Online job interviews have become the new normal due to COVID-19. However, if you have limited experience using video conferencing software, you’ll most likely feel apprehensive about this approach.
We’ve got some savvy tips for interviews, with a primary focus on Zoom. Most of these tips can be applied to other video conferencing platforms, but make sure to do a little research if your interviewer is using a different service.
Most importantly, make sure to use a professional meeting scheduler in order to avoid time zone mistakes. Nothing’s worse than showing up to an interview an hour late.
10 tips to prepare for a Zoom interview and land the job:
- Find the ideal location
- Eliminate distractions
- Focus on lighting
- Tweak your settings
- Use an external microphone
- Write up notes
- Dress professionally
- Look at the camera
- Do a test run
- Keep it real
1. Find the ideal location
Perhaps you already have a state-of-the-art home office with soundproof walls and a non-distracting background. Great — you’re all set! However, if you usually work around kids, pets, a spouse, or unpredictable roommates, it’s important to create a nook that’s isolated from all the hubbub.
Go ahead and get creative. For a recent interview, I set up a folding table in our bedroom since it’s the farthest spot from my children’s wild screams. Plus, I enjoy the cozy, warm vibe in my room, which put me at ease during the interview.
Pay attention to your background, meaning remove piles of laundry, bizarre paintings, or a reflective mirror. You want the interviewer to focus on you, not on the surrounding clutter. And avoid using a virtual background if possible because they often look phony.
Some people have resorted to having an interview in their car due to uncontrollable indoor sounds. As long as you’ve got solid Wi-Fi, proper lighting, and a comfortable location, go for it.
2. Eliminate distractions
Let’s face it, working from home presents plenty of distractions — ringing doorbells, unruly kids, yelping pets — you get the picture. Here are some ways to help maximize your focus:
- Time of day: If you have control over your interview time, opt for the quietest time in your schedule. Perhaps that’s during your kids’ naptime or when they usually zone out with their devices. Or ask your spouse to take the dogs (and the kids) for a long walk.
- Doorbell: Put up a note asking people not to ring the doorbell during your allocated interview time.
- Phone: Silence your phone, enable the Do Not Disturb mode, or set it to Airplane mode — or do all three just to be safe.
- Apps and programs: Close out everything on your computer, including open tabs, programs, or anything that might ding or beep. It’s best to restart your computer before your Zoom interview.
- Sign on door: If you’re tucked away in a peaceful haven, make sure to put up a sign reminding family members or roommates about this important interview.
- Limit drinks: Coffee may be your best friend, but in your flustered state you may accidentally spill it on your laptop. Talk about a disaster! Instead, consider having a water bottle with a tight lid nearby — something to help when you’re parched but that will make sure your computer stays nice and dry.
If you found this particular opportunity on a remote job board, make an effort to enhance your at-home work environment. Take some time now to incorporate these important remote tools, such as using a task management tool like Trello to track your time, set task prioritization, and establish a concrete schedule.
Basically, you want to follow these tips for working remotely, even before the initial interview. That way you can mention the systems and resources you already have in place, proving that you’re capable of coping with the remote work lifestyle.
3. Focus on lighting
The main problem with Zoom calls is that we miss out on body language and the nuances of human interaction. Because of this, it’s crucial to make sure you’re illuminated throughout your call. You don’t want to lurk in the shadows or resemble someone who’s just stumbled out of the apocalypse.
Here are some easy ways to brighten things up:
- Use natural sunlight: If possible, schedule your interview during daylight hours. Set up your laptop in front of a window, with the light streaming directly onto your face. Obviously don’t make it too bright, or you’ll blink up a storm.
- Use a lamp: If a daytime interview isn’t possible, or if the weather’s turned sour, use a desk lamp to illuminate your face. Set it up behind your computer, shining directly at you. Yes, it will feel blinding, but remember you’ll be staring at the computer screen and not at the lamp.
- Use the “Touch up my appearance” feature: We love Zoom because of this feature. Look for it under Video Settings and use the bar to maximize the effect.
- Keep the computer at eye level: Raise your laptop or computer screen to eye level using books, a computer stand, or even a cardboard box. This will help keep your face fully in view while avoiding unflattering shadows or glare.
4. Tweak your settings
Many people don’t understand the full spectrum of Zoom’s capabilities. This software can do so much! Make sure to spend adequate time before your interview playing around with the Video and Audio settings.
For example, let’s say your neighbor decides to rev up his lawnmower right in the middle of your interview. In anticipation of such surprises, go to Audio settings before your interview begins. Then select High in the drop-down menu under “Suppress background noise.”
Check out more ways to improve Zoom video calls, such as switching to high definition and understanding the full scope of screen sharing.
5. Use an external microphone
If you’re a low talker or tend to mumble, we suggest investing in a headset or external microphone. We know a headset can make you look a tad dorky, but ultimately it will show your dedication to this interview.
Alternatively, you can get a free-standing microphone. Just make sure to play around with these options during your test run (see tip 9) to find the best sound quality. Don’t wait until the last minute, slap on your headphones, and hope for the best.
6. Write up notes
One advantage of a Zoom interview is being able to have notes. This is especially important for those who get flustered or tend to go off on tangents, forgetting to mention highlights or key attributes. With a quick glance, you can remember the topics that are most relevant to this position.
However, it’s important to be discreet about it. Avoid holding your cheat sheet within view or crinkling it around. Just keep it glued to the desk.
Review your notes before your interview so the key points are fresh in your mind. Also, scan your resume to make sure to mention how your past experiences will be an asset to this company.
Finally, having a notepad and pen handy is a great way to jot down key features of the job and stuff you’ll need to review later when deciding whether the position is a good fit.
7. Dress professionally
The explosion of remote work has resulted in many employees disregarding their appearance or only focusing on their top half (hello, comfy sweatpants!).
But here’s the thing about dressing professionally from head to toe: It makes you feel polished, dignified, and reputable. Even if the interviewer can’t see your feet, you’ll feel different wearing proper shoes rather than your fuzzy slippers.
So, yes, dress in video interview attire but include extras, such as proper pants. Because you never know when you’ll need to stand up quickly to escort a child or pet out of the room, in which case being seen wearing polka-dotted pajama bottoms could be a bit embarrassing.
8. Look at the camera
We can easily get distracted by our own thumbnail image, staring at it obsessively, perhaps smoothing back our hair, or baring our teeth to make sure there’s no spinach leftover from lunch.
One suggestion is to hide your video image from your own view. To do this, you’ll have to wait until you’re on the actual call. Then right-click on your image and select Hide Myself. Your video will disappear from your view, but don’t worry because everyone else on the call will still be able to see you.
After you’ve hidden your image, make a point of staring directly at your computer’s camera. This is the best way to look focused and attentive. Make sure to experiment with this in the test run, which we’ll cover next.
9. Do a test run
It’s always good practice to do a mock interview with a friend or colleague before the real thing. With Zoom, it’s easier than ever. Try your best to make your trial run as realistic as possible, using the same time of day, room, hairstyle, and even what you plan on wearing as in the actual interview.
Give your mock interviewer this list of common behavioral interview questions so you can get comfortable talking. Pay attention to the times you ramble, go off on tangents, or overuse the word “um.” Observe what you fidget with — pens, paper clips, and so on. Remove all distractions, and practice keeping your hands still in your lap. Even though the interviewer can’t see you playing with that pen, your computer’s sound will definitely pick it up.
Also, familiarize yourself with the general protocol for remote meetings. You want to demonstrate general knowledge of remote work best practices, showing that you’re a capable team player.
If just one trial run doesn’t feel like enough, do more. Keep reaching out to family and colleagues until you feel totally at ease with the Zoom environment.
10. Keep it real
Now that you’ve prepped as much as possible and done a successful test run (or a few), it’s time to gear up for showtime.
Remember, an interview should be a two-way conversation. Brainstorm on the details you want to know about the position, jotting them down on your cheat sheet.
Most importantly, don’t jump immediately into responding to questions. Take a moment to pause, briefly glance out the window, or take a deep breath. This will help the question settle, allowing you to craft a genuine response.
It might be challenging to connect with the interviewer due to the limitations of virtual conferencing, but remind yourself that there’s a real person on the other end. Observe their eye color, what they’re wearing, and the sound of their voice. Ultimately, this will help ground you in the moment and transform the Zoom experience into a more real, human interaction.
Confidence is the secret
You have to be confident in your skillset and in your ability to navigate the virtual interface.
The good news is that the more you explore Zoom before your interview, the more confident you’ll appear. Practice, practice, practice. You can even record your trial runs, watching your performance to see how often you stumbled, touched your face, or wiggled around in your chair.
Don’t forget to focus on your talents. The whole reason for the interview is to share how amazing you are. So, once you’ve tweaked all those Zoom settings, sit back, relax, and let your true attributes shine.