career

10 Ways to Nail Your Video Interview

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos: Getty Images/Getty Images/PhotoAlto

Dear Boss,

I’m job-searching for the first time in nearly a decade and am realizing that a lot of interviews these days, especially in early rounds, are done over video. This is a change from the last time I was interviewing, so I’m wondering what the best practices are.

I don’t have a ton of options for quiet, private places with reliable internet for video calls. Is it okay 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 or too unprofessional a location to take a video call?

Any other tips or tricks to do well in video interviews?

Fortunately, the surge in video calls that started with the pandemic means that interviewers are pretty used to seeing people interview from their homes now and understand that 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 rumpled 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 might also experiment with a virtual background. If you do, pick something simple; the less busy, the better. And because this is a business call, choose something like a blank wall or an office setting rather than a beach or sunset.

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 is too harsh, try covering it with a cloth to soften it (even a T-shirt will do).

3.

Have everything you need on hand.

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 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. While you’re at it, ask them to keep the noise to a minimum while you’re on as well.

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.

9.

Make a strong impression at the start of the interview.

When you interview in person, there’s usually an informal settling-in period: You and your interviewer meet, shake hands, walk to an office or conference room, get seated, and probably make some initial small talk before the interview really begins. When you’re interviewing by video, there isn’t anything equivalent to that process, which can leave the first few minutes of the call feeling awkward. So at the start, make sure you look right into the camera when you greet your interviewer, introduce yourself using an upbeat tone, and smile warmly. Those seem like small things, but they’ll help you appear engaged and make a strong initial connection. And speaking of appearing engaged …

10.

Mind your expression.

Video calls have some clear disadvantages over in-person meetings: Eye contact is often slightly off, audio delays can interrupt the natural flow of conversation, and body language isn’t as easy to read. That means your facial expressions will be doing nearly all the heavy lifting when it comes to nonverbal communication. To signal to your interviewer that you’re engaged and enthusiastic (and, frankly, just a generally likable person), make sure you’re using your face — nod, smile, and maintain a pleasant expression even when you’re not talking.

Find even more career advice from Alison Green on her website, Ask a Manager. Got a question for her? Email askaboss@nymag.com (and read our submission terms here.)

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