Unemployment may be at a record high, but—don’t look now—lots of companies are actually hiring. So, your résumé caught someone’s eye? Great, you’ve got an interview. The catch is that you’re not being invited to the office, you’re going to be doing it via Zoom or some other video conferencing platform.
Interviewing via a Google Hangout is a lot different than meeting in person, but you don’t have to let that reality blow the job for you. To help your next video interview go as smoothly as possible, I’ve collected some tips from a number of experts and professionals who’ve been on both sides of the online interview dance.
Just because you’re on video doesn’t mean you can slack off on your appearance. The trend toward casual, devil-may-care attire in the workplace does not and should not trickle down to your choice of attire for a video job interview. Dress one notch above what the company’s typical attire is. So if the office culture favors collared shirts, check that box but also slip on a jacket. “Put your work shoes on,” says Adam Sanders, director of Successful Release, which helps felons find work after reentering society. “It might seem strange to wear your shoes during a videoconference, but it has an important psychological effect on you.” Also, be sure to wear solid colors, as stripes and complex patterns can look awful on video.
Close the door and windows in your room. Shut off the TV down the hall. Silence your cell phone (unless you’re using it for the conference, see tip #7 below). “And make sure the only window open on your computer screen is the video platform you are using,” says life coach Tom Marino. “Silence all pop-ups. The last thing you want is to lose your train of thought.”
You know that barking dog who haunts every business meeting? He’ll ruin your interview too. “I can’t stand when dogs start barking in the background,” says Matthew Ross, COO of Slumber Yard, an online mattress review site with remote staff. “That tells me the candidate is not taking the interview seriously. You wouldn’t bring your dog to an interview in the office, so take the same approach for online interviews.”
The same advice goes for your children. Park them in front of a screen in a faraway part of the house, and give them enough candy to last the length of the interview.
More than any other tip, pros said that careful attention to your background is absolutely crucial. A bedroom with a sloppy bed, a home office full of clutter, a kitchen table … all of these connote information about you to the interviewer, none of it good. It’s not only unprofessional, but it also distracts the interviewer, who’ll be busy analyzing your dirty laundry instead of listening to what you have to say.
The most common advice: Set yourself up against a completely blank background (one that doesn’t clash with your shirt). “If you’re struggling to find a professional backdrop, try setting up a folding table near a neutral wall or corner,” says Michelle Vitus, CEO of Slate Advisers, a career coaching firm. But leave some distance: “Never sit right up against the wall,” says Karen Ripenburg, a TV producer and media trainer. “Allow for at least 3 feet minimum between the back of your head and the wall, so you don’t blend into the background and flatten your shot. You will look more confident with some space, and not like you have no escape.”
This takes some practice and feels unnatural, but during your interview you should look at the camera as much as possible, not the picture of the other person on the screen. Looking at the camera is as close as you can get to making eye contact with the interviewer, while looking at the screen will appear to the other side like you’re staring off into space. The good news is that, on a small phone screen, this effect is minimized. If you’re doing your interview on a laptop, you can cheat this by shrinking the size of the videoconference app’s window and positioning it as close as possible to the location of the webcam.
“It’s hard to answer questions cheerfully and energetically if you’ve been cooped up indoors for a long time,” says Anh Trinh, managing editor of GeekWithLaptop, which employs an entirely remote staff. “Us interviewers can see exactly how tired and unexcited you are for the interview, which gives us a negative opinion of you. Energy and enthusiasm are some of the things we’re looking for in any recruit, so make sure you at least act the part.”
Try doing some jumping jacks or jogging around the block before the interview to get your energy level up—and to help calm any nerves.
Remember that the interviewer can’t see what’s not on camera, so use your interview space to your advantage. Stick a Post-It Note cheat sheet with notes, questions, or needed inspiration directly to the screen or to the wall behind your camera. The interviewer on the other side won’t ever know.
This content was originally published here.