Despite record job losses around the country, there are still companies and law firms interviewing and hiring, and virtually all of these interviews are now taking place via videoconferencing apps like Zoom, Google Meet, Cisco Webex, and Skype.
Acing a video interview requires much of the same preparation as an in-person interview, but here are five things you can do to set yourself apart and put your best foot forward.
Make Sure Your Tech Is Good To Go
The key here is to prepare, prepare, prepare. Dealing with wonky tech during your interview will throw you off your game and will be distracting (and annoying!) for both you and your interviewer. Here are some things you should do ahead of your interview:
- Download your videoconferencing app ahead of time on more than one device (two computers, or a computer and a phone) and make sure it is updated. You should have the app downloaded on more than one device in case you have a tech issue with your main device and you need a backup. Also, make sure your app is updated, so you aren’t dealing with updates right before your interview that cause you to be late.
- Check your Wifi. Make sure you’re connected to a network or Wifi with the speed that can support videoconferencing.
- Check your audio. Bad audio is frustrating for everyone involved and can create a disjointed (and ultimately negative) interview experience. Check that your microphone and speakers work well, or wear earbuds.
- Check your video and confirm that it’s working properly.
- Make sure your computer and back-up device are fully charged (or plugged in).
- After getting all of this set up, do a test run with a friend or family member to make sure all your tech is running smoothly and there aren’t any kinks to sort out before your interview.
Be On Time
As with in-person interviews, there is no better way to kill your chances of getting a job offer than to be late to an interview. For many potential employers, being late indicates a lack of interest in the job, a lack of respect for your interviewer, and/or poor planning skills.
As we all know, things come up—unexpected computer reboots, frozen screens, etc., but you should plan for them. Here’s how to do that:
- Double check the day and time (and time zone!) for your interview.
- Have your videoconferencing app password and your meeting password (if one is being used) at the ready. If you are like me, you are constantly forgetting and having to reset your password. Make sure you know your videoconferencing app password so that you’re not frantically trying to reset it two minutes before your interview. In addition, many videoconferencing apps (like Zoom) require an additional password to enter the meeting. Have your passwords written down on a piece of paper next to your computer so you’re not scrambling to reset/find them as your interview starts.
- Login to your videoconference 1-2 minutes before your interview to give yourself time to enter a password, or troubleshoot any unexpected tech issues.
- Assume you can be seen/heard! Even if you don’t see the other person on the screen, they very well may be able to see and/or hear you, so from the moment you begin the login process, conduct yourself professionally and assume everything you do or say can be seen or heard by your interviewer.
Many of us are working from home and dealing with spouses, pets and deliveries constantly interrupting us, but it’s important to eliminate these distractions as much as possible during your interview. To do this, you should:
- Find somewhere quiet—you don’t want your spouse making a sandwich in the background or your kids chasing the dog behind you. Ask someone to take your dog and/or kids for a walk during your interview, or find a quiet room to do your interview while you put your kids in front of the TV and give your dog a tasty bone (or your cat a slab of salmon) to occupy them and allow you to focus.
- Turn off or silence your phone.
- Turn off notifications and close out other web pages on your computer.
- Put a note on your door for the delivery person to leave any packages without buzzing.
Present as Polished & Confident
I personally have not worn “real” clothes since March, with most of my workday attire consisting of yoga pants and hoodies. But for a videoconference interview, you need to dress professionally. Also, since you will be doing the interview from home, you need to make sure the setting looks as professional as possible. A few tips:
- For many job interviews in corporate America, including those with law firms, business casual attire is the safest way to go. Even if you are interviewing in a creative industry, at a start-up, or at a non-traditional company, where the typical uniform is jeans with a hoodie, I would go with a button down and khakis for men, or a blazer and dress/blazer, blouse and pants for women. If you aren’t sure about attire, ask the recruiter or person scheduling your interview and they will usually be more than happy to give you guidance on this.
- Keep beards trimmed and neat, jewelry simple, and nail color neutral. I recently had a client tell me about an interview with an otherwise solid candidate who wore giant, brightly colored earrings. The client liked the candidate, but found they were distracted by the earrings (enough so that it warranted a comment to me). The lesson here is that you never want what you wore to be more memorable than what you said about your skills or experience, so make sure that you aren’t presenting yourself in a way that could overshadow or detract from what you bring to the table.
- Check your teeth and nose! Having food stuck in your teeth or a similar issue with your nose is extremely distracting (and also embarrassing).
- Make sure you have a professional-looking background. Don’t do the interview where the interviewer can see your dirty dishes or piles of laundry. Set yourself up with a background like an organized bookshelf, a wall and plant or a single piece of artwork. If none of these options are available, just a blank wall behind you will suffice. You want your interviewer to be focused on you, not wondering how you have accumulated so much dirty laundry. Some videoconferencing apps like Zoom offer virtual backgrounds, but I advise against using them. They tend to look fake (and a little cheesy) and, to the point above, can also be distracting to the viewer.
- Lighting matters—I have seen people on videoconferences in poorly-lit rooms and it doesn’t look good. You don’t want to look like you’re hiding in a cave. Use natural light where possible—a window in front of you (rather than behind you) creates the best lighting (and makes you look your best) for an interview. You can also purchase a LED desk lamp and position it in front of your computer (try out different brightness levels to see what looks best).
- Sit (with good posture) in a chair. Don’t do the interview on your couch (with your laptop in your lap). Sit at a table, if possible, and have your computer or laptop on a flat surface on the table. Also, be conscious of how you present yourself while sitting, be sure to sit up tall and confident, keep your hands off your face, and refrain from fidgeting.
- Check your camera angles/eyeline. You don’t want your computer camera to be too low (which can cause you to look like you’re peering down a hole, and is also a very unflattering angle!). If necessary, prop your computer monitor up on some books so that the camera is level with your eyeline.
- Create a cheat sheet. One of the benefits of a videoconference interview is that you can have a cheat sheet on the table next to you. DO NOT read from it, but use it as a high-level reminder of key points you want to raise or questions you want to ask.
Personally Connect With Your Interviewer
Although it can be trickier to establish a personal connection via videoconference than when you are face-to-face with your interviewer, there are a couple things you can do to establish immediate rapport.
- Look at the camera, not at yourself on the screen. This is the videoconference version of making good eye contact, but it feels weird at first and it takes practice to get used to. So, enlist a buddy to practice with and get comfortable beforehand.
- Be engaged and smile! Greeting your interviewer with a warm, genuine smile can immediately establish rapport and get things started on the right foot. A big part of being confident and poised is being comfortable in your own skin, and letting your guard down with a smile is part of that. So, go for it!
Getting your dream job is a competitive process and, to have the best shot, you need to stack all the chips in your favor. With video interviewing, you need to put more thought into the technology you are using and the setting in which you conduct the interview. The tips above are some simple things you can practice and prepare for ahead of time that will help set you up to present the most professional and confident version of yourself.
Erin Lum is a Partner with Empire Search Partners in San Francisco, where she has spent the past twelve years placing attorneys at leading law firms as well as in-house at companies of all sizes. Before joining Empire Search Partners, Erin was a Managing Director at Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc. and spent several years in private practice at Ropes & Gray LLP and at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, each in New York. You can reach Erin on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/erinlum or at firstname.lastname@example.org