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Coronavirus Preparedness At Lighthouse

5 Tips for Interviewing Virtually

By Nikki MacCallum

Regardless of when things return to “normal,” 2020 is the year of the virtual interview. At Lighthouse, we are conducting 100% of our interviews remotely through the end of the year, most of which are on camera. While the fundamental rules for interviews remain the same whether they are conducted in-person or virtually, there are certain obstacles that can arise on camera that could make or break your interview. This blog will arm you with five tricks to help you nail your virtual interview.

  1. Be aware of the placement of your camera. One of the trickiest things about interviewing via computer is that you may not be making eye contact with the interviewer, even when you think you are looking directly at their face. This is especially relevant if you’re using multiple monitors. Although it may feel uncomfortable, the best thing you can do is stare right into the camera, so that it appears to the interviewer that you’re making direct eye contact. Often times I will experience folks referencing notes, reading something lower on their screen, or looking at me on another monitor. While you may think you’re still looking at the person who is interviewing you, your eyes appear to be looking away. Also, it’s best to be about two feet away from your camera for the best view and or angle.
  2. If there are any third-party distractions beyond your control, call them out. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic. Never before have businesses been more understanding of background noise, people walking behind you, or FedEx delivering a package in the middle of your interview. These distractions are not ideal, but they absolutely happen. While your instinct may be to pretend they don’t exist, the best thing you can do is actually acknowledge the disruption. If you know your neighbor’s dog will bark loudly in the background, set that expectation ahead of time. If someone rings your doorbell in the middle of an interview, apologize for the interruption and make light of the unfortunate timing (“of course this package is being delivered during my interview”). We are all human. It is okay. What makes a situation questionable is when you simply ignore it, leaving the interviewer to wonder if you actually didn’t realize your children were running around behind you.
  3. Do not use a virtual background. There are many schools of thought around the virtual background, but I believe it can hurt you far more than it can help you. The obvious advantage of a virtual background is you don’t have to clean your house and it covers up any distractions that may be living in the background. I use them regularly on meetings with my colleagues because ever since the pandemic, I always seem to have a pile of laundry behind me. But, I find that virtual backgrounds in an interview setting can be inauthentic and distracting. The main reason I advise folks to steer clear is that, for me, they hinder connectivity. Similar to how you can get a sense in person if someone is being “fake” or “inauthentic,” I believe the virtual background actually creates a barrier for authenticity. I feel much more connected to folks if I’m seeing them as they are, without any bells and whistles, in their natural habitat. If your home is a disaster (mine always is, so don’t feel bad), just find a blank wall. Surely that exists somewhere. A professional look and a wall are all you need to ace your interview from a virtual standpoint.

    In addition to creating a barrier for connectivity, backgrounds can also be distracting. Over the past few months, I’ve interviewed candidates driving virtual planes, sitting in Rubik’s cubes, and somehow sitting on the moon. While it’s impressive that you managed to get wifi on the moon, these backgrounds sometimes make it hard for an interviewer to focus. We become more fixated on your background and why you chose it as opposed to focusing on you and your skillset. If you are in an impossible situation where you absolutely must use a virtual background due to outside factors beyond your control, I strongly recommend using a standard background that looks like a home office. No bells and whistles that could potentially hinder connectivity or distract the interviewer. One good barometer is asking yourself: would you actually interview from this place? Would you actually interview for a job from a jet or from the moon? If the answer is no, then refrain from using that background on an interview.
  4. This one goes without saying, but you still should look as professional as possible even when interviewing from your home. That said, achieving a polished look can actually be a bit different on camera versus in person. A big tip is in terms of clothing, solid colors are much better than patterns. Also, colors read much better on camera than your standard blacks and whites. They draw more attention to your face and help you pop a little bit against your background, making you seem more charismatic. It’s also helpful to avoid sitting in front of a window. Depending on the time of day windows can sometimes create glares on the screen which can take away from your content. As far as lighting, it’s best to have a steady stream of light on your face. This can be achieved with a simple table lamp, or if you plan to be interviewing a lot (or on camera often for work) and want to step up your lighting game, I recommend a Ring Light which can be purchased on Amazon.
  5. Make sure to test your technology ahead of time and have a backup. Technology is both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes technical glitches occur that are beyond our control, but always test your wifi and connectivity ahead of time. Once, during a virtual speaking engagement, I didn’t realize that the platform being used (Zoom) only worked on Chrome. I had to take time out of the schedule to download Chrome, as it was not previously installed on my computer. This is a perfect example of what not to do and I encourage you to learn from my mistakes! If your interview is being conducted on a platform that you’ve never used before (Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, etc.), make sure to do a test run prior to your interview.

Along these lines, it’s always a good idea to have a backup device. When I have an important engagement, I will often arm myself with two backup devices. I was in a scenario recently where out of nowhere I started having wifi issues. Since I had a backup plan, I was able to remain on camera on my original device, but used my phone (backup device) to call into the Zoom room so that even though I was experiencing connectivity issues, whenever the camera lagged, my audio was still crystal clear.

Being aware of camera placement, acknowledging distractions, refraining from virtual backgrounds, dressing for camera success, and having a backup technology plan are five tips that will hopefully start your interview process out right!  At the very least, they will set you up for success from a logistical standpoint. Best of luck! You will do great!

If you have questions about this blog article or want to chat about the concept further, please feel free to reach out to me at NMacCallum@lighthouseglobal.com.

Nikki MacCallum

Nikki MacCallum brings over thirteen years of experience in the executive search space with a focus on litigation technology and eDiscovery. She’s spoken on panels and at conferences nation-wide (ABC News, Women in eDiscovery, LegalTech, CALSM, ARIAS) and was recently the key note speaker for a global Career Panel Workshop at American Express. Nikki is also a resident speaker at New York City’s Coalition for the Homeless where she privately mentors underprivileged women looking to re-enter the workforce.

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