I was job searching before the pandemic, and I’m hoping to start getting some interviews soon. I am wondering about COVID-era best practices for video interviews.
If I have limited options for quiet, private places with reliable internet for such calls, is it unprofessional to do these calls from my desk in my bedroom? The backdrop doesn’t really show anything personal — bookshelves, plants, a neat sofa. Part of my bed would be visible, though of course I would make it neatly. Is a bedroom too personal a locale to take a video call?
Also, if I haven’t had a chance to go to the salon in several months, my general appearance might be slightly less than professional. Is that something to mention in an joking apology sort of way (“Sorry for looking a little unkempt; I haven’t trusted my roommate to take the shears to me just yet!”) or is it better to just do my best to disguise the situation and not mention it?
Any other tips or tricks for video interviews while we’re basically confined to our apartments?
Most interviewers understand that people are at home right now, not in corporate office buildings, and the backgrounds on video calls will reflect that. As long as you’re not taking a video call from your actual bed, your bedroom should be a perfectly fine place to do the interview. You don’t want a nest of rumbled sheets and blankets in the background, of course, but as long as the room is neat and uncluttered and there’s nothing inappropriately personal in view of the camera, you should be fine. (“Inappropriately personal” means a copy of the Kama Sutra shouldn’t be in view, but family photos or a shelf of novels are fine.)
You do want to be as well groomed as possible, but there’s a lot of leeway for less-than-perfect hair situations right now — from general shagginess to grown-out roots. Make a point of being especially polished in the areas you can control, like other kinds of grooming, clothes, and jewelry and know that your interviewers realize everyone’s look has gone a little feral lately (including, probably, their own). I wouldn’t bother apologizing or joking about it, though; there’s no point in calling attention to something that otherwise might not even have been on your interviewer’s radar.
Other tips to help you do well in video interviews:
1. Do a trial run ahead of time.
Don’t wait until a few minutes before your interview to set up your space. Do a complete trial run with a friend ahead of time so you can see how you look on your computer’s camera and sound on its microphone. You might even wear the outfit you plan to wear for the interview so you can make sure it’s not doing anything weird like blending in with the background and making you appear to be a floating head.
2. Get the lighting right.
Ideally, you’d do your trial run at the same time of day as you’ll be interviewing so you can see how the natural light affects things. The wrong lighting can make you look washed out or ghostly or like a dark silhouette without any features. Make sure any light is aimed at you from the front, not from behind you; for example, don’t sit with a window at your back. If your light source seems too harsh, try covering it with a cloth to soften it (even a T-shirt will do).
3. Have everything you need nearby.
Ahead of your interview, assemble anything you might need during the conversation — a glass of water, paper and a pen to take notes, and so forth. Keep a copy of your résumé and the job description for the role you’ll be discussing nearby, too, since those can be helpful to glance at as you talk.
4. Use the strongest internet connection you can.
If you have a bad data connection, you can end up with more of a delay on both sides, which can make the whole conversation feel less natural. If you have the option of a wired network connection, use it; it will generally be more reliable than Wi-Fi.
Also, try to coordinate with other people in your household so they’re not doing anything that uses a lot of bandwidth during your interview. Video already takes up a lot of bandwidth, and if other people on your network are streaming movies online at the same time, you may have a weaker connection.
5. Look at the camera, not the people you’re talking to.
Looking into the computer’s camera will read as eye contact on your interviewer’s end — whereas if you look into the eyes of the image on your screen, on the other end it will appear that you’re looking away. (This takes practice before it feels normal! If you’re not already a big video caller, it’s helpful to get used to it ahead of time by asking friends to Zoom with you.)
6. If you’re distracted by your own image, cover it.
If you get self-conscious when you see your own image on the screen (or, lucky you, so delighted that you keep focusing on it), try covering it with something like a sticky note so you’re not distracted. Or some video chat programs will let you remove that window altogether.
7. Keep everything else on your computer closed.
Close out all your other windows so you’re not distracted during the interview. Quit e-mail programs, Slack, or anything else that might pop up with notifications during the call (and if you can, turn all your notifications off; it’s very hard not to peek at them, and you don’t want your interviewer to see your eyes continually darting off to the corner of the screen).
8. Pants. Wear them.
It’s easy to think a video meeting lets you wear the mullet version of an interview outfit — business on the top and pajama party on the bottom. But it’s smart to wear something reasonably professional on the bottom, too, in case you end up having to stand and walk away from your computer during the interview. If you have to jump up because a fire alarm goes off or a neighbor starts banging on your door, ideally you won’t be in sweat shorts or pajama pants covered with ducks.
Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.