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How to Ace Your Video Job Interview

One of the many, many, many lessons of these past few months is that video calls are way more difficult than face-to-face chats. They’re more awkward, technical issues abound, and even when it’s just a chat with friends, it can go sideways.

All of these problems become much more pressing when it’s not a casual chat but something for work — particularly a job interview.

While there is no tip that can guarantee you’ll get the job, taking some steps ahead of time will make you feel much more confident and collected.

Know your angle and your lighting: In a perfect world, we’d be able to show up to interviews in sweats and, if we were the best candidate, still get the job. Unfortunately, this world is far from perfect, and we’re expected to look nice. Proper lighting and camera angle can go a long, long way in this department. 

There’s no need to invest in photo lighting, but overhead lights don’t look good on anyone. Grab a lamp (or two), set them slightly behind your screen and, if you have them, throw some warm white bulbs in. Be sure your screen isn’t too bright — the blue lighting can wash you out. 

People tend to look best if the camera is level with or slightly above them; use a box or stack of books to experiment and find which angle works best for you. 

Have a simple but attractive background: The central goal of a job interview is to not let anything distract from your excellent answers and cool, collected demeanor; this extends to your surroundings. 

An almost-blank wall with a piece of art or two is perfect, as are bookshelves. If, like me, you have to have a room behind you, make sure it’s as tidy and clutter-free as possible, with no distracting (or, worse yet, inappropriate) things to look at. Take a picture of the scene with your webcam, then look at the picture to see if your eye is drawn to anything in particular — and make sure it’s off-camera. 

If possible, connect your computer to your router with an ethernet cable: Connecting directly rather than using WiFi will always make for a smoother, faster connection. Ethernet to USB or USB C connectors are cheap and widely available. If that’s not possible, and/or your internet tends to be spotty, it’s worth saying so toward the beginning of the interview: “Just so you know, my internet connection has been a little wonky today. If it pauses, please forgive me, because I definitely am not doing it on purpose.”

Skip the wireless headphones in favor of old-fashioned cords: Same principle as above — the sound quality will always be better on both ends. 

Force yourself to make eye contact: It’s incredibly tempting on video chat to look on screen at the person you’re talking to, because normally that’s how eye contact works … but not with webcams. When you’re speaking, you want to look directly into your camera, which is where the googly eyes come in. 

By sticking them on either side of your camera, you have a natural way to make eye contact. If you don’t happen to have googly eyes lying around, cut two small circles out of paper and use markers to make little pupils. 

If there is anything that might make noise during your interview (think children, pets, construction, etc.) mention it ahead of time: A huge challenge of working from home is that, unlike an office, you are in a space where many things besides work happen. The environment can be out of your control, and everyone understands that. I have a giant dog who feels that squirrels are the greatest threat possible to us and our way of life, and will bark her head off if she sees one out the window. I do what I can to sequester her, but will also say ahead of time, “FYI, if you hear some barking, it doesn’t mean a pack of wild dogs is about to run throughmy dog has been delighted by all the extra time we’ve been spending together, and sometimes is too excited to contain herself.”

That way, if she does start barking, I can just say, “Oh, there she goes. I’m so sorry!” rather than having to pause everything to explain what’s happening and clarify that my dog isn’t defending me from a serial killer. 

Don’t be phased by pauses: In normal conversation, it’s very unnerving if someone is silent when we expect them to talk. These pauses are even more threatening during a job interview, and yet they are also a frequent feature of video chats.

If possible, practice on video ahead of time with a friend who’s a good enough actor to be intimidating. Ask that they sometimes wait four or five second before responding to you, which is not unheard of during a remote conversation. It will feel like forever  — but that’s the point. Don’t feel like you need to rush in to cover the silence.

Another feature of these calls is the awkward talk-over. The best way to avoid this, beyond the pause mentioned above, is to remember that normal conversational interjections just don’t work in this format, and can lead to that awful “No, you go!” thing. 

When they are talking, breathe slowly: Honestly, this is a good tip for any medium- to high-stakes situation. Breathing slowly not only lets you focus on what is being said, it also calms the body. This will also help you talk slowly and roll with the pauses.

Be forgiving: Any job interview is stressful. The awful quirks of video calls only exacerbate the stress and, not that you could’ve possibly forgotten, these are incredibly difficult, frustrating and painful times. No one is at their best right now. 

The limitations of remote meetings are the same for everyone, and whoever is interviewing you understands that. So don’t stress too much if it’s awkward — just remember that this is an imperfect format, and everyone is doing their best.

Make sure you’re prepared for your next job interview by creating a digital resume. Get started by setting up a portfolio website today.

Kelly Williams Brown is a best-selling author and writer who literally wrote the book on “Adulting.” To learn more about Kelly and her next project, visit her website.

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