By now, you’re probably familiar with the basics of setting up for a video interview: Find a quiet, clean place to have it, make sure your mic is turned on, and—seriously—put on some pants. But with more and more employers using Google Hangout, Zoom, or Skype interviews—and more and more job seekers knowing the basics—it’s a good idea to take your digital interviewing skills to the next level.
As with in-person interviews, the key to video interviews is to “be confident and show them your true self,” says says Muse career coach Adrean Turner, who hosts the career podcast Coach Adrean’s FIT Tips and has coached hundreds of job seekers through video interviews. But while your goals are the same as in a traditional interview, there are a few differences in how you achieve them, and you want to make sure that your interviewer can focus on your best qualities and not whether they can hear you.
These tips will help you overcome the unique challenges inherent in video interviews so you can put your best foot forward. (Want advice on how to get through a pre-scripted digital interview? Read more here.)
1. Prepare Like You Would for an In-Person Interview
Just because your interview is happening over Skype (or some other platform), doesn’t mean it’s not a real interview. Other than preparations to travel to the interview, you still need to prepare the same way you would if you were going into the office. That means researching the company and role, preparing to answer common interview questions, and coming up with questions to ask your interviewer in return. Your interviewer is still looking for someone they can see themselves working with and who is passionate and knowledgeable about the role they’re applying to—be ready to show them why that’s you.
When you get dressed for a video interview, you want to be just as formal as you would be for an in-person interview at the same company. (And yes, that means from head to toe.) The urge to be less formal because you’re in your own home is understandable, but it might send the wrong message about how interested you are in the role. “It doesn’t hurt to get dressed for one hour,” Tucker says, but not getting dressed definitely can.
You also want to make sure your outfit looks good on camera. Try it on in front of the same platform you’ll be using for the interview. For example, a slightly lower-cut top that might be completely appropriate in person could look weird if your entire shirt is outside of the video frame.
3. Test Your Tech
Cut down on technical difficulties by testing out your setup ahead of time using the same platform, internet connection, and hardware you’ll be using for your interview. Have a friend video chat with you to make sure you can hear and be heard and see and be seen. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the program and make sure you know the basics—especially how to mute and unmute your microphone.
4. Set Up Your Shot
When you go into an office, the company and your interviewer are in charge of the physical setting, but for a video interview, you are. Make sure you create a good impression with your physical shot.
Choose a quiet area and set up in front of the most neutral background you can—either a blank wall or a room without a lot of distracting clutter or decoration. Make sure you’re well lit (natural light is best) with your light source behind your computer or phone, not behind you. (And if you have to use a phone, prop it up rather than holding it in your hand.) If it’s hard for you to find a space with good natural lighting in your home, you might consider investing in a selfie ring light that sits around the camera on your laptop or phone.
5. Don’t Sit Too Far or Too Close
Just like you wouldn’t sit three inches or eight feet from your interviewer in a conference room, you don’t want to sit an uncomfortable distance from your computer. When you’re setting up your chair, you’ll want to make sure you don’t end up looking too tiny or too huge. To be well proportioned, make sure there’s a bit of empty space on the screen above your head and check that your shoulders and upper chest are visible.
6. Prep for Optimal Eye Contact
Have you ever had a conversation with someone where they seemed to be looking over your shoulder or away from you entirely? Did you feel like you connected with that person? Probably not. So while actual eye contact isn’t possible in a video interview, you’ll want to get as close as possible. Looking at someone’s face is usually enough to show that you’re listening and engaged with what they’re saying.
To that end, make sure you’ve found a comfortable distance that allows you to look straight ahead rather than down at the camera. And place the window where your interviewer will appear on the same monitor as your camera and move it as close to the camera as possible—centered is best. That way, when you look at them, as you naturally will during your conversation, you’re also looking at the camera.
7. Check for Glare
Before you’ve finalized your outfit and location, see if anything in your shot is reflecting or giving off a glare that might be distracting to your interviewer. The main culprits are usually watches, jewelry, and eyeglasses, and solving the issue might be as easy as removing one accessory.
Of course, not everyone can take off their glasses for an interview. Try a few of these tricks to reduce the glare as much as you can:
- Move your lamp or point it at a wall behind your computer instead of at yourself
- Experiment with adjusting your lampshade or removing it entirely
- Turn yourself and your computer
- Raise and lower your laptop screen or adjust how your phone is propped up
Hint: You should do this around the same time of day as your interview will be held (or right before) especially if you’re using natural light.
8. Practice Your Video Interview Skills Ahead of Time
If you’re not used to video chat, you might find carrying on a conversation to be a bit awkward at first—especially if you can see yourself as well. Setting up a mock video interview with a friend or career coach can help you zero in on anything you need to watch out for, Turner says. Maybe you have a tendency to look away from the camera or maybe your natural hand gestures are too low to be seen. Turner also recommends recording your practice. When you play it back “you’ll notice if you’re making eye contact, fiddling with papers, your posture is bad,” she says. Then you can “make adjustments accordingly.”
Muse career coach Eloise Eonnet, who specializes in public speaking, presentation, and communication skills, stresses answering questions in practice the same way you would in a real interview, especially when it comes to talking about key pieces of your background. “Don’t say the names and numbers you need to say out loud for the first time in the interview,” Eonnet says—you don’t want to get nervous and stumble over them or say something incorrect.
9. Pay Attention to How You Sound, Too
People are usually concerned with how they look in a video interview and often forget to think about how they sound, Turner says. During your practice, take note of how fast you speak, how you pause, and the tone and pitch of your voice—and ask the person you’re practicing with if any of these things makes it harder to hear or understand you.
For the sake of any interviewer with a bad connection, be sure to speak clearly and at a reasonable pace, but keep it natural. Just because your interview is being conducted over a computer doesn’t mean you can sound like one! Since there’s less body language–based communication in a video interview, you also want the way you speak to help get across how you feel about what you’re saying. Make sure you sound excited when discussing the things you’re passionate about, for example.
10. Write Out a Few Notes—But Refer to Them as Little as Possible
Because your interviewer won’t be able to see everything you have on your desk (or on your computer screen), it might be tempting to have a lot of information in front of you for a video interview. But be careful. Turner recommends having only a few quick notes in front of you and glancing at them sparingly. Write down key figures and other small snippets, not whole answers. “You don’t want to sound like you’re just reading,” she says.
Meanwhile, Eonnet discourages keeping any notes in front of you at all. “The best interviews are conversations and notes can become a crutch,” Eonnet says. A huge reason someone decides to hire you is because they feel like you made a connection during the interview, which can be hard to do if you’re distracted.
If you’d like to have a few sparse notes for your interview, make sure you also have them out during your practice. Not only will this show you whether you can use them without it disrupting the flow of the conversation, the more you read them over, the less you’ll end up having to refer to them.
11. Minimize Interruptions—But Take Them in Stride If They Happen
Do whatever you can to cut down on the chances of being interrupted. If you can, set up in a room where you can close the door and inform anyone you share a space with that they shouldn’t disturb you during your interview (and give yourself a cushion on either side.) Check your space the day before for any unexpected distractions. You don’t want to be caught off guard by an ongoing construction project, for example. And make sure you turn off or silence your phone or any other electronic device that might make noise and pause any notifications on your computer.
However, if there’s a high chance of you being interrupted by something outside of your control, mentioning it at the start can prepare your interviewer and show them you’re proactive. It can also help settle your nerves about the situation. For example, if you have a dog in the next room that might start barking, you can make your interviewer aware of that possibility.
“It’s not about erasing the fact that you’re in your home. It’s about being as professional as you can given the circumstance,” Eonnet says.
12. “Show Up” a Few Minutes Early
You wouldn’t walk into the building where a 3 PM interview was being held at exactly 3 PM or even at 2:59 PM, so you shouldn’t cut it so close for a video interview either. Prepare your computer by closing all extra windows and tabs. And if you have a portfolio or anything similar you’d like to be able to show via screen share during your interview, make sure that it’s ready in an easy-to-access, but minimized, window.
Open up the program where your video interview will take place a few minutes early. Before you fully enter the meeting, a lot of the common video interview software will give you a chance to check your shot. Then, “relax,” says Turner. Be completely in place “a few minutes early and do a few breathing exercises.” That way, when you click to join the call and the interview starts, “you’re already ready to go.”
13. Start Off With a “Digital Handshake”
When you interview in person, there’s a period where the interview has started, but it hasn’t started. You and your interviewer are physically meeting, shaking hands, walking into the room, and sitting down. Even if you’re not making small talk, there’s still some time to settle in. For a video interview, this isn’t always the case, so you need to focus on making an initial connection even more than usual, Eonnet says.
Try a “digital handshake,” she says. After you say hello, “look right into the camera to forge a connection, do a small head nod as if to say ‘yes!,’ and add a smile, which translates warmth and openness.”
14. Acknowledge the Differences
It’s OK to mention in the moment that a video interview isn’t the same as an in-person interview. Acknowledging things are different helps put people at ease and mimics those introductory moments, Eonnet says. And don’t be afraid to say if something feels off—if you can’t hear or see your interviewer well, for example. It’ll just demonstrate that you’re willing to speak up and be straightforward about issues.
15. Maintain Good Posture
Because you’re at home, it’s natural to be a little more relaxed. Try not to let this translate into you slumping down in your seat. It makes you look less engaged. Instead, you want to pull your chair away from the table, sit on the edge of the seat, plant your feet on the ground, and place your hands on the table, Eonnet says. “This will let you use your body without blocking the camera.”
Sitting up straight also naturally gives you a bit more energy and helps you communicate your excitement about the job. Eonnet suggests standing as an alternative if that’s an easier way for you to keep your energy up—but not if you have a tendency to pace or shift a lot.
16. Use Your Face to Show You’re Engaged
Nonverbal communication is important in any conversation. But when it comes to a video interview, a lot of the avenues through which we usually give nonverbal cues—eye contact, body language, and small murmurs of agreement—are cut off. So we have to lean more heavily on what we have left, namely facial expressions.
If you’re in the room with someone, you can usually tell if they’re listening to you intently even if their face is not moving much (and you’re never going to be concerned that the person in the room with you has frozen and can’t hear or see you anymore). But “everybody can look like a statue over video interview,” Turner says. You shouldn’t be so static that your interviewer has to wonder if you’re still connected.
Short vocalizations aren’t the way to solve this problem here since on many common video interview platforms, only one mic can be used at once, Eonnet says. So while two people can speak simultaneously in the same room or over the phone, on a video call, your “yes, definitely!” can mute the other person’s microphone momentarily, breaking up the flow of conversation and possibly causing you to miss key information.
Instead of saying “mm-hm” or “yeah,” nod or smile when you’d usually speak. That way your interviewer still gets the feedback they need without your mic accidentally overriding theirs.
17. Let the Other Person Finish Speaking
This is good life advice in general, but over video chat, jumping in with your response too soon can mute the other person’s mic and cut them off entirely—making you seem rude even if you didn’t intend to be. Plus with internet lag, it’s not always immediately apparent whether someone is done speaking or just pausing. So once you think your interviewer is done, take a beat before you answer. If you have trouble with this, get in the habit of muting yourself while the other person is speaking—that way the action of turning the mic back on forces you to give them a little extra time to keep talking.
18. Signal When Your Answers Are Complete
In the same vein, it’s helpful for the other person if you signal the end of your answer, especially if it’s a long one. You can do this through a visual cue like nodding or you can make sure you conclude your answer strongly or ask the interviewer a question. A long silence while your interviewer guesses whether or not you’re done can be awkward over video, Eonnet says, whereas in person, it’s usually clearer that the other person is finished speaking.
19. Explain Any Long Pauses
Because of the various limitations of video calls, it might not always be clear to your interviewer what you’re doing if no one is speaking. Tell them if you’re pausing to write down a few notes, pull up some information for them, or even just formulate your answer to a question. This shows that you’re aware of their experience while also reassuring them that no technical glitches have occurred.
20. Treat Your Video Interview Like a Conversation
This is key for any interview, but it’s especially important to treat your video interview like a conversation because that’s the only way you’ll be able to make a connection. You don’t have the time before and after the interview to make small talk, so it’s important to make sure you build rapport during your interview. “Be more personable. Be yourself. You want to talk like you’re talking to someone you know well” while still remaining professional, Turner says.
Make sure your video call is “not just question, answer, question, answer,” Eonnet says. When your interviewer responds to your answers, feel free to comment on their responses if you have more to say. And sprinkle your own questions throughout your conversation whenever they’re appropriate rather than waiting for the end. You want your interviewer to see you as someone they could talk to every day, not just someone they read a list of questions to.
As a job seeker, you have the same goal in a video interview and an in-person interview: to show that you’re the right person for the job. “We don’t want to lose focus on the heart of what needs to be done,” Eonnet says. Ultimately, you want to spend as little time as possible during a video interview focused on the video part. “What counts is the connection you can make with an interviewer.”