Yesterday, I was excited to hear that one of my clients landed an interview at a company she’s had her eye on for a couple of years. She was thrilled, but anxious. She’s excellent in person. I’d known her for a while before she became a client, and when we first met for coffee before the pandemic, I was struck by how charismatic and poised she seemed. But sometimes, she finds that the artificial nature of screen-mediated communication hinders her ability to connect and she fumbles.
Our conversation got me thinking: how do you nail a virtual interview?
Even before Covid-19 related lockdowns sent many of us out of the office for remote work, virtual interviews were on the rise. By April 2020, 86% of interviews were being conducted virtually. While offices are slowly beginning to reopen, 74% of hiring managers found that video interviews have made their jobs easier. This fact would indicate that the era of the online interview will not come to an end when we say goodbye to Covid-19.
A lot has changed about interviewing now that we’re more likely to be doing it in front of our laptop screen. A lot also hasn’t changed. Here is some advice for interviewing virtually, as well as some interview recommendations that apply whether you’re in person, or not. These steps will ensure that you nail your virtual interview.
1. Make sure that you and your space look professional
Since remote work became more routine, we’ve all joked about showing up to our “Zoom jobs” in professional tops and sweatpants. But when it comes time for your interview, dress fully in a proper professional outfit, and be sure to consider the corporate culture for which you’re interviewing as you choose your outfit.
There’s a lot of research that backs up the fact that dressing well will boost your confidence. One study even showed that professional clothing can help boost your abstract thinking and give you a broader perspective, which are certainly important qualities to demonstrate in your interview.
Dressing well for your interview is important not just for your own confidence. It will also speak loud and clear to the hiring manager. Data shows that 50% of hiring managers believed that a candidate could be eliminated based on how they dressed, or the way they walked in the room. Since you’re not likely to be able to nail the “walk-in” in a virtual interview, clothing is all the more important.
And let’s be honest, if you wear your sweatpants to talk to the hiring manager, you’re going to be in “sweatpants mode.” Not a good attitude to bring to your interview.
While you definitely don’t want to interview in your pj’s, you also don’t want to overdress. Dressing in a way that is too formal can also impact your chances negatively. If you’re unsure about how to strike the balance here, everyone’s favorite Queer Eye fashisto Tan France has some great guidelines for different tiers of office dress formality.
Once you’ve selected a professional outfit that will make you feel confident, figure out the best background in front of which to place your webcam.
Clean, neutral backgrounds that are free from too much clutter are the way to go. We want the interviewer focused on you, not on photos from your family vacation or your Beanie Baby collection. A bookshelf is also a good way to go, as long as it passes the “credibility” check.
2. Focus on body language and make sure you’re presenting well on video
First impressions are crucial for interviews. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to show off your confident in-person stride, and the days of the firm, professional handshake are on pause for now.
What you do have control over is your body language. Body language is crucial in creating a good first impression. Make sure that before you click the “camera on” button, you’re hitting the mark with your body language.
Here are some tips to look your best, and most confident on camera:
- Strong posture: This should be your first thought. A study found that 33% of interviewers decide on whether or not to hire a candidate in the first 90 seconds! While we can hope that those conducting virtual interviews will give us a bit more grace, I wouldn’t bet on it. That’s why it’s crucial that you display strong posture and open and inviting body language as soon as you begin your virtual interview.
- Have your webcam level with your line of sight. This will help you keep good posture, and create a more natural position for you to engage with your virtual interviewer. Plus, we all look better when shot from a direct angle, rather than from below.
- Engage your head and your hands: Nodding and smiling shows attentive listening, and talking with you hands can help lend credibility to what you are saying. Subtle is the name of the game here though, as waved hands or clenched fists show that you’re nervous and unpredictable.
- Look at the webcam, and not the screen, to simulate eye contact. Eye contact is critical to making a good impression in your interview, so much so that 65% of hiring professionals state that candidates who failed to eye contact didn’t make the cut.
- Do a dry run with a friend. Ahead of your interview, have a casual chat with a friend, making sure to use the same platform on which the interview will be held. This is a great way to get feedback on your body language and how you are presenting on camera.
- Hide your own video. Disclaimer: this one is advanced level. If you are really confident that your video feed is working well, and that you’re presenting good body language, turn off your own video feed. Constantly having to look at yourself on a screen is almost certain to make you feel distracted, or have you focusing on things less important than engaging with the interviewer. Remember, if you were in person, you wouldn’t have to look at yourself!
3) Make sure your tech is up to snuff to best capture your interview
Now that you’ve prepared to present yourself in the most professional possible way, you’ll have to make sure that your tech won’t throw you under the bus.
An interview is a conversation, and the last thing you want is a stop-and-start, stilted conversation that’s undermined by technical difficulties.
In an ideal world, we could walk into an interview confident that our credentials, our intelligence and the strength of our answers would be the only determining factors weighed by interviewers. If only it were so easy.
In fact, when interviewing we’re dealing with a lot of intangibles, and we’re subject to judgement on many things beyond just our professional profile. To illustrate this, you need look no further than a study of hiring professionals that found that gut instinct is believed to be the most cost-effective tool in recruiting.
So even if you present at your best, your hiring chances can be hindered by technical issues.
Here are a few things to check out to make sure you’re transmitting your best self:
- Your internet speed: Make sure that your internet is working well, and that you are in an area that you will get a consistent Wi-Fi signal. A study found that a delay of just 1.2 seconds can negatively impact someone’s impression of you on a video conferencing platform. You can check your internet speed by using the website Speedtest. Compare your speed to this helpful breakdown of the bandwidth needed for different types of virtual meetings.
- Lighting: You may think that a bright window is a great background for your virtual interview, but I hate to say it: you’d be wrong. Backlighting will make you look washed-out and has the potential to obscure your face, and make you hard to read. While no one would reasonably admit that lighting would be something that they would ding a candidate for, you have to consider all the little, intangible things that will contribute to a hiring manager’s impression of you.
- Background noise: This could be a disgruntled pet, loud traffic outside or just that strange Zoom echo. Headphones with a built-in microphone are a great bet to keep distracting sound to a minimum and make sure that your voice is coming through loud and clear. Use earbuds; a big headset will make you look like a pilot or professional gamer.
- Clear your computer of clutter ahead of an interview: Before you sign on to your interview, close any unused programs and unnecessary tabs. This will ensure that your computer and internet speeds aren’t being taxed unnecessarily. It will also protect you from the allure of distractions. You don’t want to be tempted to wander over to Twitter if the interview goes off on a tangent while “telling you more about the position.”
Interviewing over a video conferencing platform can definitely be nerve-wracking. Those who prefer face-to-face contact may feel that a lot of their people skills are not at their disposal.
The important thing to remember is that as long as you follow a few simple guidelines, and don’t make any digital faux pas, you shouldn’t have to change anything about yourself to make a good impression in a remote interview.
As with any interview, do your homework, prepare for some questions you might encounter and just try to put your best self out there. We’re all struggling to adapt to this new world of remote work. In spite of the challenge of meeting someone between screens, your interviewer is bound to see the many things about you that shine. Good luck!