Despite a growing number of companies mandating their workers return to the office, a recent hiring survey from TopResume revealed one pandemic-inspired work trend that is expected to continue into the new year: the virtual interview process. According to the survey results, one-third (33%) of employers currently offer an exclusively virtual interview process, with an additional 21% resorting to in-person interviews only for final rounds. In fact, only one in five (20%) participants stated that most of their company’s interviews take place in-person.
Although many of us have grown accustomed to using videoconferencing tools like Zoom in lieu of in-person meetings over the past few years, the data shows that many job candidates have yet to master the art of the virtual interview. When employers were asked to identify the worst offenses a candidate can commit during a virtual interview, five surfaced as the biggest deal-breakers. Fortunately, with preparation, these little mistakes can be easily avoided. Take the following steps to prepare for your next virtual interview and avoid sabotaging your chances of landing the job.
COMMUNICATE YOUR CALENDAR
If you live with your partner, family members, or roommates, let them know when you have a scheduled interview to prevent any interruptions or surprises. You can reinforce this by blocking off the time on a shared calendar or taping a sign to the door of your chosen interview space. It’s also a good idea to close windows and invest in a reliable pair of noise-canceling headphones to eliminate unwanted background noises, such as traffic or barking dogs. When all else fails, invest in a lock for the door to keep others from accidentally barging in.
FIND A NEUTRAL BACKDROP
While it’s a no-brainer that you should avoid sitting in a messy room during a video interview, it’s sometimes challenging to find a suitable spot in your home. If your usual remote workspace may be an unsuitable backdrop for a video interview, test a few options around your home during the same time of day as your scheduled interview to find a space that’s quiet, clutter-free, and well-lit.
If all else fails, sit in front of a blank wall or door with a slightly blurred background filter to achieve a neutral backdrop for your meeting. Some experts suggest sitting against the door in a bathroom or a walk-in closet because these smaller spaces tend to have great acoustics and blank backgrounds.
While there’s a time and place for using virtual backgrounds, a job interview isn’t one of them. You should only apply a virtual Zoom background during a video interview as a last resort. Remember, your goal is to create a distraction-free environment for your interview; the last thing you want when you’re trying to build rapport with a recruiter is a distracting virtual background that might be considered inappropriate or unexpectedly makes your hands, head, or hair disappear.
Once you find your interview spot, test the audio and video to ensure the sound is clear, the lighting is strong, and the laptop is the right height. Books, empty Amazon boxes, and plastic storage containers can help you achieve the ideal elevation. In addition, consider purchasing a ring light that attaches to your laptop for optimal lighting.
CLEAR YOUR SCREEN
It’s always an unnecessary risk to leave unrelated browser tabs or programs open on your screen during a video interview. You never know when you might be asked to share your screen and accidentally expose an inappropriate Slack conversation, a confidential work email, or a questionable tab to your potential new boss. Even if you don’t expect to share your screen during the video conversation, there’s always a chance an application could start dinging or a random pop-up ad will begin playing from a window and interrupt your interview.
Play it safe by closing all windows and applications on your laptop and muting any default notifications on all nearby devices so your interview is uninterrupted by random pings or inappropriate ads popping up on open tabs.
ESTABLISH GOOD EYE CONTACT
Making the right amount of eye contact during an interview is crucial to establishing trust with the interviewer, conveying your confidence, demonstrating professionalism, and indicating your interest in the opportunity. When your eyes are rapidly blinking, darting around the screen, or looking away from the interviewer, it gives the impression that you’re being dishonest, extremely nervous, or unsure of your responses—none of which will leave a good impression with the interviewer.
If you’re having difficulty figuring out where to look at the screen to make eye contact, perform a test run with a friend. It helps if you can practice using the same platform (e.g., Zoom, Google Meeting, Microsoft Teams) that you need for the interview. Once you’ve figured out exactly where you should be looking on your screen, place a Post-it note or a small piece of masking tape on that spot. When it’s time for the actual interview, resize the screen that displays your interviewer and move it to that spot before removing your note or tape. That way, you can look directly at the person who is speaking to you and know that you’re maintaining eye contact with them.
As you make eye contact throughout the interview, smile into the camera and lean in slightly toward the laptop to engage your interviewer and build the right connection through the screen. Try recording a mock interview with a tool like Interview School or Career.io to practice your body language—from your eye contact, to your facial expressions and hand movements—during virtual interviews.
PREPARE FOR THE UNEXPECTED
Although participants in the hiring survey indicated that encountering technical issues, such as a bad internet connection, is one of the least critical issues a candidate can have during a virtual interview, that doesn’t make it any less unnerving for the job seeker who’s already nervous about their interview.
To ease some of these concerns, download or update the necessary software or app at least one business day prior to the interview to ensure everything is properly working before your scheduled meeting. If you are worried about having spotty Wi-Fi due to an impending storm or other situation outside of your control, be proactive in your communication and devise a back-up plan.
Email your main point of contact at the company to let them know there could be an issue during the interview due to [unexpected circumstance] and, if that should happen, you’ll dial into the meeting instead. By addressing the issue before it happens and communicating an alternative solution, you’re demonstrating to prospective employers that you’re a proactive problem solver and a good communicator.
If you take these steps to rid your interview space of potential distractions, you’ll be able to focus on what really matters—connecting with the interviewer across the screen, demonstrating your qualifications, and learning more about the opportunity to determine if it’s right for you.
Amanda Augustine (@JobSearchAmanda) is the resident career expert for Talent Inc.’s suite of brands: TopResume, TopInterview, Resume.io, and TopCV. With more than 15 years of experience in the recruiting and career-advice industry, she is a certified professional career coach (CPCC) and résumé writer (CPRW), helping professionals improve their careers and find the right job sooner.