If you're someone who lost a job in the months since the COVID-19 pandemic became a global crisis, you may now be facing a postmodern job search — one where you have to figure out how to virtually replicate a confident handshake during your remote interview.
Before quarantine, a video call was reserved for those you already have a relationship with: close friends, parents who may or may not have a firm grasp on how to use it properly, people you miss whose voices and faces you want to hear and see. In the era of COVID-19 job hunting, though, you’re saying “nice to meet you” to strangers via video chat. How can you ensure you’re making a good impression on a platform we’re not used to making first impressions on? We spoke to LinkedIn career expert Blair Heitmann for some advice how to make remote interviews feel like they’re happening in-person.
Choose your setting wisely
As in real estate, the key factor in a good video interview is location, location, location. It can be a nerve-wracking choice, especially if you worry about being judged for where you live, and the subtle things your video call background can say about you. It might even lead you to ponder whether you should use a virtual background, which many video chat services now allow, so that your real background is hidden. Is it good etiquette to replace your brightly-painted walls or loud wallpaper with a fake background in a neutral tone?
“Virtual backgrounds can be a fun way to mix up your typical video calls, but when it comes time to interviewing for a job, I’d skip them,” says Heitmann. “Even if it’s relatively simple, it can be distracting to the person on the other end of the call.” It’s true that the technology isn’t perfect, often leading to jagged edges or only parts of your background being replaced. “I’d recommend leveraging a good spot in your location that is authentic. Choose a location for your call where there is plenty of light and few distractions in the background.” Good lighting should be a top priority, as being well-lit is crucial to video quality and allows for a more natural interview experience.
Test your internet
The most gorgeous lighting and backdrop in the world is useless, however, if it’s a dead zone for your internet connection. “Make sure you are close enough to your wifi router so you get a good signal,” says Heitmann. If you need a stronger connection in a specific part of your home, you can try moving your modem and router. You could also buy a wifi extender or upgrade your router to a better one that has greater range.
You might also consider (politely) asking other wifi-using household members to be mindful of their internet use during the block of time when your interview is scheduled. Downloading large files or video streaming can slow down your internet speed. “If your wifi strains every time someone in the house watches Netflix, make sure to let your family members know you have an important call happening,” says Heitmann. If your wifi remains stubbornly unreliable, try an old-school wired connection.
As a last resort, if you have an especially poor internet connection, you should focus more on audio quality than video quality. “While video conferencing platforms are a fantastic way to see the face of the person interviewing you and let them see you, making sure they can hear your every word is paramount,” says Heitmann. “If your wifi is unreliable, call into the video using your laptop but mute your computer’s microphone and then use your cell phone to dial into the audio line for the call. This will ensure that even if your screen freezes, your interviewer won’t miss a word during your meeting.”
Position your camera and computer strategically
Even if you’ve found the perfect backdrop for your call, you may need to tweak the exact camera angle and positioning of your computer to make sure you’re showing off your best self. “You want to be sure the person on the other side is hearing your great ideas, and not distracted by poor lighting or odd angles,” says Heitmann. “Position your computer or camera so that it’s at eye level. I know it’s called a laptop, but it shouldn’t be in your lap for a video call, unless you want to give them a view of the inside of your nose. Prop it up with a stand or a few books and put it about an arm’s length away so you’re framed nicely in the middle of the screen.”
Look at the camera
A lot has been said about why we can’t stop staring at ourselves during video calls, which is funny, because why are we so self-conscious about how we look to others if we’re all just scrutinizing ourselves? But especially during a virtual interview, you should resist falling into this trap. Looking straight at the camera is like maintaining eye contact, and in-person, it can be a little uncomfortable if someone you’re talking to never seems to quite look at you.
“Many people now have larger monitors which aren’t at eye level with their webcams. Unfortunately, that means you aren’t looking at the camera,” says Heitmann. She suggests even putting a post-it note that says ‘look here!’ next to your camera. “It will keep your eyes on the interviewer and project confidence while you focus on the questions.”
Talk slowly and wait your turn
There are some quirks of video chatting that are inevitably different from an in-person conversation. During a face-to-face conversation, it might sound natural and polite to make periodic acknowledgements that you’re listening and reacting to what’s being said. But during a video call? “A good rule of thumb is try to avoid ‘yes’ and ‘right’ that you might add during a typical in person conversation,” says Heitmann. “Over video call, it can be distracting. Try to wait until the person is completely done speaking before jumping in.”
In general, it’s good to be more mindful of how quickly you’re speaking during your call. It gives you more time to take note of whether your interviewer is finished speaking, or if they look confused and have a question. “If nerves during a job interview make you talk very quickly, limit interruptions and awkward moments by making sure you slow down, listen carefully to catch conversational cues and pause appropriately between your answers,” says Heitmann.
Acclimate to awkwardness
Setting up and testing your video call beforehand will go a long way in making the interview smooth. But there may still be hiccups, freezes, pauses that feel a little awkward. Practise getting used to these minor awkward situations — being able to brush them off and seamlessly return to what you were talking about or segueing to a new topic is a skill that will help you shine as a potential hire.
“Some delays and interruptions are par for the course with today’s video conference technology so a bit of ‘Can you hear me?’ and ‘Will you please repeat that?’ is unavoidable,” says Heitmann. “If — and when — you do accidentally interrupt your interviewer, be polite and professional. It will show your interviewer you’re not easily frustrated and can keep your cool under pressure.”
Remember that you’re not a robot
Your sense for picking up cues might be a little dulled because of the virtual medium of your interview, but fretting about it won’t help you appear more natural. After you’ve taken steps to prepare, the last step is to relax and accept that things might not go perfectly. “Don’t forget to be human,” Heitmann advises. “It’s virtual, but you are still connecting with a person on the other side. It is okay to laugh at jokes and acknowledge the natural challenges of the situation. If your cat creeps into the shot, or the neighbours are particularly loud, acknowledge it and use it as a way to build a rapport with the interviewer.”
Take advantage of the platform
Instead of focusing solely on the challenges of the virtual format, make the most of it to be even more prepared for your interview. “One of the perks of video is that the person you’re speaking with can’t see if you have notes or an outline on the table next to you,” says Heitmann. “Take advantage of that by coming to your interview with a bulleted list of key points or examples you’d like to share. You’ll want to avoid a script, which can sound rehearsed and impersonal, but a well-planned list of key points will ensure you remember to share the most important details.”
You can also use the features that come with video call technology to really show off your portfolio or turn a portion of your interview into a more polished presentation. “Video conferencing platforms like Microsoft Teams make it easy to share your screen,” Heitmann points out. “It’s a great opportunity to show examples of your work as you talk about them during an interview. Having a few key visuals open and ready on your computer before the call starts can make it easy to answer interview questions with concrete examples of your previous accomplishments.”