Nailing A Remote Interview—Tips for Success

By Anne He (MATLM 2021)

It’s May, 2021 and time for graduations, so a lot of you are probably interviewing at the moment. Interviews, especially in a remote setting, can be nerve-wrecking. See if the tips below can help calm your nerve and help you prepare!

  1. Setting up an Interview

You will typically receive an email or a phone call to set up an interview (sometimes, a LinkedIn message as well). In my case, I have gotten more phone calls than emails, so it’s important to update your phone number on your resume and make sure you answer you phone, even if it’s coming from a number you don’t recognize!

During the initial phone call, some interviewers/employers would want to do a quick screening, asking why you have applied to this job or briefly ask about your experience, but most of the time this call is only to confirm that you’re still interested, and to set up a time for the interview.

  1. Before an Interview

Make sure you know the date, time and format of the interview. Sometimes, the interviewer or HR will send you a calendar invitation with all the information, but other times, the person might just tell you the date and time over the phone or via a message. Make sure to confirm the time zone! Also, ask about the format of the interview as well. We usually assume that it’s Zoom or Teams, but if you can’t find a link, then it is probably a phone screening.

Also, some interviewers will send you an automatically generated email asking you to schedule a time on a calendar system yourself. In this case, after I have booked a time, I usually still reply to their email to thank them and let them know that I have booked a time. This way, if the system somehow goes wrong, at least they know you have tried to book a time.

  1. Phone screening

Phone screening is common for the first round of interviews, and it’s a bit challenging for me because my house pretty much doesn’t have any signal. When I get a phone call, I usually have to go outside to answer. Therefore, I usually do my phone interviews from the back seat of my car.

Another thing is that the person will usually call you a bit past the time you agreed on, so you might get more and more anxious while waiting. I usually like to do something irrelevant to relax (reading a random article, browsing on Facebook). You can also warm up your voice by humming a song or doing some vocal exercises.

More often than not, on the client side, the person who interviews you during the phone screening is from the HR department. Therefore, they might have very little idea what localization is or what localizers do. Keep this in mind, and don’t go on and on about technical details (unless you’re sure this person has a localization background). If you’re asked general questions, answer in general terms. When they ask you about your language abilities, also use layman terms and describe what you can do. They might not be familiar with the A1-C2 system or other language certification systems.

  1. Preparing for a Video Interview

When I first started interviewing, I thought it was a bit funny to wear a suit in your own home, so I just had a blouse or shirt on, but later on I had no problem dressing up as if I were going to a real interview. Most of the time, interviewers are casual, just wearing a T-shirt, but I think being a bit formal doesn’t hurt.

I have set up a Zoom “background” in my house because on my computer virtual backgrounds don’t work. If you worry about your real background being seen, clean it up a little. I usually move everything I don’t want to show at an interview out of the camera. Some platforms might not support virtual background at all. Also, make sure your Wi-Fi is stable!

I usually log on 5 minutes before the interview, but no earlier than 10 minutes, because some platforms ping the interviewer to tell them you’re waiting, and if you log on too early, or are simply testing the link, it might interrupt them during their meeting or work.

  1. Technical Interviews

Technical interviews are usually right after the phone screening. Some interviewers will call it a technical interview, some will not, but in this round definitely be prepared to speak to someone from the localization team. Rest assured, the technical interviews I have been through are never too technical. These interviews will focus more on work experience and the ability to solve problems than real technical questions like, “What code do you write to import the localization module in C++?” Instead, they will ask questions like, “What are the i18n issues you have seen?” Occasionally, they will throw out a term or two you don’t know, but don’t worry. It is perfectly acceptable to ask the interviewer for clarification and they don’t expect you to know absolutely everything.

I personally think that situational questions are the hardest to answer, since we don’t have that much work experience to begin with. For example, I have never seen a client being angry or upset, because I don’t directly talk to clients at work, and also because we do good work! How do I know how I’m going to respond if a client is very upset? Still, I think this is where our MIIS education comes into play. Since we have so many simulations and projects at school, you can probably think of something that is relevant to the question. The situation you come up with doesn’t have to exactly match their prompt, it just has to make sense. This also applies when you have no work experience in the field.

Don’t worry if they ask follow-up questions, especially for the situational questions—they’re just trying to grasp the situation—it’s not easy for someone to understand other people’s work situations, the workflows in their companies, etc. Also, don’t worry if you just cannot come up with a matching situation, I have been told that it is fine.

When asked what questions I have, I usually like to ask about their daily work or their workflows. It’s a good learning experience, even if the interviews end there. I try to avoid asking about visa or compensation because, on the client side at least, it’s likely they (the localization people) don’t know. You will need to ask HR.

  1. Final interviews

The following rounds can be with other members of the localization team, or with the HR department, and can be general or technical, but in any case, be prepared for anything when you’re past the second round. Note that some interviewers in this stage (or the previous one) will follow some kind of a script or list of questions, so it can feel a bit unnatural. In any case, interact with the interviewer and be conversational—don’t just robotically answer the questions. In addition, be prepared to discuss compensation, relocation, or visas.

I always struggle with “What is your salary range”. You shouldn’t ask for too much but asking for too little does you no good either. However, I usually figure that they have a range or number in mind already when recruiting, so I usually say, “Money isn’t my focus now, and I just want to learn and grow as much as possible at my first job, so as long as the wage is livable in the area I’m going to work, it’s fine,” which is authentic and true. Some interviewers are satisfied with that and reassure me that they won’t let me live in my car. Some, however, insist on getting a number. I used to have the range 50,000-70,000, but there was one time when someone offered me 45,000, so I kind of adjusted it to 40,000-70,000.

When it comes to relocation, I’m usually wide open because I don’t mind it anyway, but the start date—for me May 17 at the earliest—kills a lot of opportunities. It has to be the case, since I’m an international student. I would offer to start earlier part-time perhaps, but they always say no.

As for visa, I usually ask whether they would consider sponsorship when they ask me my visa status. It’s the most convenient time. Even if a company says they won’t sponsor H1-B, you might still consider working for them. However, do try to find out whether they’re e-verified. If they’re not, you CANNOT work for them while you’re on STEM OPT, you can only work for them for 1 year at most.

Finally, try asking, “what are the next steps?” to find out exactly how many rounds of interviews you still have (typically 3 for most companies, but some have as many as 6-7), and when you will hear back from them, so that you have an idea of what’s going to happen next.

Well, that’s it! I hope you find this article helpful, and feel free to think of your own strategies to handle some of these questions/situations: you don’t have to take my word for it! Ask your colleagues, career advisors and professors if you’re not sure what to do. And with that, I wish you the best of luck on your job-seeking journey!