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The Oracle

Tips for virtual assessment centres and interviews

updated on 21 July 2020

Dear Oracle

Do you have any advice for a successful video interview or virtual assessment centre?

The Oracle replies

With virtual assessment centres and interviews replacing the in-person versions due to coronavirus, here are some tips for virtual assessments:

  1. Prepare a tidy space for your video interview

It sounds obvious, but don’t let anything in the background distract your interviewers or fellow assessment centre attendees – move that drying rack with the old pants hanging limply into shot away from your webcam! Place yourself in front of a neutral background in a bright, well-lit room.

  1. Set up your computer in advance

Make sure your internet connection, speakers and camera are working 90 minutes before the interview or assessment centre is due to start. Set up the computer so the camera is slightly above your eyeline if possible – avoid a low shot that will have recruiters peering up at the contents of your nostrils, or a close-up that looks like a NASA moon survey. Ideally, position the camera so that most of your upper torso is in shot. Test how the background and lighting look on camera, so you have time to change your set-up if necessary. Close any other open applications on your computer.

If you lose your internet connection during the interview or assessment centre, don’t panic. If you cannot reconnect, you may be able to dial into the meeting or exercise on your mobile phone, so keep this charged and nearby (on silent). If problems persist, use your mobile data to send a quick email to the HR team explaining that you got disconnected – the firm should be able to accommodate you.

  1. Get housemates and pets out of the room

Recruiters and lawyers will view your housemate or dog barging into shot or making distracting noises off-camera as unprofessional. Let other people know when your interview or assessment centre is taking place and that you need to have a room undisturbed for a set amount of time. If your pet is unable to understand – or refuses to acknowledge – this heads-up, ensconce them safely in another part of the house. If your fish refuses to heed your words, they must still stay in their tank – they have won this round.

  1. Silence your phone and household appliances

You don’t want an alarm to go off or someone to call you during the interview. Similarly, if you have a washing machine or dishwasher that plays a charming ditty when it completes a cycle, make sure this cannot be heard from the room you are going to use, or – even better – ensure that it is switched off.

  1. Wear business dress

Dress exactly as you would for a formal interview. That includes lower body – it’s unlikely that you will need to move during the interview, but if you do, the decision to wear tracksuit bottoms will have backfired. 

  1. Prepare questions

At some point in the interview, you will be given an opportunity to ask questions. Meanwhile, most assessment centres include a Q&A session – often with recruiters or partners. In both situations, make sure you prepare a couple of good questions to ask and make sure that you speak up at least once, even though this can seem daunting.

  1. Work as a team with other assessment centre candidates

Whether virtual or in person, assessment centres can feel strange – knowing that you are being constantly assessed and that you are in direct competition with the other candidates is not the most relaxing way to spend four hours. Nonetheless, don’t let nervousness or over competitiveness lead you to try to dominate every discussion or lead every group exercise; equally, don’t sit back and be passive. It is important to be an active participant, while treating all your fellow candidates as valued colleagues. That means engaging fully with what others say and offering encouragement and a willingness to embrace ideas that are not your own.