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Learning How To Prepare For An Online Interview

How can I prepare for an online interview?

To prepare for an online job interview there are 6 elements that you need to think about:

1. What you’ve sent them, probably your CV

2. Managing the technology

3. What you look and sound like

4. How you respond to questions

5. The questions you ask

6. Your attitude, before and during the interview

Generally, interviewers will be looking to establish 3 things from meeting you online:  

  • Can you do the job?
  • Do you want it? And 
  • Will you fit in? 

So that’s the background to your interview; and in order to prepare for an online interview you will want to make sure that what you say and do helps them. 

1. What you’ve sent them – probably your CV:

This needs to be a statement of the best side of you, particularly written for the job you’re applying for. What are the key competencies that they’re looking for? 

The only point of the CV is to get you an interview, so any format that is clear, concise and gains the interest of the reader will do. Two pages maximum, including your name at the top, your contact details, and maybe a short statement of who you are.

adjusting your cv

Work history

The main part is your work history. Set out from your most recent job and going back to your education. What they’ll probably be looking for are: 

  • The company or organisation you worked for 
  • The dates you were employed (month and year, to month and year)
  • The role you had
  • What you achieved in the role 

Talk about what you accomplished, not just what you were employed to do, unless that’s not obvious from the job title. Think about the job you’re applying for and the key competencies they’re looking for. Now think about the experience and achievements that you have that are relevant to these.

Specifically, they’ll also be looking for how long were you employed in each role; are you moving on frequently, or are you a stayer? Are there any gaps in your work history? Tell the truth. Whatever the reason, explain any gaps.

The layout

Make it clear and easy to read. It doesn’t need to be fancy or creative, just clear and informative. Bullet points are better than sentences. Make it easy to scan quickly: your interviewer may be looking at tens, if not hundreds of CVs. What will make yours stand out?

You may choose to include a photo of yourself, but that’s not required. If you do, then choose one of head and shoulders, where you’re looking directly at the camera, and smiling. 

Education and qualifications

Include your education and your qualifications. Again, tell the truth. If you did the course but didn’t get the qualification, then don’t make it look as though you did; you may need to provide the certificate or diploma if you’re offered the role. And anything special that you’ve accomplished or are involved with, or interesting hobbies.  

All these elements will give the interviewer clues to who you are, how you work, your interests, your temperament and your potential. 

Check it, check it and check it again!

Read it through again before you send it. Double-check the spelling and that the dates match. Don’t ignore the spell-check on your computer, though it won’t always be right. One tip from Nigel Temple, from The Marketing Compass, is to read it out loud to yourself to check for any errors. 

And read it again just before the interview to remind yourself what you’ve written about yourself. Also have a copy in front of you when you are in the interview, for you to refer to if you need to. 

2. Managing the technology. 

You’ll be sent a link to join the interview. It’s likely to be Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Skype, and other platforms are possible. A few hours before the interview time, check that the link is working on your computer. Some platforms may require a download first, which may take a few minutes, so you don’t want to give yourself the pressure of having to cope with that just before the scheduled interview time. 

Ideally, you’ll want to use a computer for the interview; this will probably give you the best sound and vision. You could use your smart phone, though you will need to find a way of placing it so you don’t have to hold it. A smart phone may give the interviewer a more restricted view of you. 

Whether you’re using a laptop or a smart phone make sure it’s charged up, or keep it plugged in for the duration of the interview: online calls will take more power than you will probably usually use.  

using zoom for an online interview

3. What you look and sound like:

Look and Sound the part

The two most important technical elements are the sound and the vision. You need to be heard easily, and you need to be seen clearly, then your interviewer will get the best of you and not be distracted by the technology. 

You can check how you come across by applying for a free Zoom account, and then having a meeting with yourself for a few minutes to check the sound and the vision. Record yourself on your computer or on the cloud, and play it back to see what you look and sound like.

If you have a modern laptop, the camera in the laptop will probably be ok. Give the lens a quick wipe with a dry clean cloth to make sure it’s clean (one of the participants on my online presentations course didn’t realise that every time he opened the top of his computer he accidently put his thumb on the lens, meaning that it acquired a film of grease!). 

using headphones for an online interview

If you’ve got a wired headset, or good quality wireless headset, that will provide a good level of sound quality. Ear buds or the set of earphones that come with your phone will probably also work well. Again, check your own recording of yourself to check your sound.   

It’s behind you!

As you prepare for your online interview watch your background. What’s behind you? It doesn’t need to be an empty space but your background will send a signal to your interviewer about your ability to get organised. And what’s behind you will be distracting, to some extent. Just think of someone being interviewed at home on TV. I expect most of us will look behind them to see what’s on their bookshelves or walls, and not pay full attention to what they’re saying. You don’t want to distract your interviewer from what you’re saying. 

Where to look?

Position your camera so it’s at your eye level or just above. If you have your camera too low, it’ll look to the interviewer as though he or she is looking up at you, from under your chin! You may need to put your laptop on a pile of books to get it high enough. (I use a small child’s stool on the desk)

raising the camera on a laptop for an online interview

Position yourself so that your eyes are in the top half of screen. Don’t get too close to your camera; your head should not fill the screen. Don’t sway backwards and forwards, or side to side; it’s distracting. Again, have a practice and record yourself and see what you think. 
Look at your camera; not at the screen; otherwise your audience just see you looking down the whole time. You could tape a paper arrow at the top of your screen pointing to the camera lens to remind you to look at the camera.

Your camera needs to be facing away from a major light source, like a window, or a lamp or ceiling light. Your face needs to be lit evenly. If possible move your camera (computer) so that you’re facing the window. This is the best lighting. If you have to face your camera to the window, then at least draw the curtains or pull down the blind. 

4. What you look like online

What to wear

looking smart for an online interview

Depending on the job you’re applying for will depend on what you want to wear. You need to look as though you’ve made an effort. Keep your hair from your face, and don’t wear distracting jewellery. Avoid wearing checks or stripes as they don’t show up well on camera. If you wear glasses, have a trial run on zoom and record yourself to check that your eyes can be seen – if you don’t have anti-glare coating on your glasses then it may be more difficult for the interviewer to see your eyes. If you are getting glare from your glasses then adjust the lighting or take them off!  


You won’t want to be interrupted or distracted either by your phone, a text, an email coming in, or by someone else in the house wanting your attention. Turn off your phone and your email, and warn others in the household that you’re going to be online for an important meeting. Maybe put a polite notice on the outside of the door to your room, with your expected finish time. 

a do not disturb sign on the door

What to say 

Each interviewer will be different, depending on their experience of interviewing and their knowledge of the job you’re applying for. And therefore they will have different questions to ask you. 

He or she may ask you to take them through your CV. This needs to be very brief, just the headlines, with you highlighting your major successes in the various roles. If they want more detail they will ask for it. An important element that the interviewer will probably be looking for is why you chose to leave each role. 

Or they may ask you to ‘tell me a bit about yourself’. You will want to be ready for this. Here are some ideas that you could use to think about what you might say in response. It’s worth spending some time writing down your thoughts about how you might respond; maybe not to learn it by heart, necessarily, but so you have a track to follow. As a presentations coach I would recommend this ‘presentation’ lasts between a minute and 90 seconds.

  • Your values
  • What you can do – your top competences
  • What you’ve done
  • Best thing you’ve done
  • Whom you’ve enjoyed working for and why
  • Problems you’ve solved
  • What others have said/would say about you

The STARLA Interviewing Technique

Most interviewers will want to find out how you perform in various situations: what you did and how it turned out. One of the classic interview techniques is to use the STARLA approach. This stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result, Learning, and Application. Here’s a quick example: 


“Tell me about a time when you showed initiative”


man on a helpdesk

“I was working on the help line, it was just coming up to our closing time of 5 pm on a Friday, when I took a call from a customer who needed a plumbing part urgently for a customer of his” 


“I realised that if he didn’t get the part he would have to wait for us to reopen on Monday, or go to another supplier, and I knew that our parts counter had closed about an hour ago.


“I decided that I needed to use my initiative and see if I could locate the part. I took his phone number and details of the part he needed and told him I would call him back within about 30 minutes. Then I went into the warehouse and found the part he needed. I checked the price, called the customer back and asked him how quickly he could get to our premises. He said he was about 30 minutes away. I said that if he could pay for it by card over the phone, I would wait for him to arrive. He gave me his card details and I processed the payment. I then waited for him to arrive and gave him the part” 


“He was absolutely delighted and relieved, because it meant he could fit the part for his customer in the morning, and my boss was pleased with me on Monday when I told her what I’d done”


“I realised that I had taken a risk because that wasn’t strictly my job, but it seemed important to do it and take the chance. I realised that I can show initiative when it’s needed” 


“Since then I’ve consciously looked for more situations where I can be of better service to our customers; there’s no doubt I’m now more proactive in helping our customers”

Sometimes you’ll be part of a team. In the interview situation it’s important that you talk about what you did, not just the team. So, for example, you might say something like: “we worked as a team to…. My role was to … and what I did was …. This helped us to achieve….. “If you’re likely to be a little nervous, have a glass of water at hand, or even better a few small mints, so you can pop one into the side of your mouth if you go dry.

Working with others

You may be asked how you get on with others. In particular you may be asked how you dealt with a difficult member of the public or a difficult colleague, or even a difficult boss. So as you prepare for an online interview think about those situations and come up with some positive examples of how you handled difficult or challenging behaviour from others. 

5. The Questions You Ask:

Your interviewer will want to know how interested you are in the advertised role and their organisation. So do your homework. Find out about the company or organisation. Go to their website and study it. What do they do? What are they proud of? What’s their Vision? Where have they come from? What are their values? Who are their partners? Where are they based? Are they World-wide? 

See if your interviewer is featured on the website. If not, go to LinkedIn to look for their profile. Notice how they present themselves. What’s their background? What do others say about him or her in the Skills, Endorsements and Recommendations sections?

Do a Google search on the organisation and your interviewer. Have they written articles, or do they deliver a podcast, for example? 

Take a genuine interest. What’s your impression? And so, what questions would you have about the organisation or the role?  

6. Finally – Your Attitude, before and during the interview

You need to think positively about this experience. Remember that the organisation have already chosen to interview you, so they must believe that you have at least some of the right qualifications and experience.

Do focus on all the good things about you: your experience and qualifications, and your character and personality; how well you get on with people and how well you get on with your job. Maybe write yourself a few notes about these qualities to have in front of you. 

Even if you stumble in the interview in answering a question, it may not really matter, just carry on: the interviewer will understand that you’re probably a little nervous and that it’s an unfamiliar way of meeting for most people.

Finally, give yourself the time to prepare well to master the technology and to have a practice at what you might say in reply to the questions. With some careful thought, good preparation and a positive attitude you can present yourself well online! If you think you need some professional guidance we offer Online Interview Skills Coaching sessions. Find out more here.

successful man after his online interview
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