space for the interviewer to check in.
"Try to give time increments, about 15 to 30 seconds, for each of the four aspects provided in the STAR framework," he says. "You want your responses to be short. No response in an interview should be more than two minutes."

Use STAR to Stay Concise

Students and emerging professionals who have trouble giving short responses can follow the four parts of the STAR method, as coined by DDI:

  1. Situation: Lay down the context of the situation and circumstances.
  2. Task: Identify the duty and responsibility you took on to achieve your goal.
  3. Action: Describe what you did to complete the task or reach your goal.
  4. Response: Highlight the positive outcome that your actions generated, followed by any key takeaways learned or quantifiable results from this experience.

By using the STAR method to stay concise and express personality in their responses, students and emerging professionals can convey authenticity to the virtual interviewer, Mitchell says.


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