In a lot of ways, online video interviews are becoming the new normal for job applicants. With the pandemic requiring remote work for most companies these days, meeting with a prospective employer virtually is likely the only way to interview at all—and this may be the norm for quite some time. In fact, as of March 2020, a reported 89% of employers are utilizing virtual interviews.
If you’re new to remote work, though, video interviews require some forethought that you wouldn’t normally have to consider for an in-office interview, and it can be a bit paradoxical. While job interviews are the places where you’re expected to present the utmost professionalism, an online video interview lets the interviewer into your most personal and private space—your home.
So, how do you make sure you have an acceptable interview environment, especially if you don’t already have a home office set up? The good news is that any space in your home can work, provided that it is reasonably quiet, has good lighting, and is as free from distractions as possible.
Now that you’re interviewing from home instead of at the company’s headquarters, it’s important to prepare your video interview setting just as much as your wardrobe and answers. After all, this is your best chance to make a good first impression.
What Your Video Interview Background Reveals
The setting you choose for your online video interview should be fairly neutral. Even if the background in your video is a perfect display of your personality and interests, any sort of distraction can take away from what you’re saying—and that’s where the real focus should be. Here are what some common scenes in your home office may convey to a hiring manager.
Showcasing your home library behind you may send the message that you’re well-read and intellectual, but a busy bookcase or shelf could keep the interviewer focused on trying to read your book titles instead of on what you’re saying. Not to mention, a penchant for literature that your potential employer doesn’t agree with—whatever it may be—could affect the hiring decision.
Souvenirs From Traveling
Your much-loved souvenirs convey that you’re well-traveled, cultured, and adventurous, which is a wonderful aspect of your personality. But, not only can souvenirs be distracting to an interviewer (especially if they love to travel, too, and feel inspired by your wanderlust!), but having them in your background can lead to potential assumptions about your lifestyle—whether true or not.
Having your home office in your bedroom or guest room may work for your daily office needs, but a view of your bed or guest bed during your video interview, even if it’s nice and well-kept, may not be the most professional background setting. You want your interviewer to see you as a professional that has a legitimate work-from-home setup.
You might think nothing of the piles of paper behind you or the trinkets haphazardly placed on the shelf, but to a recruiter, they may be a sign of questionable organizational skills. Even if you know the clutter has no bearing on how you work—after all, it may not even be yours—the interviewer might wonder if the lack of organization is likely to carry over into your job.
How to Improve Your Background
Now that you know potential pitfalls and what to avoid, here’s what your background should reveal for a successful video interview.
Start With Lighting
To look your best on a video interview, the first thing to consider is that you may need to move your desk, lamps, and other equipment around to get the best effect. Well before you’re going to have an interview, test out different setups to find what works well for you.
Brie Reynolds, FlexJobs’ Career Development Manager and Career Coach, says, “The best lighting for any video interview is natural light that is positioned in front of you. If there’s a window you can sit in front of or next to, that’s ideal. Ideally, the sun shouldn’t be shining directly through the window because that can be too bright, washing out your image and causing you to squint. Indirect natural light coming through a window is your best bet.”
If you don’t have a window perfectly positioned near your computer, lamps and other electrical lights can work well, too. Try to position those behind your camera so the light will be in front of you and shine evenly across your face.
Avoid backlighting at all costs (where the light source is behind you) because it makes the light on your face incredibly dim and the person you’re interviewing with will see you in a shadow.
Evaluate What’s in View
Once you find a good setup for your lighting, turn on your computer’s camera and check out what’s behind you on the screen.
Reynolds offers, “If there’s artwork, make sure it’s professionally appropriate and not too flashy, shiny, or busy. If it’s a blank wall, is it clean? Removing scuff marks with a handy Mr. Clean magic eraser pad is an easy way to clean things up. Is the paint chipped or otherwise damaged? If possible, patch up that paintwork for a fresh background. If it’s furniture or household items, are they clean and organized? Are they professionally appropriate?”
As mentioned earlier, if your home office is in a guest bedroom, having a bed in your video background may not be the most professional look, and stacks of boxes, papers, or other items are distracting. Try to clean up the space as best you can, and even move furniture around if you have to. Remember, this isn’t a permanent situation—you only need to create this temporary space for your video interviews.
Get Pets Under Control
You may be used to your dog sleeping on the floor behind you, but what happens when he decides to start a mid-day cleaning session or the UPS driver shows up? If possible, it may be best to completely leave pets out of your interviewing space during the interview.
If you do let your pet stay in the room, take off their collar for the interview to reduce the noise of pet tags jangling together. If they usually bark or growl when someone approaches your front porch, hang a sign at the front door politely asking people not to knock or ring the doorbell.
Make It a “Do Not Disturb” Zone
With school out indefinitely and most people working from home, your once-quiet and calm household may feel more like a busy highway these days. Although employers likely understand the unprecedented situation everyone is dealing with, it’s still best to keep your video interview environment quiet and distraction-free (read: no kids wandering through the background). Close the door if you have one, and remind children and other family members that you’ll need an hour or so of quiet “alone” time to complete your interview.
Then, turn off your phone and computer notifications, and get ready to present your best self!
Get More Video Interviewing Help
There’s no doubt that times are tough, and everyone is doing the best they can to make the most of ever-changing work scenarios. If you’re getting ready for a video interview, stay calm and remember that—no matter what space you choose—if you simply clear out the area behind you and make your background a plain wall, door, or closet, you’re likely to have a distraction-free interview where you, not your environment, are the focal point.
If you want more help with getting your home interview environment in check, or want to get some interviewing tips and advice, consider meeting with a FlexJobs career coach. You can meet one-on-one with a coach via phone or video. Our coaches can work with you to practice interview questions, review your resume, provide support, and much more.
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