How to Nail Online Interviews: 4 Things You Need to Know

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, online remote interviews have exploded in popularity.

And, let’s be real, they’re probably here to stay.

Online interviews may be conducted over Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, or any other video chat service.

As such, they’re an odd hybrid of in-person and phone interviews.

  • On one hand, interviewers can see and hear you just like in an in-person meeting.
  • On the other hand, all participants remain physically separated. They can’t really achieve the same relaxed rapport during a remote interview that might be possible in a meeting.

So, if you’re a recent PhD or PhD student, how do you do an online interview?

How does one act natural under these kinds of tense and unnatural conditions?

That’s what we’re here to discuss today!

If you’ve taught or TA’d courses online in recent months, you’ve probably already realized how much extra preparation a successful Zoom online interview or meeting requires.

The same holds for online interviews. You must prepare your lines, troubleshoot tech beforehand, and assess how you appear on the other side of that screen.

Whether you’re job-hunting within academia or beyond it, this article offers online interview tips to help you master this strange, new art of remote online interviewing.

1. Rehearse

Rehearse your answers! It’s not enough to know what to say; actually practice saying it!

Remember, an interview is a performance. The interviewer asks a series of prewritten questions and the interviewee (you) must answer them in a specific, acceptable way.

Actors rehearse their lines before going on stage. Why shouldn’t you too?

This advice is not unique to the online interview process. But it’s particularly crucial if you’re the kind of person who has trouble engaging with, or achieving a rapport with, people via a phone or Zoom.

Simply talking ‘off the cuff’ is risky. Trust us, awkward pauses are even more awkward during a Zoom online interview than in person.

So, anticipate the questions, write up answers, and practice those answers out loud.

For example, almost every non-academic interview will begin with two questions:

  • Tell us about yourself.
  • What attracted you to this job?

Make sure you have answers ready to go. Your PhD career transition story is a great source of inspiration for answering these two interview questions.

For the full experience, rehearse in front of friends or family. But even if you don’t want to do that (can’t blame you), reciting answers alone is still great practice.

Call it an ‘elevator speech’ or a ‘canned answer’ or whatever else you want. Point is, you need pre-written, well-rehearsed answers to these questions for any online interview.

2. Test Your Tech

Okay, how many times have you seen a professor or guest speaker at your department struggle with technology?

Maybe they couldn’t get the mic to work. Maybe their computer didn’t have the right dongle to hook up to the PA system. Maybe the projector was stuck on VGA mode.

Regardless, you’ve surely rolled your eyes after the upteenth time this happened.

So, don’t let it happen during your online interview!

For instance, if you’ve never used Zoom, test it with a friend first. Further,

  • Download the latest version of Zoom.
  • Make sure Zoom has permission to access and record your computer screen! You’ll need this if you want to share screen at any point during the Zoom interview.
  • Know what buttons to press to start the meeting and where to enter the ID. Oh, and make sure you have the meeting ID handy.
  • Learn how to toggle the audio and visual functions on/off. “You’re on mute!” was the defining quote of 2020. Don’t let it happen to you!
  • And, of course, ensure that you’ll have a stable internet connection.

Bottom line: make sure you’re fully comfortable with your tech. Remote Interviews are stressful enough as is; no need to throw technical difficulties into the mix.

3. Mind Your Appearance

This tip covers dress, posture, and lighting.

First, what should you wear to an online interview?

Simple: wear what you normally would for an in-person interview. Remember, always dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

Typically, this will mean something in the business-casual range of the fashion spectrum. If you have glasses, put them on. Shoes and pants are not strictly necessary for online interviews, but they help keep you focused on the task at hand.

As for posture, it is very important to sit up straight during your Zoom interview.

Employers are often nervous about hiring people to work remotely. They may fear that workers won’t be as productive at home as they would be at an office.

Dispel this fear! Sit up straight. You may be at home, but you must look ready for work.

Finally, proper lighting is practically Zoom 101.

Position a light source in front of you, not behind. A light behind you will make you appear dark, like a silhouette. Only a front-positioned light will reflect off your face and into the camera.

4. Learn to Look Interviewers in the Eye

This is harder than it sounds. Why?

Because, during a Zoom online interview, the only way to look someone in the eye is to not look them in the eye. You must look at the camera, not the people you’re talking to.

This is an extraordinarily unintuitive thing to do.

For academics who spend considerable time presenting papers or lecturing to large groups of students, looking away from our audience is quite a challenge!

(This is, incidentally, where theater actors often stumble when making the transition to TV or film acting.)

One common tactic is to tape a picture of someone (friend, family member, stock photo, whatever) next to your webcam and look at that. At the very least, it’ll give you something to focus on besides the pitless black void of the camera.

Another trick is to physically elevate your computer by stacking it on some books or something.

Normally, when you look at your computer screen (typically located below the webcam), it will appear to the interviewer as if you’re looking down.

However, by elevating the computer, you’ll be forced to look up at the screen, and hence the webcam. The angle between your line of sight and the camera’s during your Zoom interview will be minimized.

This will also help you remember to sit up straight.

Don’t underestimate the importance of making eye contact during a Zoom online interview. If the hiring manager is trying to decide between several highly qualified candidates (as is often the case), this element of personal connection might swing the decision in your favor.


Acing job interviews is quite an art. It takes time and multiple tries to master.

And there are several factors about remote online interviews that make them especially tricky to get right.

The most important advice here is to practice, practice, practice! Rehearse your lines, test your tech, mind your appearance, and learn to keep eye contact.

Finally, please check out this post about conducting informational interviews via phone or video chat.

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