Interviewing by Video

With the arrival of COVID-19, video interviews for jobs, postdocs and residencies is the new norm. There's a lot to think of the day before and the day of an interview. We've prepared a checklist to make sure you are ready to handle your next video interview with confidence!

Your 7 Step Checklist:

1. Do you know your interview logistics?

  • Do you know who you are meeting? It's helpful to ask the interview coordinator for the names of who you will be meeting. Their names might be visible on the screen, but they might not. Knowing who you're meeting gives you the opportunity to google your interviewers, become familiar with them and their work and recognize them when you meet.
  • Do you know when you're meeting? If you aren't interviewing locally, be sure to check the time zone to be sure you're on camera on time. Then log on 5-10 minutes earlier, just to make sure everything gets set up. Are you the first one there? Mute yourself and turn off your video so you don't get surprised.
  • Do you know what video conferencing system they will use? There are a number of different video platforms, from Zoom, to Google Hangouts, Skype, and Facetime - but your interviewer may also use some business-specific tools you may be less familiar with, such as HireVue, Blue Jeans, etc. Whatever format you get your interview in - google it and/or watch a Youtube/Vimeo tutorial on its features, just so you're comfortable navigating it's features.
  • If you have a phone number handy? In case the video connectivity issues and you need to contact your interviewers to let them know what happened, be sure to ask your interview coordinator for a phone number just in case.

2. Have you checked your tech?​

We've heard from students and postdocs that job talks (common during faculty/industry interviews) aren't being included in video interviews. But it could happen.

If you have a talk of some kind, practice switching to your slides beforehand, minimize the number of slides, keep data on a slide to a minimum (because it will render smaller on their screens) and be prepared to give your presentation without your slides in case you have technical issues.

  • Is there software to download?  Almost all video platforms have some sort of technology to download. Please note that almost all of the platforms have preferred internet providers (for example, we heard some people were having trouble starting Google Hangouts on Firefox). So, don't just download it. Test it, and consider setting it set up on two platforms, (Chrome/Opera/Safari, etc.) just to get ahead of issues.
  • Do you know how to activate specific features on the video platform?
    As we said, almost every video conferencing system has some sort of online tutorial on youtube/vimeo. Three specific things you should know how to do:
    1. Do you know how to mute your microphone/turn on and off your camera in case something interrupts you? You will ALWAYS mute yourself when you're not talking throughout the video, and you might need to quickly turn off your video if you are interrupted (but more on that later).
    2. Do you know if you have the capacity to toggle between a single person and a panel "Brady Bunch" view? Sometimes during a panel interview, candidates tap a button during an interview and lose the screen of the interviewer who is speaking. Knowing how to show all participants can get you back on track.
    3. Do you know to toggle between you and your slides, in case you want to share your screen? 
  • Have you found your headphone/microphone, if you have one? Headphones/microphones usually help you sound clearer. If you don't have one, try to sit in a smaller space, like a closet or bathroom (with your back against the door so they can't tell what room you're in), for better acoustics.
  • Is your computer charged up and plugged in? Video interviews seem to run down your computer faster. Don't put yourself in the position of seeing 10% power remaining and thinking "you can make it." Power up and plug in.
  • Is it possible to connect with an ethernet cable? At times, wifi can be unreliable. So consider connecting with an ethernet cable directly to your modem. Conversely, ask others in using your wifi if they can not use the wireless during your interview to preserve your bandwidth. If you haven't password protected your wifi - this is a good time to do so as well. 
  • Do you have a less than professional Skype/google email for hangouts/etc. name? Create a "work" Skype/google, etc. account, so your name isn't @clinicianmagican or [email protected] Keep the personal and professional separate. 
  • Remember, California is a two-party permission state, so you cannot record another person without their permission. While some video platforms do have the ability to record your interview, please don't do this surreptitiously. Instead, take notes during the interview, or do a brain download right after the interview by recording yourself or typing/writing what you remember. 

3. Have you set up your space?

  • Watch this quick tutorial on effective interviewing  - (the youtube video should be to the right/below)  - are you using all of their best practices? (We like this "How to look good in Skype interview tips" video because it shows the right way/wrong way for height, lighting, where to look and more!)
    • ​Additional tips:
      • Consider skype/zooming, etc: one of your friends to have them tell you if you are coming through clearly and if you and your space look professional.
      • Remember that you can also record yourself on Zoom to check yourself out.
      • Finally, also consider moving the video of your interviewers as close as possible to your camera (for example, place their faces near the top of your screen right under your built-in camera), so it looks like you're looking directly at your interviewers.
  • Have you turned off the ringer on your phone? Have you shut down everything else/all other tabs on your laptop? This includes all other tabs or video chat systems - just to make sure that nothing pops up or starts unexpectedly, and you don't share anything unintentionally if you share your screen. Also, if you do share your screen, consider dropping everything on your desktop into a single folder, to keep everything tidy.  
  • Do you have a pen and paper handy to write down people's names? Just like in-person interviews, you can take notes. We recommend writing everyone's name down and then jotting down notes under their name. That way, later, you will be able to say, "I think this relates to something you were saying earlier, Aya, about...." or "I think it was you, Paulo, who mentioned...." Because you won't be able to make eye contact, the use of names will help personalize your interaction. By the way, it's okay to look down if you are writing notes, and you say something like "I'm just jotting down a few points" to signal to everyone why you keep looking down. Try not to write down too much, however - you're supposed to be connecting with your interviewer. Spend no more than 5-10 seconds at a time before looking up at the camera and making "eye contact" again. 
  • Don't want to keep looking down? Consider putting your questions on stickies/sticking them around your monitor around eye level. (This was a great tip from Work It Daily.)
  • Are you trying to type notes from the interview? If you feel you need to type, be sure to mute yourself or everyone will hear your keys typing. Also, be sure you know how to minimize your notes to a small window, so you don't lose eye contact with your interviewers.
  • Do you have water, hot tea with honey, and/or tissues nearby? Growing hoarse or getting stuffy is a possibility when interviewing, particularly during allergy season. Have these items conveniently located near you. Remember to mute yourself if you cough or blow your nose!

4. Have you practiced your interview questions?

  • It will help if you practice your answers beforehand. Aim to speak no more than 1-2 minutes per question, if possible. You can also write out your answer to typical questions before practicing verbalizing your responses. Consider practicing your questions via video with a friend - have them video chat you and ask questions. Want to see a list of typical interview questions for jobs, residencies and postdocs opportunities? Click on
    image of standout, the mock interview tool
  • You can also use StandOut: our online video mock interviewing tool to practice answering questions and seeing how you present on camera.
  • All UCSF students and postdocs should already have their UCSF email populated into StandOut. Please search your UCSF email account to see if you ever received a Standout Email, or just click 'forgot password' to reset your account.  If you cannot log in, email us at [email protected] from your UCSF account and we will get you set up.
  • Once you're signed in,  go to the "practice" tab, and you will see sample questions from the UCSF mock interview deck. You can also choose your own interview questions.

Log Into StandOut 

5. Do you have a plan to test/organize everything at the beginning of the interview?

  • Once you log on and greet your interviewer, consider asking: "Can everyone hear me well? Can people see me clearly?" Get a confirmation, before moving onto the interview. 
  • Ask what the interviewer would like you to do if you have a video glitch that causes the call to end. For example, if they called you directly via Skype, will they initiate the callback in all cases, or do they want you to do it if the call dropped from your side?
  • Start to assess the frequency of delays, freezes, and how clear/pixelated your picture is. You'll be modifying your delivery to handle these glitches. Read on below!

6. Do you have your go-to language to handle glitches and awkward situations?

At times, things go wrong in a video interview. The best thing to do is to not get flustered but to take a breath and handle the situation skillfully. Below are suggestions on how to respond to 6 common issues:

If something embarrassing happens around you (think your roommate unintentionally walking behind you into the camera frame in their underwear), don't discuss the situation, but signal that you are on top of it.

For example, you can say "My apologies. I see something I need to handle. Could you please excuse me for a moment?" before muting your mic/turning off your camera.

  • There is a delay in the video:
    Try to gauge the length of your video delay. After you give your first response, does it seem everyone is waiting a moment before reacting to you? If so, someone's connection may be slow.   To compensate, after you finish answering, sit in silence for up to 10 seconds after answering. Rest your hands in your lap, look at the camera and smile, as you wait for people to catch up and respond to you. What you're trying to avoid is filling the silence with more words, which will throw off the rhythm of the conversation, as your interviewer and you being to interrupt each other due to the delay in the transmission.  (Count to 10 in your head if you have to, or have a clock in your line of sight.)
  • If you are pixelating:
    Try to focus on limiting your movement - particularly hand gestures. Sit very still and try to limit your gesture to your face - smiling, nodding, etc. Also, make sure that everything else on your machine is closed down. If it is particularly bad, you can say "It looks to me like we have a poor connection. I'd like to sign off and try to log in again. Is that okay?"
  • If your/their video freezes:
    Wait five seconds to see if the issue resolves itself. If it doesn't, see if you can type in the chat function. "Apologies - it seems that things have frozen." If they didn't state what their call back protocol is, you can type something like "I will hang up and call back in. If that doesn't correct the issue, I will give you a call."(that's why you ask for the phone number beforehand).  If the chat function doesn't work either, just hang up and call back again. 
  • You can't hear the interviewer clearly:
    If you sense that your interviewers can't understand you clearly, you can confirm what they said before answering. For example, you can say, "The connection seems a little off - but it sounds like you asked me about my previous experience working with Python. Is that correct?"
  • If you find your computer running out of power: 
    You can say "I note that I am low on power, and I want to be sure I don't lose you. May I take one minute to plug in my laptop?" Then mute/turn off your video, plug-in and come back. Upon returning, say "Thank you."
  • If something in your environment interrupts you:
    ​Finding a private space and enough time to interview without interruption might be an impossibility for you. It may feel embarrassing or unprofessional, but it's also a chance to demonstrate how you handle the unexpected. These are unusual COVID times, and people are a lot more indulgent of issues. Just consider what things could go wrong (someone walking behind you, or a pet or kid jumping into view, for example) and plan two things:
    1. What you will say at the beginning of your interview. Just let people know what might happen and how you plan to handle it: "It's a pleasure to meet you all. I should share that my inquisitive daughter/roommate/puppy might step into the screen. If that happens I might take a minute to handle things. I just wanted to give you a head's up. I have been looking forward to our conversation, so thank you for the chance to interview today."
    2. Off-ramp/on-ramp language: In the moment, acknowledge the situation and use "off-ramp language" to get out of the interview for a moment. "Ah. I see my cat is chewing on my laptop plug. I'm concerned for their safety. Please excuse me for a moment as I handle this." If it's something embarrassing (think your roommate unintentionally walking behind you in their underwear), don't discuss the situation, but say "My apologies. I see something I need to handle. Could you please excuse me for a moment?" Then mute yourself/turn off your video. Handle your situation. Sit down, take a breath. Unmute and turn your video back on. Start your response over with language to get back or "on-ramp" into the conversation. For example, you can say "Thank you for your patience. As I was saying, the most recent project I managed from beginning to end was...." 

7. Do you want more help?

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