Interviewing for a job during the era of COVID-19 is — surprise, surprise — different. The virtual interview — likely a Google Meet or Zoom interview — is in, the in-person interview is largely out. Gone are the tasks of printing out your resume, dry cleaning your best suit, working on your handshake, and trying not to look awkward when sitting on the too-small couch in the waiting area. In their place are the tasks of setting up the ideal lighting, ensuring your internet connecting is ready, and trying to come off as a good fit for a job that, let’s face it, a lot of other folks are likely interviewing for as well.
So what Zoom interview tips should everyone follow? How should you prepare for a Zoom interview? What virtual interview tips will give you a leg up? The good news about virtual interviews is that most people doing the hiring understand the baked-in constraints. That said, there are certain rules to follow to ensure you put your best self forward as well as certain virtual interview perks of which to take advantage. Here, per a team of experts, are a dozen virtual interview tips and Zoom interview tips to give you a (virtual) leg up.
1. Schedule Around Your Energy
The best time to schedule an interview is when you’re typically at your best. And one of the luxuries of interviewing from home is that you’re likely more able to choose a time that fits that window. “If you’re offered multiple interview time slots to choose from, try to pick a slot that best fits your energy level so that you’ll be fielding questions at your energetic best,” says Timothy Wiedman, a retired Professor of Management of Human Resources who has spent more than a decade interviewing, hiring, and training employees at Fortune 500 companies. No matter what time you schedule the interview for, also schedule an additional 15-20 minute buffer before you’re committed to signing off. “If the interview team likes what they’re seeing and hearing, the last thing you want to do is rush them offline before they have a chance to get answers to all of their questions,” adds Wiedman.
2. Make Sure You’re Lit Correctly
Proper lighting is a key component to making a good impression during a Zoom interview — the last thing anyone wants is to be swathed in shadow on the screen like some anonymous source in a mafia documentary. According Vicki Salemi, a career expert for Monster, a ring light is your best option, as it casts a uniform glow over your face that eliminates awkward shadows. In any case, Salemi says the light should face you directly so that you’re looking into the laptop or webcam and the lamp is behind the camera. Whatever you do, don’t sit in front of a window. “People often make the mistake of sitting in front of a window,” she says. “It may seem like a nice backdrop, but all it does is cast shadows and hide your face.”
3. Dress to Impress (And Yes, Wear Pants)
The casual nature of a Zoom interview or any other type of virtual interview makes it easy to ignore the formalities a standard interview often requires. In other words: Dress nicely, in a crisp shirt and even a suit jacket. And, yes: wear pants, not of the sweat variety. Shoes, too. Why? Because you may need to stand up because the kids have barged in or because something demands your attention. “I’ve seen plenty of candidates who were incredibly scrutinized and evaluated as unprofessional because they dressed too casually,” says Salemi. Treat the interview with the same importance as an in-person one — you can always change as soon as it’s over.”
4. Test Your WiFi — And Sound
The last thing you want is for your interview to sound like a seance, with all parties staring into a scrambled void, asking “Are you there? Hello?” So, please, check your internet connection and then check it again. “Find a quiet place — as quiet as you can — and test the WiFi signal before the interview begins so that there won’t be any connection issues that could detract from your performance or distract your interviewers,” says Colleen McCreary, Chief People Officer at Credit Karma. Use a WiFI speed test to ensure everything is working correctly. Join a test meeting on Zoom to make sure your sound is working, that your bluetooth headphones, if using, are actually connected. Just do everything in your power to avoid any issues that might arise.
5. Make Sure You Have Everything You Need Nearby — And Close Your Browser Tabs
Glass of water? Notepad? Pen? A list of questions that you want to ask your interviews? An encouraging Post-it note that says “You Got This!” Whatever it is you think you might need during the interview, have it in the room with you. You don’t want to be shuffling around for a piece of paper. Also: X out of any other applications and browser tabs. Email. Spotify. Twitter. Close ‘em all. This not only prevents any accidental bloops, bleeps, or songs from interrupting the conversation but also ensures that you’re eyes aren’t drifting towards other messages.
6. Leave Your Phone in the Other Room
Nope, not your back pocket. Not on the desk beside you. But in the other room. It’s so, so, so easy to be distracted by a ding or buzz from your phone. If you can’t leave it in another room because the kids might find it, the very least you can do is turn it off.
7. Use a Mirror
Yes, of course you should glance at yourself in the mirror before the interview begins to make certain you look presentable and there isn’t a poppyseed lodged between your teeth. But Wiedman also advocates looking at a mirror during the interview — that is, the small thumbnail view of yourself on a Zoom interview window — so you can monitor your facial expressions in real time. “People tend to sound more genuine when their facial expressions are in sync with their words,” says Wiedman. “This will help you smile during crucial times, like introductions, and when you thank the interviewers at the end.”
8. Maintain Eye Contact With the Camera
It’s very easy for your eyes to drift over to the person you’re speaking to — especially during calls with multiple people — and not the camera. This is not the biggest of issues but, whenever possible, remember to look into the lens instead of the person’s on-screen face.
9. Takes Notes and Don’t Drone On
Obviously, you’re going to have to talk. But, what you don’t want is to be one of the nightmarish babblers that Wiedman has encountered countless times in his career. “If the hiring team wants additional details, they’ll ask for them,” he says. “So, when you think you’ve properly answered a question, stop talking. Your lengthy answers will eat into their precious interview time.” Weidman also suggests surreptitiously jotting down quick essential notes — with a pen and paper; do not type when someone else is talking. Specifically, write down the names of the interview team (so that you can refer to each member by name whenever possible), and any job-related info that might come up and make you sound smart when you ask about it later.
10. Use Chaos (kids, pets, etc.) to Show Your Grace Under Pressure
Try as we might, life finds a way and chaos could ensue during your virtual interview. A baby may wail; a toddler may march in and yell HUUUOOOWWWEEEEEE! because it’s fun to say. Most interviewers understand the inevitability of distractions. But do your best to bring up the possibility. “You can preface the interview by saying something like, ‘I apologize in advance, but my toddler is here with me,” says Salemi. And remember, whoever is interviewing you will want a sense of how you handle unexpected situations. “Keep your sense of humor, diffuse the situation while addressing it, and the recruiter may very well be impressed by how well you keep your cool.”
11. Mention the Skills You’ve Acquired From Parenting
No, this isn’t a Zoom interview or virtual interview tip. But it’s a good thing to note. According to Colleen McCreary, Chief People Officer at Credit Karma, many companies are looking for people with skills that can be gained from good parenting. “Some parenting skills you’ve mastered over the years can help you stand out as a candidate,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to mention things like your experience running a fundraiser, your project management skills coordinating school events, or organizing the school auctions and more. These are great transferable skills which often exceed the complexity that you see in the traditional work environment.”
Try as we might, things could go wrong during an interview. It happens. Do your best and understand that people are likely going to be a bit more understanding these days — especially of parents. “Even if things do go wrong, though, remember that there’s a heightened sense of empathy right now,” says McCreary. “So many parents are adjusting to working from home, and you won’t be the first person interviewed who’s interrupted by background noise. If the interviewer makes a negative comment about it, it may be a sign that this company isn’t a good fit.”