If you're reading this article, you probably have a Zoom interview on the horizon. Interviews have always been nerve-wracking experiences, and today’s virtual format throws all kinds of new variables into the mix. You have to start thinking a little bit like a filmmaker. Where should you focus your eyes? Camera angle? Should you use one of those virtual backgrounds? (Sorry folks, this post doesn’t contain any downloadable backgrounds, but it does address whether you should use them in the first place! Hint: It’s a pass.)
Zoom interviews aren’t just uncomfortable for you. They’re also uncomfortable for your interviewer. So here’s my number one tip for making virtual interviews great: Take your attention off yourself, and instead focus on creating a great experience for the interviewer.
Do it with the intention to make their lives easier, and to make the experience of talking with you a really positive one.
So with that in mind…
Here are 10 ways to make your virtual interview experience great for you and your interviewer.
Make sure you have a good webcam.
If your laptop or desktop is relatively new, this shouldn’t be an issue. But if the image that appears onscreen is granulated, invest in a better webcam. (I have a little attachment at the top of my super old laptop, because the built-in camera is terrrrible.) Trust me, even if it costs you twenty or thirty bucks, it will be worth it. The quality of the picture makes a big difference for the person on the other side of the screen. If they can see you clearly, they’re more likely to feel like they can connect with you.
Wear something that makes you feel confident.
Your webcam is all set for the big day. So, what should you wear? You want to wear something that makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Choose a color that suits you — blue is my personal confidence color. And this should go without saying, but PLEASE wear real pants. Make sure that whatever it is you wear, it’s something that highlights your professionalism and competence.
And it’s not just about the clothes. Make sure you hair’s looking sharp, and do a little makeup. (It’s the roaring twenties, so guys, you can do this, too. Do you!)
Get the most out of your framing.
Framing is an underrated art. I like to draw inspiration for Zoom framing from Hollywood movies. Think Forrest Gump, Pretty Woman, Beyonce’s music videos. Great Hollywood directors have really figured something out. You’ll notice in key close-ups that the eyes are at about the two-thirds level of the screen. It feels good to the viewer to see the human face fill up the screen and to have the eyes at about the two-thirds level of the entire shot.
What does all this mean for you? Make sure your camera is positioned such that you’re not in the bottom corner and most certainly not cutting off your face or even the top of your head. You should be positioned nice and square in the middle of the shot. As you’ve probably picked up by now, your eye line should be at about the two-thirds mark of the frame.
Reposition your camera to make eye contact with your interviewer.
Once you’ve got the framing figured out, you still need to ensure that your camera is well positioned. Prop your laptop on a box or some books so that instead of looking down on your interviewer, you are looking equally at them. Humans, believe it or not, don’t like to be looked down on. We have an immediate visceral reaction to the experience of being looked down on. SO you want the camera to be roughly at your eye line, maybe a tiny bit higher. That way you’re actually able to make eye contact.
Look at the camera, not at yourself.
You’re well framed and your camera is well positioned. BUT, now comes the inevitable Zoom predicament: Where should you look?? The worst thing about this whole new video-chat world that we live in is that you’re constantly looking at video images of yourself. This can be really unsettling and even unhealthy. So instead of looking at the image of yourself, I recommend that you look at the camera.
If that also feels funny, put a smiley-face Post-it note or a small photo of someone you love right near the camera. Then you can make eye contact with that (instead of a green light) and also feel like you’re looking at the person you’re talking to. When you direct your eyes this way, the person you’re talking to knows that you aren’t distracted by web browsing or anything else.
The final trick to this is that their live video image is not where the camera is. If you’re always looking at the camera, you won’t have a good awareness of their body language and reactions. So practice with loved ones until you can strike the right balance between looking at the camera (you don’t want to get into a dead stare looking into the camera) and watching the live image of your counterpart.
Don’t underestimate the importance of lighting.
Most webcams don’t pick up great images without quite a bit of light. (And, as we already established with Tip #1, the more clearly your interviewer can see you, the better.) So what lighting is the best? Natural lighting typically yields great results, so if you can do the video interview in front of a window, that’s ideal. If that isn’t an option, you can use a lamp (or, even better, one of those selfie lights that are blowing up on the internet). Choose a lamp that has strong light, but in order to avoid that naked, inquisition-room lighting — which makes you look a bit crazy — make sure it’s also a soft light. Position your light source in front of you such that it lights your face at roughly a 45-degree angle. That way you won’t side-light your face or end up with a deer-in-headlights effect.
Pass on the virtual backgrounds.
Zoom has a lot of interesting options when it comes to backgrounds. You can change your background to anything you like — a video, a gif, a still image. But no matter how hard you try, a virtual background is going to look fake. The human eye can still detect the subtle differences in lighting between your living room and the great outdoors.
Remember, our intention is to create a great experience for the viewer. If the background is obviously fake, that’s going to be a distraction. They won’t be able to focus on your beautiful face during the interview. Instead, choose a (real) background in your space that has a little something going on. It’s not a boring white/beige/etc. wall, like an insane asylum. Bookcases are really popular backgrounds because they’re colorful, and they make you look smart. My personal choice is a really nice painting.
Don’t feel like you need to empty the space of personal quirks, either. If there’s a knickknack or two showing (within reason), it will endear you to your viewer because they’ll feel like they get to know you better. Despite whatever well-intentioned reasons they may be chosen for, virtual backgrounds inevitably feel like a little bit of an evasion and a closure, rather than an invitation to engage with you and your world.
Boost your sound quality with a headset.
Nothing is more annoying than not being able to understand the person on the other side of the screen and having to ask them to repeat themselves. Most built-in microphones aren’t that great, so I recommend that you use a very simple headset. The more unintrusive the better — with many of the options on the market these days, you barely even know they’re there. When you use a headset, the listener hears only the sound of your voice, loud and clear. All the ambient sounds in your environment — including echoes — are minimized. It’s just a direct, clean sound, and that makes the experience of listening to you much more pleasant.
Connection is everything, so check on that Wi-Fi signal!
Ensure that your wi-fi is functioning at an appropriate level so you and your interviewer can have an uninterrupted video-chat experience. A poor signal can completely derail the rapport you’re working hard to establish because it breaks the momentum and fluidity of the encounter and leaves you feeling flustered. (And it gives you something to attend to besides your viewer’s experience.) Test the quality of your Zoom connection frequently in the days leading up to your interview and troubleshoot any glitches that arise.
It’s shocking how significant an impact a little upward curl of the lips and a small twinkle in the eye can have on the psychology, emotions, and experience of our fellow humans. So be sure to do it.
Not all the time, but every once in a while, be sure to smile!!
So there you have it — 10 ways to make your video interview experience great for the person on the other side of the screen. If you focus on giving them an enjoyable experience, you'll be able to be far more present in the conversation, enjoy it, and hopefully get that offer!
Let’s have a conversation!
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