If life weren't tough enough for job hunters, with unemployment around the U.S., they face another hurdle: How to nail that video interview now that COVID-19 has largely halted in-person meetings.
Read on for expert tips on how to stand out in an online job interview.
Check your tech
It's easy to overlook as you prepare for the big day, but make sure your technology is set up properly and working without a hitch for when it's time to impress a prospective employer. Test your internet connection and microphone, and consider wearing headphones to ease conversation. Also consider using a hard-wired connection via an ethernet cable if your Wi-Fi is spotty. The less you have to think about your gear, the more you can focus on highlighting your accomplishments.
You want to be seen in the best light — and not just figuratively. Turn on your phone or laptop camera and walk around your home to test how different lighting hits your face, advised Barbara Tannenbaum, a communications professor at Brown University.
Have consideration for your interviewer, too. "If you're in a dark part of your home with no lighting, you've got an interviewer who is staring at dark shadows," said leadership expert Dan Pontefract.
Pontefract also suggests standing rather than sitting. "When you stand up and are face to face with the camera, you are speaking to the lens — to the person who is interviewing you. It also allows you to speak with your hands, shift your weight and induce body language that is generally not possible when you are sitting down staring into a laptop camera," he said.
A bonus tip for extra tech-savvy job seekers. Said Pontefract, "You can stand beside a wall-mounted TV screen or some way in which to stream screen slides that enhance your profile."
As for what to wear, dress like you would for a normal interview, and don't wear jewelry that moves or might be distracting, Tannenbaum said. Also try to restrict your hand gestures to within the frame, she added.
Choose a background that is simple and uncluttered. Stage the part of the room where you're interviewing as you would if you were selling your home. It's OK to position flowers or a framed photo in the shot, but your background shouldn't be distracting or more interesting than you are.
"A lot of people will be more interested in the background than the speaker if there is a lot going on, so keep it simple and make it about you," said workplace expert Bob Slater.
Quiet on the set
If you have roommates or live with family members, make sure you have a private space where you can go for the interview.
You might be asked about your home office setup and if you have a closed room in which you can concentrate. "Noise is huge. Get somewhere quiet and make sure there is no leaf blower or dog barking. It's unprofessional," Slater said.
"Let anyone else in-house know you have an interview and find a secluded, private spot that allows you to stay focused on the interview," said Paul Wolfe, senior vice president of human resources at job search company Indeed.
Embrace your comfort zone
Take advantage of being in your own home and not on your interviewer's turf.
"Whether wearing slippers makes you more comfortable or having your favorite tea or coffee right outside the picture screen does, use those little things that help you feel the most comfortable and confident to give you an advantage you would never have in a real-life situation," said Andrew Challenger of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
It's fine to be human and let your guard down, too, as long as you've made a reasonable effort to prevent distractions.
"Take some steps — make sure your dogs aren't barking, your kids aren't crying. But if that happens, bring it in and say you did everything you could to isolate the dogs but they're still barking. It's almost endearing sometimes when clearly the person has made an attempt and it gets overridden anyway," said executive coach Kimberly Roush.
It also shows that you can "be adaptable and flexible in the moment and take a curveball now and then," she added.
Listen hard — then ask questions
Let your interviewer talk, too. It provides you, the job seeker, with an opportunity to create rapport. It can also offer your interviewer a bit of a break.
"They have been listening all day in a series of interviews, so asking them questions and giving them a chance to talk is a great break. Find common ground with your interviewer. If there's a picture of a sailboat in their office — look for connections and ways to be memorable," Tannenbaum said.
Also don't be shy about sharing your own hobbies and interests outside of work. That says something about who you are; depending on the activity, it can also demonstrate discipline or confidence.
"As companies seek to build a strong remote culture, the hobbies and interests of individual employees contribute to the overall culture of the company. Think, have you taken a comedy class over Zoom? Found ways to support small businesses in your town?" said Brianne Kimmel, founder of venture capital firm Work Life.
Show your best self
Of course, some of the usual interviewing rules still apply. "If you don't convey good character and likability, you aren't going anywhere," Slater said.
"I can't afford to have people who I throw in a basement to do research. I need people who get along with people, who I can put in front of clients and who will be leaders someday," he said. "I like someone with a sense of humor, who is easy to talk to, who I would enjoy spending eight hours a day with."