The coronavirus pandemic has put a hold on in-person interviews for everyone, making online interviews more common than ever for job seekers. Staffing firms are seeing huge spikes in the number of video interviews amid the pandemic, while video conferencing company Zoom recently reported a 200 percent jump in users from December through March.
These numbers will likely increase globally as employers place more emphasis on workforce health and safety. It's likely that virtual interviews will become the new normal, at least for initial screening, for many companies.
Most virtual interviews are live, meaning applicants and interviewers interact through video conference software, such as Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts. It’s as close as you can get to meeting in person.
Some employers prefer to pre-screen candidates with one-way videos. These can be a bit trickier for applicants than live interviews because there is no one one on the other side of the camera. You can't ask questions for clarification; you can’t read the interviewer’s body language; and it can be difficult to show your personality without the feedback a conversation provides. You may feel exposed and self-conscious, especially if you’ve never recorded yourself on video, which could translate into a poor interview.
There are two kinds of one-way video: recorded and self-recorded. Self-recorded videos provide applicants the advantage of having the interview questions ahead of time, so there is time to think about the answers. Other recorded videos are done with third-party apps that require candidates to respond immediately to questions as they appear, and responses are timed.
As if job interviews weren’t stressful enough, some job seekers are now also being forced to present their work and ideas via video, adding a new layer of discomfort to the hiring process. But while virtual interviews present a host of challenges, even for those who are comfortable with the technology, there’s never been a better time to master these critical video interview skills.
Here are a few tips to help you do just that.
1. Prepare in advance
It's always crucial to prepare for an interview, whether it's by phone, video or in person. But it's key to the perfect virtual interview because of its unique considerations, including technology, lighting and environment.
- Test your tech. Make sure your internet connection, mic, computer camera and audio work. If you are doing a live interview, get the proper video conferencing software such as Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts, then try it out. Due to current circumstances caused by COVID-19, most will let you run a free trial meeting after you download it and create an account.
- Have a backup plan in case of issues. For live interviews, find out who to contact in case of an unexpected technical issue on their end or yours, and ask the interviewer(s) how you can reach them in case of technical failure, for example. This conveys that you really do have the critical thinking and problem-solving skills you say you have and that you are dependable.
- Find a quiet spot, free of distractions. This means no pets, babies, roommates, spouses or other family members in the room; phones go on silent; TVs and music are off; and windows are closed. Consider using headphones or earbuds to drown out sound on both ends.
- Set the scene, being mindful of your backdrop. While it's probably obvious, you don't want interviewers to see your messy room. Find a spot in front of a neutral wall. While a blank background is better because it makes you the focus, it’s OK to sit in front of an organized bookcase or a plant.
- Do your research. Just because you aren’t meeting your interviewer(s) face-to-face doesn't mean you shouldn't be armed with knowledge. Get to know the company’s goals, culture and people, and be ready to talk about how you are the perfect fit.
- Practice! The saying "practice makes perfect" is true. For live videos you should prepare a possible list of questions you think you might encounter during the interview; review your past experience; jot down some questions for your interviewers; and ask a friend or family member to interview you and provide honest feedback. This step is crucial for third-party recorded interviews, where you have to respond quickly to a number of questions. If you are doing a self-recorded one-way interview, record yourself answering the questions sent to you in advance several times until you are comfortable with the format.
2. Dress professionally
Many of us have become accustomed to wearing loungewear, sweats and T-shirts while staying at home due to coronavirus, but shelter-in-place attire won’t work for a virtual interview. Employers expect applicants to dress the part, even on video, so reach into your closet for some professional clothes and be ready to look your best — even in the areas you think interviewers can’t see on camera.
- Choose warm, neutral colors. White, red and black can be unflattering on video, while brighter colors such as yellow or bright pink can be distracting for viewers. Opt for neutrals like gray, navy blues and shades of brown. If you want to add a pop of color, go with soft pastels.
- Stay solid. Just like bright and dark colors, patterns will distract or even annoy interviewers. Stripes tend to give off a strobe effect on video, for example.
- Your attire should match the role. According to international business coach Chris Westfall, your approach should be to think it through and show your interviewers you know what the role requires. If you’re unsure, your best bet is to ask HR.
- Avoid flashy jewelry. As a general rule, it’s best to minimize jewelry when interviewing for a job. This is especially true for virtual interviews, since it can catch light and give off too much shine on camera.
3. Get the light right
Proper lighting is essential if you want to look good on video, and it doesn't require much other than a good light source and the right balance.
- Face the light. Webcams love bright light and will record the brightest source, so your position is important. If the light is behind you, you’ll become virtually invisible, so experts advise making sure your face is lit from the front.
- Balance makes a difference. Your interview lighting should be soft and diffused, so try to get it from multiple sources, such as a room with bay windows, or face a window with a light on each side of you.
- Don’t sit too close to the light source, as it can create shadows on your face.
- Experiment with lighting ahead of time. It can help to play around with the lighting in your interview room at least a day before your interview at the same time it's scheduled. Record how you look at different angles until you find the perfect position.
4. What to do during the interview
As with any interview, you want to show your best self, but there are a few tricks to doing so on camera.
- Stay connected. Make sure your computer, laptop, phone or tablet is fully charged or plugged in. Technical lags might be forgivable, but there’s no excuse for losing power in the middle of the interview.
- Be mindful of time. For live interviews, show respect for the interviewer by keeping your answers and questions brief. If you are recording a video, you are on a deadline; stay ahead of that. And if you are interviewing using a third-party application, remember you have a time limit to answer each question.
- Keep the camera at eye level. Any other angle is unflattering. If your desk or table is too low, use a set of books or boxes to raise your device before dialing in.
- Look at the camera, not the screen. It’s naturally tempting to look at the interviewer’s image on screen during live interviews, but doing so makes it seem like you are looking down or away from the interviewer. Looking at the camera is the equivalent of looking them in the eye, which establishes a connection and conveys confidence. The same holds true for one-way interviews. Train yourself to look at the camera during dry runs. Just be careful not to stare.
- Present yourself as you would in person. It’'s easy to feel comfortable in our own homes, and since we’ve all been in them much more often than usual these days, we’ve become accustomed to our home-bound lifestyles. But a job interview is not the time to be too laid-back or casual. Whether you are recording yourself, being recorded by an application or going live, show interviewers you respect their time and that you are serious about the position by sitting up straight in a chair, keeping your hands and feet still, and staying focused.
- Be professional but natural. Most of us are a little self conscious on camera, making it difficult to be our authentic selves. Nervousness is to be expected, but do your best to relax throughout the interview while maintaining an air of professionalism. Your personality has a better chance of shining through if you’re relaxed.
- Smile. Job seekers are often so focused on making a good impression during a video interview they can forget to smile. It's even more important to remember when doing recorded videos. Your smile should be genuine and come naturally; otherwise it might seem creepy.