How to Ace an Interview, COVID Style

By Lisa Sietstra November 20, 2020

UA Grantham’s Career Services Team Is Here to Help

Preparing for a new career can feel daunting. Writing a resume, polishing your online profile, building your professional network, and getting ready for an interview—there is so much to do! Not to mention all the complications that a global pandemic has added in being able to connect with potential employers and show off your skills and experience.

Fortunately, the Career Services team at UA Grantham is eager to guide you through the process and help you get ready for the job of your dreams.


Building an Online Presence


Many jobseekers have relied on digital resumes, virtual portfolios, and online profiles for years. But, of course, they have become absolutely essential since COVID-19 has forced many organizations’ hiring processes completely online.

Now many hiring managers start their own search with a web search—of you. What comes up when you search your name? Is your LinkedIn profile up-to-date? Are your personal social profiles protected? And when someone’s trying to get in touch, do you have a professional-looking email address and a professional-sounding voicemail? Having a prospective employer contact you at or welcoming them with an abrasive voicemail message (or having a full inbox that prevents them from leaving a voicemail) does not inspire confidence, particularly when you won’t have the opportunity to impress in person.

If you’re feeling less than confident in how you might appear online to prospective employers, the Career Services team has a wide array of resources that can help you build (or clean up) your virtual presence and get you on the right track for landing the right job.

We can even help you have a great virtual interview.


Preparing for Virtual Interviews


Regardless of how you interview, the end goal is the same: demonstrate your excellence and prove what a great asset you will be to the organization. And while many of the traditional guidelines will still apply for giving a great interview, there are some new things to consider when interviewing virtually.

First, be certain of your meeting details. For an in-person interview, you’d expect to have the address, building-specific directions, and a contact name for your arrival. Even though you probably won’t be leaving your house, you still need to get directions: Will they call you? Will you dial in to a conference line? Is there a link to click? Will you need a laptop or desktop computer, or will a phone or tablet suffice? Will you be on camera? Is there any potential confusion with time zones? Once you have all this information, you can start preparing.


Getting Ready


“Virtual interview” is a broad category. Particularly in the wake of COVID-19, the available options for communicating via video or phone have exploded. While there are many popular tools that have become quite common (Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting), they are by no means the only options out there. As soon as your remote interview is scheduled, confirm that you have the most updated version of the software you’ll need and that any necessary hardware is ready to go. Test everything as soon as you can to make sure you don’t have any issues—and test again on the day of your interview to make sure nothing has changed.

You definitely do not want to be late to an interview, but it’s also possible to be too early—especially online. Some videoconferencing programs reuse the same meeting rooms, meaning that it’s possible to accidentally interrupt an earlier session by clicking the link too soon. Aim to arrive about five minutes ahead of the scheduled time: You should have already done your visual and audio troubleshooting, so that five-minute window should be plenty of time to demonstrate your punctuality and handle any last-minute technical glitches.


Showing Up


First impressions are important, especially in an interview. You won’t have a lot of time to work with, so start off on the right foot. Wear clean, professional clothes that you feel comfortable and confident in. You don’t want to be fidgety or to unintentionally call attention to your outfit; you want your interviewer focused on you, not your clothes.

When interviewing via videoconference or teleconference, that goes for your environment, too. Make sure you have a quiet space, free from extra noise (family members, excitable pets, loud appliances). For video calls, test your sound, lighting, and background ahead of time. If you’re using a phone, consider a tripod or small stand so your arms don’t get tired. Set up your camera so that you won’t end up with a glare or an unflattering angle, a bunch of negative space above your head, or unprofessional items in the background.

Have everything you’ll need well before your scheduled meeting time. It’s always a good idea to have something to write with (and something to write on). Prepare any key points you want to remember and a list of the questions that you’d like to ask. A glass of water, a backup power source, and an emergency box of tissues can also help you feel ready for anything.


Being Eloquent


Interviews are nerve-wracking. The good news is that interviewers understand this too, and they’re often sympathetic to some anxiety. In fact, showing a little nervousness can demonstrate how much you care about the interview—and how much you want the job.

Taking a big deep breath, putting on your most confident smile (whether or not your interviewer can see your face), and reminding yourself not to rush can all go a long way to a great interview. Still, speaking clearly and confidently isn’t always as easy in a remote interview. Connectivity issues, degraded audio quality, and delays can lead to interruptions or crosstalk. How can you prepare to overcome these challenges?

Practice, practice, practice! At home, exactly where you’ll be for the real deal, rehearse your key talking points and record yourself. Watching (or listening to) yourself may feel uncomfortable, but it can work wonders for helping you tweak your speaking skills and build your confidence. Plus, the Career Services team offers opportunities for mock interviews, which can help you learn how to respond to questions on the fly and get valuable feedback in real time.


Staying Engaged


Being able to see yourself on screen during a video call can be both a blessing and a curse: It can help you maintain your posture or alert you to nervous fidgeting, but it can also become a distraction. Many video platforms have an option to hide your own camera view from yourself without affecting your interviewer’s screen. Figure out how to use this ahead of time so you can quietly disable your video on your own screen if you find yourself unable to stay focused on the interviewer.

Staying engaged doesn’t mean filling in every gap in the conversation. It’s important to remember that pauses are natural! You should feel confident in taking a moment to collect your thoughts before responding. But if you’re quiet for more than a couple of seconds, it may seem like a technology glitch or it may be unclear whether you’re still talking. Get comfortable communicating verbally or through body language when you’re finished with an answer. Practice explaining when you’re taking a beat to refer to your notes, think of a good example, or jot something down.

Remember to stay engaged after the interview itself has ended! It’s often a good idea to send a brief email to your interviewer(s) after the fact to thank them for their time and to remind them how excited you are about the opportunity. It may even be appropriate to send a respectful follow-up note if you haven’t heard anything in the timeframe they suggested. Particularly this year with so many timelines and processes getting thrown out of whack, a quick reminder that you’re still interested and engaged can be a good thing. Be careful, however, not to abuse this line of communication and do not overwhelm them with multiple messages.


Get Started


Virtual interviews may have become especially common due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they’re likely here to stay. Many organizations are finding that remote interviews are just as effective as in-person meetings—and without all the hassle of finding parking, sitting in a waiting room, or even just having to wear shoes.

For our online degree students about to graduate, recent grads, and alumni seeking a job change, these virtual interviewing skills will be essential for years to come. Reach out to the UA Grantham Career Services team today to learn more about acing the interview no matter where it takes place.

About the Author

Lisa Sietstra
Lisa Sietstra is the Career Services Specialist at University of Arkansas Grantham. She is a resource for students and alumni as they make career transitions and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals. She has a Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction from Drury University, and holds the Certified Professional Resume Writer credential from the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.
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