As we look at the way work and job-hunting are evolving in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems likely that virtual interviews will be a more frequent occurrence.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that out of 1,140 businesses surveyed, 41% plan to use a combination of in-person and virtual interviews moving forward, and 23% plan to exclusively use virtual interviews in the future.
We know from our community, however, that not everyone has access to reliable technology. The financial challenges resulting from a cancer diagnosis can make it difficult to afford a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone with a camera. Internet access can be a barrier as well, due to factors such as cost or living in an area with limited or no service. And if you don’t consider yourself particularly tech-savvy, the idea of using an online video-conferencing platform — especially if you’ve never used one before — might feel daunting.
We also know that treatment and side effects can result in changes to physical appearance, causing some to want to avoid being on camera altogether.
But virtual interviews can offer a unique opportunity to have more control over your environment and how you are seen on camera. Whether you will be joining from your own device, one you’ve borrowed from a family member or friend, or one you may be using in a public space, these technical tips provide guidance on setting up your camera, sound, and the space around you so can feel comfortable using any video-conferencing platform. Preparing for such interviews in advance will enable you to focus, with confidence, on the more important aspects of this step in the job-search process: conveying to a potential employer how your skills and experience meet or exceed the job requirements and evaluating whether this particular employment opportunity is right for you.
A few of the most common programs used for video meetings include Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and GoToMeeting. The good news is that all these programs let you create an account and make video calls for free!
Your interviewer will likely schedule the meeting so you can join just by clicking a link. But once you know which program you’ll be using, schedule a call with a friend or family member to practice. Cancer and Careers always recommends preparing ahead of time for interview questions — and that same level of preparation can help you immensely with setting up for video calls. It allows you to get comfortable with the nuances of the program, such as locating the on and off buttons for your audio or video.
Light Yourself from the Front
Even though it’s an aspect of preparation that can be easily overlooked, lighting is a very important part of your virtual interview, because you want the interviewer to be able to see you clearly.
The best location for a light source is in front of you. For example, it’s better to face a window in your house so that natural light is cast on your face, rather than having a window behind you, which may put you in shadow. Similarly, it’s better to turn your desk so it faces the light in the center of the room, rather than having it face a wall with the light behind you. Moving a floor lamp or desk lamp so that it sits in front of you may help as well.
Test out different lighting setups so you can see what works best in your video preview screen, then leave the computer and lighting in that position so they’re ready to go for your interview.
Bonus tip: Some video-conferencing programs, such as Zoom, have a brightness feature within their Settings, so you can increase or decrease the amount of lighting as needed.
Be Mindful of Your Background
While there is no universal rule for what should or should not be visible behind you, we do suggest that you be intentional with what is shown and mindful of the message it may convey.
Having a blank wall behind you can be a great option because it is minimalist and not distracting, which keeps the focus on what is most important: you. But a clean, uncluttered backdrop may not be available within your location.
If you are interviewing from home, it may not be possible to avoid having details of your living room, kitchen, bedroom or other rooms on view. That’s okay! Sometimes those elements can add a personal touch that could spark a sincere connection during the interview. But be mindful of your privacy and your decisions around disclosure; you want to make sure your background doesn’t inadvertently reveal more about yourself and your circumstances than you are comfortable sharing.
If you are interviewing from a public place or would prefer not to show the space you are in, many programs (e.g., Zoom) offer options to select or upload a virtual background or to blur your existing background.
Center Yourself in the Frame
Using the video preview, position your webcam so it’s more or less at eye level: not too angled, too high or too low. Be careful not to have too much space above your head. Ideally, you’d like it to feel as though the interviewer is sitting directly across from you.
Focus Your Eyes Close to the Webcam
Virtual interviews can sometimes lack the sense of a personal connection. One thing you can do to make it feel more like you’re actually in a room with your interviewer is try to replicate the experience of looking them in the eyes, just like you would in person.
To achieve this, practice looking directly into the webcam. From the interviewer’s perspective, you will be looking directly at them.
When run on a computer (vs. on a phone), many of these programs will let you minimize and move the video window. If you move the frame with the interviewer so that it’s directly below your webcam, you’ll be able to see them in front of you and still glance up at your camera occasionally. This will feel much more like direct eye contact for both of you, enabling you to keep the interviewer engaged and foster a more sincere personal connection.
Choose a Location with Minimal Sound Distractions
Few of us have access to a space where we won’t hear sounds from other members of the household, nearby people (if you’re in a public place) or the outside environment. In fact, with the rise in video calls due to the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot of very relatable moments in which a family member or pet walks into the room during the middle of a call — and other random surprises!
What’s most important is that you try your best to be intentional about where you sit down for your interview. If you can ask nearby family members to be quiet for that time, go for it. If you have an especially loud water heater, see if you can sit farther away from it. If it’s hot where you are and you need to use a fan, be sure it’s on the quietest possible setting. If you are in a public space such as a library or an Internet cafe, a pair of headphones with a microphone can help you be heard more clearly and reduce the volume of other, ambient noise. And be sure to turn off the ringer on your phone.
Have a Backup Plan — And Be Prepared for “Human Moments”
This final tip aims to cover a few basic things that might easily be overlooked, and to prepare you for common mishaps that could happen during any video interview.
First — be sure to plug in your computer or phone. You wouldn’t want to be caught by surprise, scrambling to find a charger, if a great interview runs long or a battery that appeared full suddenly runs down fast.
Dress professionally, head to toe. Though it has become fairly common during video calls to dress professionally on top and more comfortably on the bottom, you will likely be so focused on the interview that if for any reason you have to get up quickly (see “scrambling to find a charger,” above) it could be embarrassing to reveal you are wearing shorts.
Lastly, there is always a chance your (or your interviewer’s) Internet could go out. This is a common occurrence — and can happen at any time — entirely outside of your control! So, it’s a good idea to keep a notebook on hand with your interviewer’s phone number and email address written down. In the event of an Internet outage, send them an email or give them a call to pick up where you left off. That level of preparation, and grace under pressure, shows great professionalism.
And remember: There are so many unpredictable little human moments that can happen during a video interview. We are all still navigating the major changes to the workplace that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is a learning curve to hosting professional meetings virtually in your own home or another personal or public space. Prepare as best as you can but go with the flow for any unexpected moments. Showing that you are adaptable and communicative during an unforeseen mishap can also work to your advantage in an interview.
For more in-depth discussions on preparing for interviews, see:
- Interviewing Methods & Tips
- Mock Interviews
- Informational Interviews
- “The Swivel” in Interviews
- Balancing Work & Cancer Webinars: Communicating Effectively: Tips & Techniques
And, as always, please feel free to reach out to us directly with your questions, at firstname.lastname@example.org.