Updated: Feb 22
Before the pandemic, video interviews were something of a rarity. Job seekers could expect a phone interview or two, followed up with an in-person interview. Now many companies are conducting the entire interview process from initial screening to onboarding using videos. With the rise in user-friendly platforms like Zoom, they could be here to stay. As a job seeker, you should expect that you will encounter a video interview during your search and prepare for them long before you have one on your calendar.
In addition to the normal preparations you should do for an interview, like research and practice interviews, video interviews have additional items you must address. Some of which are obvious, and some more subtle:
The background should not be distracting and should be professional. Do not have a bed behind you under any circumstances – that is weird. You can use your background to flex if feel you need to (diplomas, etc.) but you don’t need to overthink it. I am also a fan of a bit of personality, not going over the top on anything. If you need examples, you can check out the Twitter account: Rate My Zoom Room There are plenty of virtual background templates you can use if you must, but the opportunity for them to either distract the audience or to have a technical glitch is real enough that I would go without if you can.
Your interview should be conducted in a quiet setting. Try to minimize any background noise: pets, kids, neighbors, traffic, leaf blowers, etc. Try to make the space acoustically flat so there are no echoes. If your “Zoom Room” has bare floors and walls, it will echo a bit. You can add rugs & drapes for a more permanent fix or bring in blankets, quilts or anything that will absorb sound.
The lighting should be plentiful and as natural as possible. Try to avoid shadows across your face. Fluorescent lighting can make you look like a cadaver, so consider incandescent or LED bulbs that cast a natural light. Cart in a couple extra lamps from another room if need be or even consider buying lights specific to the task. Thanks to the rise in social media influencers, there are thousands of cheap options for “video lights” on Amazon but I would not go out and buy one for just one interview.
There are dozens of video chat platforms but Zoom, Skype, and Teams are the most common. They are usually accessed via a website or an app that you can download to a phone, tablet, or laptop and are free to use. My personal preference for video interviews is my laptop, which allows me to use the integrated camera and microphone. Since I have a second screen setup, I can put a resume or other relevant documents on the second screen. If you use a mobile device, consider a tripod or something to prop it up on so you don’t have to hold it the whole time.
Practice. Do not wait until ten minutes before you interview to download and install the program you will be using. Practice using basic controls such as logging in, muting and unmuting your microphone, and switching between speaker and gallery views. Don’t get fancy with the settings. One of the best moments of 2021 was the “Lawyer Cat” incident where a lawyer accidentally had a kitten filter on instead of his face that he could not figure out how to turn off. Like it or not, your ability to handle the technology will be graded in the interview – especially for job seekers “of a certain age.”
Your internet connection is important – if you are using Wi-fi, make sure you have adequate bandwidth to have a good connection. If need be, turn off any unnecessary streaming on your network (Netflix, gaming, music, etc.) to conserve bandwidth. Or you can go old-school and hardline directly into the router. If you have unreliable internet service at home, it would be better to request a phone interview than to sit in the Starbucks parking lot.
Headphones are OK, but my preference is for subtle, unobtrusive ones like earbuds, not the noise-cancelling gaming headphones your kid uses to play Fortnite. That can be too distracting.
Dress for success. Wear business attire unless specifically told not to. That means a jacket and tie for men and formal business attire for women. While pants have become optional in the Zoom era, I would HIGHLY encourage you to dress as if you were in person, lest you forget you are wearing sweat pants and somehow get caught on camera in them.
Eye contact takes practice. Because the camera is usually a few inches higher than the screen, making eye contact is hard. You faced with a choice to either looking at the camera and looking at the interviewer(s) on your screen. It can take some practice to make it natural.
Camera height and distance matters. Looking down at the camera can give you an unflattering double-chin situation. Consider putting your device up on a box or a stack of books to raise the camera height. Practice finding the Goldilocks distance between you and the camera. Too far away, and you will be out of reach of the microphone. Too close and the viewers can count your nose hairs.
Body language is not easy. I find it easier to focus on the person’s words & intonation easier over the phone than in a video interview. Likewise, when in-person, it is easier to read people’s body language. When you only get the person’s head and shoulders, you lose some of that. If they stop looking at the camera, they could be taking notes or losing focus and returning a text or checking email.
Hide self-view…or not. Many people find it easier to hide their own face on a video call – so you can focus on the people you are talking to, not worrying about how you look. Some people prefer to see themselves so they can check how they are being perceived – friendly, serious, intelligent, etc. Practice either way to find your preference.
If you are one of the people doing the interviewing, either hiring manager, human resources, or other stakeholder, there are some other things you need to be mindful of as well.
Here are a few things to consider:
Dress professionally. You might be fully capable of doing your job while in casual clothing and bed-head on a normal work-from-home day, but for the interview, make an effort. You will be representing your company in the interview and it shows respect to the prospective employee.
The same Zoom Room and technology considerations that apply to candidates apply to you too. Try to be as professional as possible.
Limit participants to no more than three. If there are ten people that have a say in the hiring process (which is about seven too many, in my opinion) getting all ten involved in one video interview will probably overwhelm the candidate and result in a bad interview. Better to schedule a few interviews than one big inquisition.
Embrace the flexibility. Video interviews can allow you to do them outside of normal business hours as the office doesn’t have to be open. Consider scheduling in the evening or even weekends if the job seekers are still employed. For what it’s worth, candidates that are already working from home should have an easier time sneaking away for an interview (confirming every bad boss’ fears) – but that can put them in the morally dubious position of stealing company time when they are supposed to be working.
Open up the candidate pool nationally. Flying a candidate in for interviews will be a thing of the past. Non-local candidates can be vetted via video interviews for a fraction of the time and expense. If a position can be done remotely currently, there is a strong argument to opening up a role to full-time remote. This can save the expense of having to relocate candidates, especially for highly in-demand positions or companies in high cost of living areas.
Have empathy. This is the most important thing you can do. Imagine if you were trying to find a job in the middle of the pandemic and how stressful that must be. Video interviews are a highly artificial and often uncontrolled environment. Not everyone has a private office they can go to. There might be interruptions from young kids or pets. None of those distractions should detract from the ability of a candidate to do the job you are interviewing them for. Give them points for doing their best and do not take points off if things go off the rails a little bit.
Companies and candidates have adapted remarkably well during the pandemic, and while not ideal, the alternatives right now are worse – either leaving jobs open, or job seekers unemployed for the duration. It can be done well. If you need help figuring out how to do it well, let us know.
Video interviews are most likely here to stay, so let’s make the most of it.
Thanks for reading. The Rivet Group is an executive search firm that works with companies to fill their key positions – the rivets that hold it all together. If you are a job seeker or looking to add to your team, let us know how we can help.