For many accelerators, virtual interviews fall into two categories. They are either a screening vehicle for the face to face interview or a replacement for the face to face interview; especially for remote startups. Where a virtual interview is used to shortlist accelerator applicants for the face to face interview or for the next round of interviews, it will usually be much shorter (e.g. between 10 - 20 minutes). Often it may be conducted by accelerator operational staff, and not the program managers, who ask 2 - 5 questions to determine if the founders are real, what their story is, their level of commitment /maturity and their stage of evolution or development.
Interviewers may also ask indirect questions checking for the presence of any red flags. For some accelerators you may have two short virtual interviews (e.g. each with a different team or each having a different focus). Either way, at the end, the interviewer (s) will usually make an on the spot decision and let you know whether you are advancing to the next interview stage - although sometimes this decision may come within a week of the virtual interview.
The first virtual interview could go longer and be held by a more senior and final decision maker (e.g. a partner or program manager). Whether this happens or not usually depends on how your startup came to submit the accelerator application. For example, if you were targeted and invited by the accelerator to submit an application, you may be deemed to have already passed the first interview screening. Not all startups do a virtual interview (e.g if founders live locally then a short face to face interview can replace the virtual interview). Founders living locally may still be offered a virtual interview; but those who choose a virtual interview may signal a lesser level of commitment to those that choose a face to face interview.
For startups doing a virtual interview, a few weeks after you submit the online application or after the accelerator application deadline, you may receive an email advising you that you have made it to the first interview stage. This email will usually provide you with the interview details (e.g. what video conference software platform to use, what the ground rules are, how many interviewees there will be, the format of the interviews etc). Commonly, the email will also provide an overview of the remaining stages of the selection process, when you are likely to receive funds if you are successful, what the key dates are and where to find answers to frequently asked questions.
Tip 1 – Make sure you test the video software/prepare for tech issues
On the day of the interview, you may have to use a pre forwarded link to long into the meeting software platform or you may be called via Skype / FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or you may be provided with a number to call. Make sure that your whole team is there, that you prepare for any technical difficulties / surprises that may occur (e.g. weak internet connection, misplaced login details, team members being late to the call etc.). If these challenges arise on your end, this can reflect negatively on your team (e.g if you can’t prepare properly for an accelerator interview, how are you going to prepare for meetings with potential investors, potential clients etc).
Tip 2 Don’t be surprised if there are no pleasantry chats at the start of the interview
Once you log into the meeting software platform and connect with the interviewer (s), don’t be surprised if they skip pleasantries and jump straight into the questions.
Skipping pleasantries and being direct may actually be good for your startup, as pleasantries may rob your startup of the opportunity to be asked most of the questions on the interviewers' minds
Tip 3 Prepare short sharp responses to questions, and be prepared that you may interrupted at anytime half way through your answer
Don’t be surprised if the interviewers interrupt you or cut you off part way through your response. Or if they are so direct it seems as though you are being attacked. You may even be confronted for avoiding questions, or not answering the questions directly, making you feel like you are back in high school at the principal's office.
In what will likely seem like no time, the virtual interview will come to an end. Interviewers will let you know, either in the meeting or via email afterwards, whether you are advancing to the next stage or not. They may also provide you with some feedback.