The pandemic has changed our lives in more ways than we could’ve ever anticipated and we are expected to adapt to these changes, especially in our professional lives. This means that our classes, meetings, and interviews are more frequently than not moved to the world wide web to decrease face-to-face interaction.
Interviews are daunting as is, so adding another level of uncertainty and unfamiliarity can increase stress and anxiety levels.
I have had my fair share of interviews and meetings via video calls in the last six months as a result of COVID-19. I have experience with work meetings on Microsoft Teams, graduate school interviews on Zoom, and job interviews on Google Hangouts. In these past six months, my understanding of how to properly navigate video call software and execute a professional meeting has been practiced and refined. Here is my best advice to be successful in your next web-based interview.
Check your video picture before beginning the interview.
Most video chat software allow you to test your webcam at any time, including before a big interview. I recommend logging into the program you will be using and practicing with your webcam to become familiar with it. Likewise, learn how your webcam picture is. Does it have a clear picture or are your features a bit hard to make out? Do you have to adjust your camera to an awkward angle to get your full upper body in the picture? Do this before an interview begins to avoid looking unpracticed and unprofessional.
Adjust the lighting.
Likewise, do this before an interview begins. Face a window or a light to brighten your picture, and decrease back light if possible. For one of my graduate school interviews, I faced a light and avoided back light, but my features were very washed out! I realized (too late) that my window was casting harsh, bright light that caused my very fair complexion to blur into a ghostly presence rather than a professional young adult seeking an education. So, make sure you have enough light in front of you, but make sure it isn’t too harsh.
Choose a neutral background.
If you sit in front of a wall for your interview, try to make it as neutral as possible. This means a lot of things. Instead of sitting in front of your pink bedroom wall, opt for the neutral grey of your dining room. Instead of sitting in your living room with dozens of family photos behind you, sit in a room with fewer decorations. The interview is about marketing yourself, so make yourself the sole feature in frame.
Sit at a desk or table.
I am very guilty of not following this tip. Many of my recent interviews were conducted in my living room on a chair, since my living room has great light and neutral walls. However, I placed my laptop on my lap, which has a few inherent flaws.
I talk a lot with my hands, especially during interviews. Consequently, my laptop was shaking with each move I made, creating a blurred picture on the interviewer’s end of the call. Setting my laptop on a desk or table would have drastically increased the quality of the call.
Make sure you are eye-level with the camera.
Similar to the previous tip, this is one that I have only recently began to use. Since I frequently conducted Zoom interviews with my laptop on my lap, I would look down at the camera. This may seem like a trivial or unimportant step to take, but trust me, it makes a big difference.
You want to be on the same “level” as your interviewer(s), not looking down at them. Think of an in-person interview – you are often sitting around or across a table and in a chair that is of similar height as your interviewer, meaning you are both at about the same eye-level as one another. Replicate this during a video interview, too.
Not only will you place yourself on their level, but it will also open up your eyes and make you seem more inviting and welcoming than if you were looking down at the camera.
Avoid distractions, within or outside the home.
This step isn’t always easy or even possible to follow, but do your best to find a location that is quiet and free from visual or auditory distractions. Not only will your interviewer appreciate it, but it will also help you focus. For example, during one of my recent interviews, I found myself distracted by every car and pedestrian that passed by my window, taking my focus away from the interview and interviewer.
Avoid looking at yourself on the computer screen.
We are narcissistic creatures by nature, and we enjoy looking at ourselves. Don’t look at yourself. Luckily, it isn’t super easy to tell that you are looking at yourself instead of the interviewer during a call, so it shouldn’t affect your interview in that way. But, it can distract you from the interview if you are thinking about how your hair looks rather than how to answer the question. Think of it this way – you can’t see yourself during an in-person interview, so why focus on yourself during a Zoom interview?
During a recent interview, my computer glitched and I could no longer see myself (the interviewers could still see me on their end). I found myself more focused on the interview and interviewers because of that glitch, since I wasn’t self-critiquing the whole time.
Pick a shirt that is professional, but not too flashy.
Trust me, I am a huge advocate for funky shirts and styles in the workplace. But it is a bit different for a video call interview, since the other party is likely only seeing that part of your outfit. Instead, choose to wear a simple shirt and save the fun styles for when you get the job and return to work in-person.
Don’t stress about what pants you will wear.
The interviewer (probably) isn’t going to see your lower half. Don’t spend your time picking the perfect pants. In fact, I have conducted Zoom interviews wearing a blouse and blazer paired with pajama shorts, since I am so confident that my interviewer will never see my lower half. This stressed my mom out a bit each time I participated in an interview wearing this outfit, but I was successful nonetheless. Instead of choosing matching pants or a skirt to pair with your top, use that energy and time to prepare your answers or to review your resume.
Adjust your makeup according to your webcam.
As I mentioned above, video call software and my laptop camera tend to wash out my features, regardless of the lighting. To make up for this, I adjust my makeup accordingly. If I choose to wear eye shadow for a video call, I wear brighter colors and heavier makeup to ensure it shows up on screen. I also focus on strong contouring and applying more blush to re-highlight the features that will otherwise be washed out. For reference, I included the makeup I applied for a recent interview. It is brighter and heavier than a normal look, but appeared less flashy on my computer.
Be prepared for technical difficulties, but remind yourself that it isn’t your fault.
Technical problems are going to happen, no matter how much you try to combat them. Sometimes it is just minor lagging, other times it will be a full program crash. Remember that this isn’t your fault and not to worry about whether it will affect your interviewer’s impression of you (because it won’t).
Do remember, however, that how you react to the problems says way more about you than any answer you give to any question. Employers look for individuals who are good at adapting to and solving problems. If you appear visibly frustrated and unable to overcome the technical obstacles, you may present yourself as a less ideal candidate for the position.
Speak up, but don’t yell.
The microphone will pick up and transmit noise differently than if you were interviewing in-person. Remember to talk confidently to project your voice. But don’t yell, and don’t speak too slowly.
COVID-19 is affecting our lives in more ways than we want to deal with, and it definitely isn’t making the job or college hunt any easier than before. Employ these tips to help overcome interviewing anxiety and to better understand the world of virtual interviewing. And remember, if you are going to school, applying to colleges, and/or job hunting during this time, you are learning skills that will benefit you in time, making you a unique and valuable candidate in the future.
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