The new normal means that you're more likely than ever to have your next interview take place over a video conference software like Skype or Zoom. It can be a lot harder to connect with an interviewer through a computer screen, plus there's the possibility of technology failing, so it's understandable that a lot of job seekers are panicked. But don't fret! Prepare for an interview as you normally would by researching the position and company and practicing answers to common interview questions, and take these extra steps to make sure everything goes smoothly over video conference:
Test your tech.
Although it's impossible to avoid all technical difficulties you may encounter during a virtual interview, do your best to limit them them. First, make sure you have downloaded the proper software. Then, find a spot in your home with a strong wifi signal and test your computer with a friend the night before the interview (notice the word computer here -- you don't want to do an interview on a phone or tablet, unless you have a very secure stand and are using a reliable app). If you're having connection issues, or the image keeps freezing, do some troubleshooting to fix the problem. Even if everything tests out perfectly, glitches can happen -- keep a second device nearby during your interview as backup. Be gracious, apologetic if necessary, and show the interviewer how well you function under pressure!
Perfect your set-up.
It’s no secret that people don’t look their best over webcam, but you should try to appear as polished as possible during the interview. First, look for a simple backdrop. Find a solid wall to sit in front of, so your interviewer won't get distracted by background clutter. Though virtual backgrounds on Zoom can be fun and offer some privacy, a plain wall is a better bet -- you want the focus to be on you. Next, find a good camera angle. Your interviewer does not want to look up at your nostrils or down at your hairline, so make sure your eye line matches the camera -- you can stack books or boxes under a laptop to get the necessary lift. Also, remember to test your set-up at the same time of day your interview is scheduled to ensure you have the proper lighting.
It should go without saying that you should focus on the interview. Close out of any chat software or other computer programs open on your computer and silence your phone. You should also choose a quiet, interruption-free zone for your setup -- even a walk-in closet or a bathroom (if the walls are decent) could work if you're short on space with everyone stuck at home! Two common distraction culprits: dogs and kids. Put your dog in the crate with a frozen treat and find a way to keep the kids occupied. Do whatever you need to do to give your virtual interview the same level of attention you would if you were in person.
Dress to impress.
A virtual interview is still an interview, which means you need to dress like you would if you were meeting in person. Sure, it feels funny to sit on your couch in a suit and tie, but if that’s what you’d wear to an in-person interview, it’s what you should wear now. For women, make sure your top isn't low cut -- this is good advice generally, but you'll want to be even more modest over video conference; a neckline that's perfectly professional in real life may be cut off in your video frame and give the illusion that you're not quite dressed. Though it may be tempting to skip formal bottoms, most people find that it's easier to get into the interview mindset when they're fully dressed, and it's better safe than sorry. Looking the part will help you feel the part -- you’ll be more confident and professional, and that will be reflected on screen.
Be on time.
In an in-person interview, being late is a huge problem, but it’s even worse in a virtual interview. Don't force the hiring manager to stare at her screen waiting for you to sign on. If you make her wait too long, she’ll choose to move on to another task, and you’ll have missed your opportunity. But this is an easy mistake to avoid. Sign on at least ten minutes before your scheduled interview time and accept the invitation from your interviewer (or confirm they’ve accepted yours, depending on what was arranged). When the interviewer initiates the connection, you'll be ready and waiting.
Maintain eye contact.
It's really hard not to look at the little box with your face when you're on a video call. It's like avoiding scratching a persistent itch. But avoid it at all costs! For one thing, your interviewer will notice your self-occupation, and you might even find your mind wandering away from the conversation. More importantly, you want to establish a personal connection with your interviewer, which means aiming for eye contact. If you look directly at your camera, you'll appear as though you're making eye contact, even though you're actually looking above your interviewer's video window. Try to answer any questions while focusing on your camera. When your interviewer is speaking, it's okay to look at their face on the screen. If you make the chat window full screen, you'll be able to balance the back and forth eye movement more smoothly.
Aside from all of this, the rest of the interview should be the same as if you were in an office. And when it's done, follow up with a thank you email and proceed as normal. Because, after all, this is the new normal. If you're able to master the art of virtual interviewing, you'll have a leg up over the competition.
--Angela Silak and Cindy Kaplan