Job Interviews: Zoom in on Videoconferencing

The current situation has made it likely that your next job interview will be done virtually. Be prepared for this eventuality by following these three steps.

1. Check your technology

You never know when your next interview might be. Everything is going more quickly now, because interviews can happen in one click. Is your equipment up to snuff?

First, download the latest version of one of the popular videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom or Skype, and update it if necessary. For more stability, we strongly recommend using a laptop, which usually has an integrated video camera. Once the program is installed, test it with friends to make sure your camera and microphone are working well.

Focus on sound, image and speed

A headset with a microphone will give you the best sound, limiting echo and background noise. Your interviewer will be able to hear you more clearly. Otherwise, you can use the earphones that came with your cell phone. If you have a higher-quality headset for listening to music, this is the perfect opportunity to make use of its noise-cancelling capabilities.

Most recent laptops offer an image quality that is adequate for videoconferencing (ex: 1920×1080 or 1080p resolution; 30 fps). However, you can ensure that you look your best by using an external webcam.  For around a hundred dollars, you can get a faster image refresh rate, autofocus, and better colour accuracy and framing, all of which will improve the image on-screen.

During your test, close all applications that you aren’t using. Other applications running in the background may slow down the system, negatively affect image and sound quality, and might even cause interruptions. It is also crucial to check the performance of your internet connection. If you can, use a residential internet plan with unlimited bandwidth, because the video can use up to 1 GB per hour. For example, for one-on-one video calls, Zoom recommends 600 Kbps (upload/download) for a superior quality video and 1.2 Mbps (upload/download) for HD video. You can test the speed of your internet connection with Bell or Videotron.

In order to avoid slowdowns, make sure that no one in your household is watching movies or playing video games. If you are having difficulties, you can try moving closer to the router. If it’s still not working, you may need to upgrade your plan or change providers. Finally, before the interview, make sure that your computer is fully charged or plugged in so that it doesn’t shut down in the middle of the interview.

2. Set up your space

The way you look is just as important on-screen as if you were visiting the office in person.

Your home in the background contributes to the image you project. Find a calm space where you can talk without noise or interruptions. Warn the members of your household that are currently at home, and, if possible, have someone look after your young children to avoid having them appear suddenly in the middle of your interview.

Create a bright setting

The room visible on-screen must be pleasant and tidy. First, try to keep your table free of any clutter. To achieve the best effect, position yourself about a metre in front of a plain wall decorated with an understated painting, a bookcase or plants. Another option is a blurred background, which is available on Skype. A few other platforms, including Zoom, offer the option of using an image as a background. Many websites have pictures of offices or conference rooms that would be appropriate. If that’s what you want to do, try several different pictures and pay attention to your clothing—you shouldn’t wear green or any colour that is too close to the main colour in the picture. Otherwise, it might look as though your head is floating on the screen.

Framing is crucial to your presentation. Use TV news anchors as a model for what to do. Your chest must be in the middle of the screen, with two inches of space above your head and three to five inches of space on either side of your shoulders. Position the camera at eye level, as if you were naturally looking at someone across from you. To accomplish this, your computer should be about an arm’s length away from you. You can adjust the height of your computer by stacking books under it, if necessary. Here’s another trick—if your program permits, move the thumbnail of your image to the centre of your screen right under the camera to keep you looking straight and ensure that you don’t constantly seem to be checking something else at the corner of your screen. If you ignore this advice, you will probably give yourself a double chin or unflattering shadows under your eyes.

Lighting is the element that will affect your image quality the most. Choose a bright room with diffused light that resembles daylight. If there is a window in the room, your desk should be two metres away and perpendicular to it. Facing the window could make your screen hard to see, and if you put your back to it, you might end up backlit. Keep in mind that the weather might change abruptly over the course of the day. It’s better to control the lighting by placing a lamp directly behind the camera and pointing it towards your face, in addition to using the room’s ceiling light. This will light up the image and eliminate shadows on your face.

3. Make your presence shine

Smile, you’re on camera! Your goal is to ensure that your natural charisma translates to the virtual world.
Throughout the interview, your interviewer will be viewing you up close. Keep your expression calm and pleasant. Think about the micro-expressions and faces you tend to make when reacting to a comment or thinking about a question. You might involuntarily end up looking annoyed, lost or even comical. Also, moving in front of the camera might cause the image to freeze if your network connection is weak. Limit movement as much as possible, control your tics and leave your hair alone. Express yourself using your voice and your eyes. In the same vein, choose a stable chair that won’t move while you’re talking or cause you to roll out of frame in the middle of a sentence.

Appearances matter

For a professional appearance, choose the same clothes you would wear to an interview in person. Avoid solid white or black. Regardless of your gender, try to avoid revealing clothing. Due to the way you’re framed by the screen, a low-cut shirt could make you look naked. Don’t wear anything that could distract from what you’re saying—loud patterns, stripes, extravagant hairstyles or jewellery. While you’re at it, remove anything you don’t want your interviewer to see from your desktop, in case you share your screen.

Your interviewer is in charge of the interview, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay passive. Your interviewer might be just as new to videoconferencing as you are. Be prepared to take charge of the conversation. You could even take advantage of the virtual medium to create a more dynamic presentation by sharing relevant documents or websites on your screen. If that’s what you want to do, open all of the web pages and documents in advance so that you can click from one to the next in a fluid, timely manner.

Just like an interview in person, preparation is the key to success. We recommend that you work on your questions and answers in advance and time them. It’s important to make a statement, but avoid rambling. Interviews normally last 30 to 45 minutes. Remind yourself that your goal is to leave an impression that will earn you a second interview.

The current situation presents new challenges for all job seekers. However, many resources are available to help you. Stay proactive—there are ways to continue your job search. New practices will be developed to allow recruiters and job seekers to meet, and new needs will emerge within companies.

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