22nd February 2021

Coaching your clients for video and telephone interviews: 9 top tips


We’ve never spent more time living digitally. COVID-19 has forced us all to connect remotely rather than in-person, and it’s completely changed the recruitment process.

Right now, candidates are reliant on telephone and video interviews to secure a coveted new role. And even when the world returns to normal, many employers will continue online screening processes as a quicker, more sustainable way to engage with applicants.

As a recruiter, a huge part of your role is to prepare professionals for online interviews, and the best way to impress potential employers via call or video chat. To help you set them up for success, here are some key things to coach them on….

1. Think about appearance

Like it or not, first impressions count – and employers will make snap judgements if your candidates aren’t physically prepared for an interview. Encourage them to prepare a suitable outfit and make sure it’s clean and ready the night beforehand. Even if it’s only a telephone interview, dressing to impress can help people get into the right headspace!

Traditional smart attire such as a suit and/or tie may be a bit too formal for a virtual interview, but there are still ways for your candidates to look both smart and appropriate.

If your interviewee is talking to a prospective employer over Zoom or other video platform, make sure they think about the background as well. A tidy, neutral space is best, so the interviewer isn’t distracted by what’s in the background. More ambitious professionals can take inspiration from The Freelance Informer’s guide to creating the home office of your dreams!

For candidates who don’t want their home space to appear on camera, encourage them to steer clear of novelty graphic backdrops. A plain or blurred background is more professional. 

2. Keep distractions to a minimum

In both telephone and video interviews, it’s easy for candidates’ attention to be momentarily taken by something happening at home. Talk to them about potential distractions, and how they can minimise the chance of interruption.

For example, people living in shared housing should tell their housemates what time they’ll be doing their interview. Those with noisy pets could ask a partner or family member to take them out for a walk. And parents should try and coincide interviews with nap times, or encourage children to play out in the garden with a steady supply of snacks.

Also, make sure your candidates remember to turn off all electronic devices that aren’t essential to the interview. One of the biggest distractions in remote video interviews is mobile phones going off!

3. Do a technical dry run

Nobody wants to start an interview on the wrong foot, and technical problems can be both frustrating and time consuming. Applicants shouldn’t spend half their time trying to log in or getting their microphone to work.

COVID-19 is forcing everyone to become more confident in technology use, so it’s important your candidates get to grips with the practicalities of online interviewing. There’s a predicted surge in people looking for remote-friendly careers post-COVID – and a virtual interview will be the first step in that process.

The best way to ensure everything runs smoothly is to do a technical dry run with interviewees, so they know exactly what to do on the day. This will give you a chance to check they have a reliable internet connection, prove they’re confident connecting to video or conference call software, and make sure both the microphone and camera (if applicable) on their device are working properly. You can also check whether their full name appears on Zoom or Teams, not a silly nickname.

4. Set 10 minutes’ prep time

When someone travels to an office to be interviewed, they tend to leave more time than necessary. At home, however, they may jump straight from a work call or personal task into conversation with a prospective employer – and it takes them a while to get into the zone.

Encourage your candidates to block out 10-15 minutes before their interview to ensure they’re in the right mindset. You may want to provide them with a check list to cover during this time – setting up their phone or laptop, getting a drink of water, looking up the name of the people interviewing them and going back through the job description, for example. You may even want to call them ten minutes beforehand to go through this process with them. 

5. Maintain eye contact and positive body language

It’s much harder to form a connection with people virtually, so your candidates will need to work hard to create a lasting impression. If an applicant has a video interview lined up, coach them on strategies for maintaining eye contact – for example, sticking a brightly coloured post-it note above their laptop camera, to remind them where to focus their visual attention.

Positive body language is also important. You may want to discuss where your candidate’s computer is going to be positioned, and what they are going to sit on. A dining chair or desk chair will encourage them to sit straight and forward, rather than slouching on a sofa.

Even if your candidate is doing a telephone interview, it’s a good idea to chat about using their body to support verbal responses. Employers can tell in your voice if you’re smiling!

6. Speak slowly and clearly – with strategic pauses

Most people do things quicker when they’re nervous, so recruiters are used to telling interviewees to slow down when speaking. This is more important with remote interviews than face-to-face discussions, as there can be a delay in communication – or it takes the interviewer longer to absorb what your candidate is saying.

Tell applicants not to be afraid of pausing for breath, as this will give time for their responses to soak in. It will also give them time to think about whether they can add further comments of value, rather than panicking and giving interviewers a rambling stream of consciousness.

7. Turn notes over

Many professionals prepare notes for an interview, and they’re a great way to remind them about the role they are applying for, or key messages to communicate. However, there’s a tendency to rely on them for online interviews that doesn’t happen in the room.

Even the most diligent candidate can come across underprepared if nerves make them constantly refer to their notes. Encourage people to read them through one last time during their 10 minutes’ prep and then turn them over. This way, they’re not tempted to read from a sheet and can give genuine, convincing responses.

8. Practice goodbyes

A lot of recruitment agencies will spend time helping candidates to set the right tone and answer questions, but then forget to work on the all-important final impression. While a word of thanks and a handshake is natural when you’re meeting in person, it’s easy for interviewees to ‘fluff’ online or telephone goodbyes and taint a good performance!

Ask your applicants what they want their final message to be before ending a digital interview. Perhaps they want to make a specific comment about the role, or they simply want to thank their interviewer for the opportunity.

If the interview takes place on Zoom or Teams, make sure they remember to smile and maintain strong body language – many times people panic, ending work calls with a silly wave!

Also, teach them to check all their technology is disconnected before coming out of interview mode. There are plenty of embarrassing stories where people have made an inappropriate comment, only to find out the interviewer was still on the line.

9. Stay fully charged

Last but not least, end your coaching session with one piece of critical advice: charge your device!!!

Performing well at interview means taking any last-minute hiccups out of the equation. Even the coolest, best prepared person can lose their focus if their mobile has 5% battery five minutes before the interview starts.

You can also download our free prep sheet and send it to your clients, to help them ace their next phone or video interview.

Spend less time on admin tasks and more time coaching clients with ETZ, the ultimate recruitment tech stack. Book a free demo to find out more.

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