In the age of Covid, it’s increasingly likely you’ll be interviewed remotely for a teaching position. Lockdown proved a catalyst, with remote interviewing, teaching, staff meetings and conferences now embedded in the way schools and businesses do things.

Employers find them a sensible option for first round interviews, especially if candidates are far afield or perhaps overseas. We’ve also heard of teachers being asked to record sample lessons or presentations.

In many ways remote interviews resemble in-person interviews, and many of the same rules apply.

However, in this blog, we’d like to focus on how they’re dissimilar and the potential pitfalls those dissimilarities bring.

Prepare for the platform

Whether it’s Skype, TEAMs or Zoom, road test the tech. Get used to the terrain. Do a recce.

You don’t want to be footling about mid-interview when they’ve asked you to share your screen, or you lose the tab for the call itself and can’t relocate it.

Rehearse with friends and family. If you’re not especially techy, ask someone who is to show you the ropes. The tech’s easier than you think. Often, it’s simply a question of finding out where to find what, like cooking in someone else’s kitchen: “Ahh, so the mute button is to be found there? Great.”

Lights, camera, action

Get the lighting right. A mix of light from both front and sides works best, but you have to work with what you’ve got. Face a window if you can, natural light is kindest.

Some swear by earphones or headphones to ensure better sound quality and cut out background noise.

Make sure the camera and microphones work well. Clean the camera lens occasionally, otherwise the image may appear smeared. Get the right angle. Ideally, your camera should be at eye level, or just above, and about two feet away.

With all these things, as always, experiment. Trial and error will iron out most problems. If you rehearse with family and friends, they’ll have plenty of feedback. (Don’t they always!)

Set the stage

Just as you’d prepare the scene for a presentation or rearrange your classroom for a lesson, make sure your environment is just right.

Does the lighting suit you, as well as your image, as it appears on the screen? Is the room the right temperature?

Shut doors and, if other people are about, inform them you’re on an important call and not to be interrupted.

Make sure your chair is comfortable. Now is not the time to play the Bond villain in his swivel chair.

Reduce distractions for the interviewer

Give careful consideration to what else appears on the screen.Cluttered shelves, garish background colours that clash with what you’re wearing, potted plants that appear to be growing out of your right ear – these are all potential distractions.

Many argue that a blank background is best, with soft or neutral colours. Apps such as Snap Camera will allow you to change your background. We wouldn’t recommend using a beach scene, but they have a range of backdrops which will make you appear more professional, and not prove distracting.

Dress for business

You don’t want your attire to distract the interviewer either. Furthermore, the right clothing, which is both smart and comfortable, will put you in the right frame of mind. And it’ll be far easier to remain focused for the entire interview.

Tales abound of inappropriate dress. Learn from those who’ve dared to dress in leisurewear from the waist down, or in some cases Bermuda shorts or pyjamas, albeit with a perfectly sensible shirt on top. They then find they have to get up mid interview – to change the lighting, draw the curtains, answer the door – only to give the game away. Feeling that you can’t get up, even if the house is on fire, would make most of us feel a little uncomfortable.

If in doubt, dress neutrally. Refrain from patterns: pixels may not do them full justice. Darker colours often work best. Again, test how things look on screen before the interview. If you wear make-up, check how it appears using the camera on your laptop.

Remove anything that may distract you

Don’t be tempted to have too many notes nearby. For one, they’ll get in the way of you making eye contact (something I discuss in the next section).

Your mobile phone should be switched off and out of sight. Studies show that even having it there will compromise your concentration.

Furthermore, it’s advisable to turn off browsers and notifications. They may also affect bandwidth and therefore destabilise your internet connection, as will other people in the household using Wi-Fi at the same time as your interview, especially gamers.

Finally, give some thought to how you wish to appear to you on your own screen. Some hide self-view to avoid feeling self-conscious, which leads us to one of the big issues with remote communication.

Don’t make eye contact

Yes, you read that right. Don’t make eye contact. Sadly, however much you may wish to do so, you shouldn’t. Tempting though it may be, don’t look into their eyes on the screen because it won’t appear that way to them. You must look at wherever your camera is if you wish to appear to be looking them in the eye.

This is why remote interviews initially feel so different, so odd, so unnatural. You want to read their body language and get a sense of their reactions. Instead, you need to look, for the most part, at your camera.

There are exceptions. It’s okay to take occasional notes; people won’t mind. Just be sure to tell the interviewer. The camera may not show you putting pen to paper and it may look like you’re distracted or, worse still, looking at your phone.

(This is one reason for not hiding self-view. You need to occasionally remind yourself what the viewer can see at their end.)

Don’t forget your body language

Your on-screen body language is all about what the viewer can see. Your head and shoulders become all-important. Sit up straight and don’t forget to smile.

Nod to show agreement, but watch out for overcompensating and nodding like the Churchill dog.

React calmly to any issues that arise

Remote interviews are replete with trip hazards.

With fewer visual clues to go on – because you’re so obediently looking at your camera – turn-taking can prove problematic. Accept this. Everyone who’s using the tech regularly at the moment is well aware of this issue. If you talk over each other occasionally, apologise, ask them to go first. There won’t be any awkwardness. Everyone is finding this new way of communicating really difficult.

We’ve already advised telling everyone who’s at home that you’re on a call. But that won’t always prevent kids bursting in, or dogs barking in the background. It’s the stuff of family life.

Stay calm, explain, and move on. Responding with a smile and a sense of humour will show why you’re so eminently employable. Ranting at all intruders won’t.

Final thoughts

As with anything, practice makes it better. Rehearse with family and friends so you become more at ease with the medium, and remote communication feels less unfamiliar or unsettling.

It’s the unknown that makes us nervous. You’ll be surprised how quickly you take to the tech, and adapt to the quirks of virtual interviews.