Not long ago, I was a virtual interviewee trying to land a writing gig here at TechTarget over Zoom. Not only did I interview virtually for my current position, but I also landed my previous role through a video interview.
Fast forward to 2020, and conducting interviews over video on unified communications platforms such as Zoom has become the norm for hiring processes amid social distancing protocol -- and might be for some time, perhaps even after the pandemic subsides. With most companies suspending on-site job interviews indefinitely, job seekers must adapt.
On the most basic level, the method to prepare for a video interview is simple: Prepare for and interview as you would in real life, but over video. However, even if you've mastered the phone interview and the on-site interview, translating your interviewing skills into a video conference medium still requires some extra considerations. To help job seekers master the art of the video interview, I put together a list of tips and advice.
Check Your Technology
The day of your interview be sure to check that your computer's camera, microphone and internet connection are working smoothly. Ideally, this should be done at least a few hours before the start of your interview. This way, if there are any issues, you will have sufficient time to get everything working properly. Calling a friend on the video platform that the interview will take place on is a good way to check how everything is working and familiarize yourself with the program.
Regarding internet connection, it's recommended to wire in Ethernet if possible. Otherwise, keep as close to the wireless router as you can. If you are far from the router, or separated by a wall, go with the standard 2.4 GHz signal, and not the faster 5 GHz signal (if available). Though the 2.4 signal may be slower, it has greater range, and can be more reliable in this situation.
While any reasonable hiring manager won't hold a momentary lapse in technology against the candidate, you will come across as unprepared and unprofessional if you spend the first five minutes of your call fumbling through technical issues that could've been fixed during your own time.
Be Choosy About Setting and Location
Before your video interview, make sure to scope out a quiet, clean, distraction-free location with good lighting -- preferably a room where you can close the door. If the room is dimly lit, move a lamp nearby, or point it in your direction. Try to avoid any glare from objects such as watches, glasses or any surfaces in the background.
The interviewers do not need to see the pattern of your bedsheets, dirty laundry scattered on the floor or the inside of your closet. Ideal backgrounds can be bookcases, brick walls or even other desks. If you choose to use a bookcase as part of your background, be mindful of which individual titles are visible -- try to hide anything that might be controversial, overtly political or otherwise unprofessional. Bare walls, though not ideal, are still preferable to bright windows. The use of virtual backgrounds, even when plain, generally looks less professional and should be avoided.
Not only should you minimize distractions for your interviewers by choosing a clean, quiet location, but be sure to block out anything that has the potential to distract you during your interview. You should also close all unnecessary browsing tabs, windows and programs running in the background, and set the desktop background to a graphic that is simple and unobtrusive. Turn off your phone, and disable any programs with push notifications (such as iMessage, email clients or web browsers).
Furthermore, it's imperative to communicate the importance of a distraction-free environment to any family members or roommates that you might be sharing a living space with. The last thing you need during an important job interview are loud vacuuming noises or music playing in the background.
If there are any factors beyond your control that may interrupt your interview, be sure to disclose it to the interviewers at the beginning.
Angling, Framing and Lighting Matter
Have you ever accidentally opened your smartphone's front-facing camera, only to see an unflattering, close-up mug of you looking down? If so, you know precisely what interviewers do not want to see. The goal should be to make yourself appear as a living, talking LinkedIn photo.
For camera angle and height, at or just above eye level is the most flattering. This also makes it easier to look directly at the camera and create the appearance of eye contact with your interviewer. If needed, you can use books or boxes to prop your computer up for additional height.
Framing is also important. Generally, your head should be horizontally centered in the frame, and in the upper third vertically, with just a bit of space between the top of your head and the frame's upper border.
Lighting is important too. The light source should be off camera and shining on you, the subject. Avoid having a light source, such as an open window, behind you.
Look at the Camera
While speaking and listening, it may feel more natural for you to look into the handful of pixels on your screen that represent your interviewer's eyes. On their end, however, it will look like you're looking down and avoiding eye contact, which makes you come across as less confident and engaged.
To make it easier to look at your camera, the camera should be placed at eye level. Make sure to sit up straight while adjusting for the camera's height.
Do Everything You Would for an In-Person Interview
A successful job interview requires considerable preparation; this does not change when the interview takes place over video.
Make sure to come prepared to answer questions about the specific role, your qualifications, and what you can contribute to the team/company you are interviewing for. Also prepare a list of thoughtful questions to ask your interviewer. Do not ask anything that you can easily find an answer for online.
Research the company beyond its website and educate yourself about its current situation. Has the company been in the news recently? Is it a startup that has raised a recent round of funding? How does it plan on using this money? What are the company's growth plans? If it's a larger company, has it acquired any other companies recently? Apart from demonstrating knowledgeability, this can also provide a springboard for good questions.
This also means presenting yourself well. Sit up straight, have good posture, use hand gestures appropriately and lean forward slightly to show interest -- body language is important during an interview, as is speaking clearly and enthusiastically.
Dressing for success for a video interview means dressing professionally, and not just from the waist up. If for some reason you need to stand up, showing yourself in a dress shirt tucked into boxer shorts will not present the image of a self-respecting professional. Even if the interviewer never sees the bottom of what you're wearing, dressing up and looking dapper can make you feel more confident and put-together.
Take Advantage of the Fact That It's a Video Interview
A nice thing about video interviews is that when compared to phone interviews and on-site interviews, they provide the best of both worlds. Video interviews give you direct face time with your interviewers, while also allowing you to use off-camera space around you to place notes.
Similar to phone interviews, video interviews can be considered an "open-book test" if done properly. Notes with talking points and a copy of your resume can be placed in the space just off-camera, and slyly consulted. A few sticky notes with key points can also be placed near the computer's camera.
Do not read off your notes like a teleprompter, however, and be sure not to rely on only your notes. They are only there for quick reminders of talking points.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
You should not only practice reciting your answers to anticipated questions out loud, but also get used to the video conferencing medium. Practice mock interviews with friends over the same video calling service, until looking into your computer's camera and speaking feels like second nature.
Any video conferencing interview is going to feel awkward at first. Maybe you're the kind of person who thrives off an office setting, face-to-face contact or a firm handshake. Practice orating like any other presentation -- do as many test runs as it takes for it to feel natural.