Grad15: Web interview etiquette for graduate students

For this week’s Grad15 mini-webinar, Melissa Werner, Certified Special Events Professional and Executive Director of the Office of University Events and Protocol, joined us to share tips for taking part in an online interview.  

If you are completing your graduate degree and hitting the job market in the coming weeks or months, you’ll be navigating a new hiring landscape. With social distancing now a thing (at least temporarily), many employers have shifted to virtual interviews. Luckily, many familiar protocols and etiquettes of in-person interviews equally apply to virtual ones – though there may be some tweaking here and there. Below, we’ve itemized what’s the same, what’s unique, and what you really need to pay attention to in a virtual interview. 

Interviews: What’s the Same 

Just as you would for an in-person interview, make sure you’re prepared. If you’re unfamiliar with the platform being used, explore it in advance. Make sure you have the right plug-ins, extensions, or apps needed to connect to the meeting and ensure your device is compatible with the technology. Most importantly, have a back-up plan: have an alternate contact number for a member of the interview team in case of technical difficulties. Practice using the technology by doing a mock interview with a friend or colleague.  

During the interview, present yourself professionally: 

  • be at your computer and ready to log on or dial in punctually;  

  • Turn off extra electronics (phones, tablets, TVs, notifications on your laptop);  

  • make eye contact and address your interviewers by name to show your engagement;  

  • come prepared with your own questions; 

  • promptly send ‘thank you’ notes to committee members. 

 Web Interviews: You Still Need to Dress for Success

Our current work-from-home environment often means we can enjoy a modicum of concession to comfort when Zooming into meetings with our faculty, our peers, and our colleagues. Although it may seem obvious, dress as you would for an in-person interview – this isn’t the place to rock casual attire or unkempt hair. 

And if you missed the hapless ABC reporter who made ripples online for doing a segment from home sans pants this week: avoid the temptation to dress to impress only from the waist up. 

Speaking of appearances: a unique element to the online interview is your staging. Remember, your environment can speak volumes. Before your interview, select your location carefully.  

Conduct the interview from a space as free as possible from distractions. In our current environment, many of us are working and conducting interviews and meetings from home. While your cat jumping onto the table is definitely cute, it distracts the focus from where it needs to be – on you. More critically, though, it distracts you – during a situation in which you’re already likely a bit stressed. 

As much as is possible, control your environment: let housemates know you’re not to be disturbed, lock pets comfortably away elsewhere, and invest in a set of decent microphone-equipped headphones.  If something does happen during your interview, retain a sense of grace and professionalism. Your ability to handle an interruption without letting it throw you off will speak well to what kind of employee you would be.     

Finally, make sure your physical space isn’t a distraction to your interviewers by considering your lighting, camera placement, and background: 

  • Find a place with bright, warm lighting (natural if possible). Avoid a grainy, shadowed appearance by keeping your lighting overhead and facing you. Backlighting (lighting from behind you) can give you a shadowy ‘witness protection program’ vibe – not something you want in an interview. 

  • Watch your angles. Position your camera straight in front of you, if possible. Placed too low, your interviewers will be looking up your chin; too high, and they’ll be staring down your nose.  Not sure about the best angle?  View this helpful video from ASU photographer Andy DeLisle.  

  • Ditch the busy background. Zoom backgrounds are fun because they can hide a plethora of room décor and cleaning sins. At the same time, a busy, silly, or bright background pulls focus from you. Find a place with a simple, clean, tidy background. Outdoor environments might seem like a good idea, but beware that noise – including microphone muffling from even the slightest breeze – could be problematic. If you really need a virtual background, choose a simple one.  ASU has several backgrounds you can use, including some simple ones.  

Web interviews:  Beware of "Zoom Fog"

As we’ve migrated en masse to virtual conferencing these past months, researchers have confirmed what we’re all beginning to feel: the Zoom ‘fog’ is real. Minus the tiny nonverbal cues of in-person interaction, videoconferences can be mentally fatiguing – and this can be to your detriment, especially if your interviewers have been on and off virtual interviews all day. 

That means it’s particularly important to stand out (positively). At the end of the day, articulate, well-reasoned answers to questions and your qualifications are still the key to successfully landing the job.  

But…just as importantly, an interview is an opportunity for prospective employers to get to know you. In an online environment where many of the nuances of in-person nonverbal communication can be lost, it’s all the more important to do what you can to maximize your engagement with your interviewers. 

Grad15 is a mini-webinar series around graduate student professional development, support and resources. Join us for two upcoming special sessions as we cap off the spring semester: