Online versus face-to-face interview preparation - is it different?

  • 17-11-22
  • Chloe Weldon

Is there a difference in how you should prepare for an online interview compared to a face-to-face one? This is a question we are frequently asked, and whilst there may be some major differences, the preparation principles are things that should be quite familiar, but with a modernised twist.

Pre-interview research

Regardless of whether you’re meeting in person or online via Zoom, Teams, Facetime etc., it’s always a good idea to research the following before your interview as an absolute minimum:

  • Who you are meeting; and

  • The company

Who you are meeting – It’s always a nice touch to know who is who, before you arrive (or log on) to the interview. Researching their job titles, how they got to that level in their career, and what qualifications they have, can help you target and personalise your questions at the end, but also figure out if these are going to be good mentors or peers to work with.

The company – knowing who the company is and where this role sits in the bigger picture should hopefully seem like a no-brainer to research. But one big mistake made is just going onto the website and regurgitating their “About Us” page. Of course, it’s helpful to know – but delve deeper; if they are listed have a look at their last public results, check on LinkedIn to get an idea of the number of people in the team, see if there are any news articles or press releases from the company.

The interview location

Back in the 'old days' (pre-2020), when almost every interview was done face-to-face, you would check the location of the office, how long it would take to get there, and give yourself 10 minutes or so beforehand to do any last-minute touch-ups and let reception know that you had arrived.

This is still a good guide for face-to-face interviews, as it ensures you aren’t flustered on arrival and allows you to make a good first impression. It is also still a good guide for online interviews.

Whilst the location is undoubtedly going to be your home office or workspace, there are a few things that can really elevate your online interview:

  • Lighting – you don’t need an 'influencer style' ring light – but make sure there is enough light so that the interviewer can see you clearly on video

  • Video quality – internet speed plays a big part in this, but you can usually log in to the interview 5 minutes beforehand to ensure that the picture is rendering correctly and check the camera angle while you are at it

  • Sound – the most important element. You want to make sure your audio is on, but also that there is minimal background noise. If you live on the main road, make sure that you shut the windows If other people are also working from home, try using headphones so the microphone only picks up your speech and not too much other noise, or if you have pets, give them a treat or pop them in another room to limit any barking etc.

  • Background – try and set up in an area with a relatively plain background, and an area with low foot traffic. So even if there is something going on near you off-camera, the interviewers and you aren’t distracted by it

  • Posture – Find a comfortable chair where you can sit upright and look straight at the right camera. Posture is powerful and can assist with your clarity and confidence and reduce your anxiety levels in stressful situations. It can make the world of difference not just in terms of how you appear to the interviewer but also to your mindset and how you feel going into and during the interview

Knowing your resume

A trap that many people fall into on video interviews, is referring to the resume that is either open on their PC or printed out next to them (out of shot) just to be on the safe side. Just as you wouldn’t take a printed resume to your face-to-face interview and read off of it the whole time, you shouldn't depend on your CV in these circumstances either.

I’ll touch upon it a little later on, but looking at your interviewer/s onscreen and the camera in a virtual interview is just as important as eye contact in an in-person interview. If you are looking off to the side of the screen every other sentence or staring at another tab, you may not think it, but it creates a huge disconnect between the interviewer and yourself.

It’s your career history and education, so you’ve lived it. Some dates may evade your memory if they were a while ago, but try and remember some key points:

  • Months and Years of the last 2-3 roles

  • Job titles – and whether you were promoted

  • Why you moved on from those roles

  • 3-4 key responsibilities (minimum)

  • 1 major achievement/project involved in

Dressing the part

In the post-covid era, it is clear to see that the way we dress for work has changed (for the most part). You only have to look on your journey to the office and see the array of outfits. Some people are in suits and ties still, some people in activewear, jeans and trainers.

It is clear that most of us dress for our days, and this isn’t any different to working from home/online. And yes, we all know that you may be in a shirt/blouse on your top half, but your bottom half is probably still in pyjamas, or trackies with fluffy socks on!

It is ingrained in us to dress to impress for in-person interviews and you invest in good corporate wear with the aim of looking the part and impressing your potential employers. But over the last couple of years, I have seen many hoodies, gym wear, casual tops and even a dressing gown in online interviews.

This is the first impression you will give to a potential new employer - the one and only first impression. Whilst a tiny, tiny minority may not mind you being in your PJs – the majority of people will see this as you not taking the interview seriously.

Don't get me wrong, you can still be comfortable in your online interviews, but putting a collared shirt or professional blouse/top on, so at least the top half of you is dressed to impress can make all of the difference!

Building rapport

Quite possibly this is one of the most important parts of an interview. Whether it’s face-to-face or online, the interviewer is always going to see how and if you can build rapport, on top of going through the standard questions.

This may feel more natural and a little bit easier in person, but it all depends on you. If you are naturally quite confident you may prefer building rapport in person and find this easier, but others may like the layer of protection online interviews provide, and feel much more comfortable building rapport from a space they are familiar with.

Whichever side you may fall into, there are a few simple things that can help you to build rapport in either situation.

Online Interview:
  • Maintaining 'Screen Contact' – I guess this could be the equivalent of eye contact but try and be looking at the camera or your interviewer online. It may seem funny, but it’s all about body language and if you are confidently looking at them and not distracted by things around you, the shared connection can build an instant engagement and rapport.

  • Pre-Interview Chat / Address the Elephant in the Room – you can still have a bit of a chat about your day and ask how each other is to break the ice! If there is something in the background like your child or pet and if you feel it’s important to do so, point it out and make a joke out of the potential of your kid jumping on your lap or a dog barking. You never know they may also be worried about this! Obviously, that is not the ideal situation for a serious job interview.

  • Leaving Gaps – It can be hard online with multiple interviewers and/or lags on the internet and you can find yourself if you’re not careful talking over each other. Leaving a short gap for the interviewer to finish their questions and answering yours at a steady pace can help to avoid this.

  • The Handshake – (or the elbow bump/foot tap/whatever else has sprung up) This is your first interaction; so be open and ask if people are comfortable with handshakes to broach the subject. But if you both go for it – make sure it’s firm, you make eye contact and you don’t subconsciously go to wipe your hand on your trouser beforehand!!

  • Pre-Interview Chat – Again, on your way to the interview room they may initiate some small talk, or you can ask them how their day in the office is going or their weekend etc. Talk about your commute or comment on how nice the reception area is. It will help to calm your nerves and take your mind off of the 1000s of thoughts that are going through your mind at that moment.

With face-to-face interviews coming back slowly across all industries, online interviews are definitely here to stay and have become part of recruitment DNA. But whilst every interview you have may be different, online, in person, in a coffee shop, casual, very formal or somewhere in the middle – it’s key to remember that regardless of what the situation looks like, it is still an interview. It is still your chance to impress your prospective employer and for them to impress you.

Take the time to prepare for your online and face-to-face interviews equally, and you will see the results of this preparation in no time!

For more information on your accounting career, contact one of our recruitment experts on 02 8324 5640.