Focused perspectives providing a path to success that works for you
March 7, 2023
How to Succeed in a Video Job Interview
Even before COVID-19, job interviews were frequently moving to video conference for the early rounds of the job application process. This is a great timesaving strategy for hiring managers and applicants alike.
Although the interview will be taking place virtually, you should prepare, interview, and follow up as if it were an in-person interview. However, there are some additional critical measures applicants should take to make the best impression during a video interview.
Getting Your Technology in Order
Video Conference Software
When the interview is being set up, the human resources director or hiring manager will almost always email you the necessary instructions for how and when to log in for the video conference. This information will include the video conference software (generally free; common software includes Zoom, Google Hangouts, and RingCentral), a link for how to join, and the date and time. If they do not specify these details ahead of time, make sure to ask so that you can be fully prepared.
Download the latest version of the video conference software well in advance of the interview to ensure it’s compatible with your computer. Do a test run of the sound — both the speakers (ensure you can hear sound coming from the computer and that the volume meets your hearing needs) and the microphone (ensure when you speak you’re audible) — and video on the platform when you download it to ensure it works properly and to troubleshoot any potential issues. Most software is incredibly easy to download and utilize, but it’s better to make sure ahead of time so you alleviate any unnecessary stress.
On the day of the interview, give yourself ample time before it is slated to begin — about 15 minutes — to ensure you have a good internet connection, to open the video conference software, and to once again test the sound and video camera. Have the email with the log-in instructions open and ready to go so that you can join the call about two to five minutes before the interview is scheduled to start.
When you test out your video camera, you shouldn’t just test that it’s working but, just as importantly, that the webcam angle shows exactly what you want it to show to the interviewer. This isn’t about vanity, but about professionalism.
The camera angle should replicate the experience of sitting across from an interviewer. Position the camera directly across from you, not at a three-quarter or side angle. The computer screen should be eye level, with the webcam perhaps a little higher up, so that the interviewer is neither getting a chin shot (and looking up your nose!) nor looking down on you from above. If you’re using a laptop, this may require you to stack it on top of a few books so that it doesn’t appear as if you’re hovering from above.
When it comes to how far you should sit from the camera and how much of you the interviewer should see, imagine you are in an in-person interview. The interviewer would likely be looking at you from across their desk as you sit on a chair or you’d be seated across from each other at a conference table. What would they see? They would likely see from your head to about your mid-torso, including your arms. With that in mind, position yourself in front of the computer so that the camera shows you from the mid-torso up to the top of your head, leaving a bit of room above your head and to your sides.
Be aware of what’s visible behind you. Even though you are taking up the majority of the screen, the camera will still show your background.
Checking your lighting has less to do with the computer settings and software and more to do with the lighting in the room where you’re holding your video conference. Everyone has different preferences for how much lighting they like in their homes and workspaces, but when it comes to a video conference it’s important that you put yourself in the best light possible — literally.
Essentially, just make sure that the room isn’t too dark so that you end up looking like a miner in a tunnel or that it isn’t so bright that your features are completely washed out. Check on the screen to make sure that warm lighting isn’t making you come across tinged in red.
Also, check on-screen to eliminate any weird light patterns. These could be stripes of bright natural light streaming across your face because of an open window. Or they could be shadows from a lampshade that has cast half your face in darkness as if you’re a villain in a film noir.
Setting up Your Virtual Interview Room
Because some of your background will be visible to the interviewer, it’s part of how you’re representing yourself. You don’t need to rent out a lush office space with a mahogany desk and leather-bound books behind you to make a good impression. Especially if you’re interviewing while sheltering-in-place during COVID-19, are someone who usually works on a factory floor or out in the field, or are someone who lives in an expensive city where studio-apartment-living is typical, most people understand that not everyone has a dedicated home office.
Nevertheless, you do want to make sure you present yourself — and your living space — professionally. This means you should make sure your background is clean and tidy. As we reported recently, “Two out of five employers report that they perceive messy desks negatively.” One could extrapolate that if, after a round of video interviews with various candidates, an employer is deciding between two candidates with equal experience and knowledge, the one with the messy background may lose the opportunity.
Just as we warn people to be careful of what they post on social media as employers may think twice about hiring someone with controversial viewpoints or imagery, be careful of what an interviewer can see when they get a peek inside your home via your background. Political posters, drug paraphernalia, even museum-quality art that could be misconstrued as sexual in tone could be deal-breakers.
A word of caution on virtual backgrounds: Some video conference software offers customized backgrounds featuring serene natural landscapes, iconic city landmarks, and even offices from your favorite tv shows. Even if they appear professional, sometimes they can create a pixilated effect that at times absorbs, for example, your arm into the virtual background, making it look like you’ve momentarily lost a limb or are a floating head. Virtual backgrounds can ultimately become more distracting than the outdated floral print of your sofa.
Find a quiet place for the interview. There should not be any background noises, so silence the television and radio, but also close any browser tabs open on the internet so that pop up ads don’t suddenly play, close any social programs such as Skype so you don’t get interrupted by other phone calls, and put your phone on vibrate. If you live with others, ask them to keep the noise levels outside your door to a minimum.
Ensure that the space you use is also distraction-free. Your current colleagues may love seeing your cat during your department conference calls, but your prospective manager is not interested in getting introduced to Fluffy right now, so lock your pets out of the room during your interview. Likewise, you may have put your phone on vibrate, but that doesn’t mean it should be visible or the buzzing audible to the interviewer.
Presenting the Best Version of Yourself on Camera
On-camera Interview Outfit
Just as you would dress up for an in-person interview, you probably know by now that you should wear standard interview clothes for an on-camera interview as well. There are, however, a few additional caution points.
While your outfit may look great in person, do a test run to make sure it looks good on screen too. Camera angles may accentuate where clothes gape, and lighting may make undergarments suddenly more visible. In particular, white clothing and patterned clothing can warp in the video.
If you wear glasses, make sure that they do not reflect glare or obscure your eyes. You may want to order an inexpensive anti-glare lens coating online as cameras often have a difficult time reading your eyes if you wear glasses. This may seem like a small matter, but remember the old saying “eyes are the windows of the soul”? If your eyes are obscured, you will be deemed less trustworthy.
As with any interview, you’ll want to keep any make up you wear subtle and professional. However, the camera may pick up on any nervous “shine” (sweat!) so take care to blot your forehead and powder as necessary.
As discussed in the section on camera angle, set up your video camera in such a way that it’s essentially at eye level so that you’re looking slightly up. If you look slightly down, you might appear sleepy or disengaged. Most video conference software will show the interviewer in a large screen and you in a smaller inset window. Keep an eye on how you look on camera.
Maintain eye contact with the interviewer, even though they are not in the same room as you. You can certainly keep a few notes in front of you to glance at occasionally so you can assert your accomplishments and ask relevant questions, but don’t look off-screen too often as it could be read as distracted or bored.
Your posture should be one of someone who is engaged in the conversation and confident in your abilities. Your head should be erect and your shoulders back just as if you were seated with good posture across from the interviewer. Don’t lean in, hovering toward the webcam or interviewer.
A few well-timed hand gestures may be warranted, but keep in mind that everything you do on camera will seem more exaggerated than in person. You certainly don’t want to come across as stiff and rigid in your posture, so feel free to occasionally nod or smile. However, slow internet connections — especially during COVID-19, when so many more people are using their home computers — may freeze your image with your arm stuck up in the air, for example, or blur your movements.
Take a few moments before the interview to make notes on a printout of your resume so that you can quickly refer to any accomplishments you’d like to bring up when asked about your skills and experience. One of the great advantages of an online interview is that the interviewer will likely not be able to see any large and colorful marks you make to the document if it’s off-screen, and these notes may help you remember the background expertise you want to mention to make you stand out from other applicants.
Your resume should be printed out so that you’re not toggling between tabs, which will be distracting to the interviewer, may upset your camera angle, and may cause your computer to freeze. It should be directly in front of you or by your side so you do not need to get up during the interview.
List of Questions
Just as you would have a list of questions for an in-person interview, you should have a list of relevant questions that help show your interest in the position and will also help you know whether you would be interested in going in for an in-person interview should you make it to the next round. Make sure your list of questions is printed out and right next to you.
As you will not have the advantage of being able to gauge corporate culture in the same way as you would if you were meeting in person, you may want to direct some of your questions toward gaining a better understanding of the office environment and culture.
Pen and Paper
Keep a pen and paper by your side so that you can quickly jot down any notes and questions. As mentioned above, anything you do on camera will be exaggerated to the person on the other end, and anything they can’t see you doing off-screen could be perceived as secretive. Therefore, take a few notes to show you are engaged and interested, particularly if there are names you want to remember later, but don’t scribble down a novel.
Generally, when you go in for an interview, you’ll be offered a glass of water. Even if you don’t intend to drink the water, it’s a good idea to get a glass for yourself before the interview begins just in case you need to clear your throat. Choose a clear tumbler, as opaque glasses and stemware may suggest you’re drinking something other than water. And yes, stick to just water. Even juice may be a distraction to the interviewer.
Leading up to the Interview
- Set up the interview for a time that is distraction-free
- Download the video conference software and familiarize yourself with how it works
- Test the audio, microphone, and webcam on your computer with the video conference software
- Decide where you’ll hold the virtual interview and prep the space so it’s neutral and distraction-free
- Adjust your computer position and camera angle
- Adjust your lighting
- Print out your resume and put it by your computer
- Prep questions and put the printout by your computer
- Put a notebook and pen by your computer
- Make sure the outfit you plan to wear (including your glasses) is camera-ready
15 Minutes before the Interview
- Double-check your internet connection
- Double-check the audio, microphone, and webcam on your computer with the video conference software
- Double-check your computer position and camera angle
- Double-check your lighting
- Set up a neutral background
- Ensure your computer, phone, and space will be distraction-free
- Make sure you have all your paperwork and a pen at the ready
- Set a glass of water by your side
- Touch up your makeup so you’re shine-free
- Pull up the email with the interview log-in instructions
2 – 5 Minutes before the Interview
- Log into the video conference software using the instructions you received
- Adjust your posture so you’re comfortable and appear confident
During the Interview
- Maintain eye contact with the interviewer
- Keep an eye on the video inset so that you can ensure your posture and angle remain flattering
- Stay aware of your facial expressions, smiling and nodding to appear engaged, positive, and interested
- Speak clearly, enunciating your words
- Take a few notes
After the Interview
- Ensure the webcam and microphone for the video conference software are fully shut off so that you don’t have any embarrassing gaffes
- Send a thank you
Image Credit: fizkes / Shutterstock