Articles - 16th October 2020

How to ace an interview over Zoom

Words by Louise Quick
Illustration by Jon McCormack

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for ten months, (you lucky devil), you’ll have noticed that 2020 has brought some serious change. Video calls have gone from a niche way of contacting certain clients who are further afield, to the way of communicating with, well, everybody.

Zoom meetings and, more precisely, Zoom interviews, are all part of this ‘new normal’ that the Covid-19 pandemic has served us. And, with freelance opportunities feeling few-and-far-between in certain industries, it’s even more important for freelancers to know how to navigate this new digital meeting room.

Whether you’re celebrating the prospect of interviewing in your favourite pyjamas, (read on to find out why not to do that) or trembling just trying to find the camera on your computer, here are some handy hints to help you nail your Zoom interview.

 

Check the tech

“For many people, online interviews are still a bit out of their comfort zone”, says Victoria McLean, founder and CEO of City CV, a UK outplacement services and career consultancy firm. “But if you do your preparation, get to grips with the technology and practice, you’ll come across positive, focused, and motivated”.

Follow Victoria’s advice by giving Zoom a test run beforehand and bribe an obliging friend into doing a trial interview. That way, you can figure out the functions, confirm your sound and video are coming through clearly, and set up your mic and headphones.

Talking of which, headphones are more of a personal preference, but one I advocate for anyone looking to increase sound quality and reduce the chances of those less-than-pleasant echoes and feedback loops.

Quiz fans, beware! Listen to career coach Jane Ferré’s advice and “make sure your username is appropriate”. Basically, ensure that your potential client is interviewing you and not ‘Quizzee Rascal’. Other things to look out for: comedy virtual backgrounds, profile pictures, and filters. You want to be memorable, but for all the right reasons.

Most importantly, just because Zoom has a phone app doesn’t mean you should use it. Between bad audio-video quality, achy arms, and that awful up-the-nose shot that’ll inevitably happen, there are countless reasons why using a phone for a Zoom interview is a bad call. If it’s absolutely unavoidable, then invest in a stand.

 

Fix Up

Warning: the set up for a Zoom interview may result in your living room resembling a Feng Shui job gone wrong. But it’s worth it.

“It might not feel like an interview because you’re sitting at home”, says McLean. “But my number one top tip is to take a video interview as seriously as a face-to-face interview”.

This means creating a professional workspace, (aka a desk). However tempting the sofa is, make sure you’re sitting in front of a table, ideally a few feet in front of a neutral background. If that’s not achievable, then the tidier and more minimal the background the better – at the very least move your laundry out of shot.

Sit facing a window or position lamps behind your laptop facing you. This will not only produce a more flattering image of yourself on screen, but avoid that witness-protection-programme look that we’ve all seen people rock in Zoom meetings.

Another professional hack for Zoom interviews is to ensure that your camera is at eye level. If you have a laptop riser – brilliant. If you don’t, grab your chunkiest cookery books and board games, (Jamie Oliver and Risk do the job well), and stack them under your laptop until the camera is level with your eyes. Remember, this set-up can be tested in your trial run.

“You may be convinced your camera is angled the right way, your background is neutral, lighting perfect, and you’re making virtual eye contact”, warns McLean. “But, unless you test it, who knows what your interviewer is seeing?”

 

Look Sharp

Sadly, while working from home may be pyjama-friendly, Zoom interviews are not. You’ll need to reach into the neglected corner of your wardrobe to where your professional clothes are gathering dust.

If there’s one thing you take from this article let it be this: wear trousers. Or a skirt. Just wear something more than your knickers on your bottom half. It sounds obvious, but according to a recent survey about ten per cent of people in work video calls merrily run the risk of being caught with their trousers down, literally.

More than just avoiding embarrassment, clothing can work wonders for your mental attitude. Consider even wearing shoes in video interviews. While that’s perhaps one (well-heeled) step too far, McLean argues, “Getting into work-mode and dressing the part helps you to get fully into the professional ‘zone’”.

 

No Interruptions

The footage of Professor Robert Kelly’s children crashing his BBC interview in 2017 may be cute, but it shouldn’t be a benchmark for a Zoom interview with a potential client.

The fact everyone’s in the same house-bound boat at the moment means that we’ve come to expect the occasional cameo from a furry feline or child in work calls – it’s all part of the ‘new normal’. However, a Zoom interview is still an interview and, as such, is expected to be pet- and child-free.

There’s nothing like an important video call to help you realise how noisy the outside world is. Combat that ambience of car horns, school children, and sirens by closing your windows and doors before the call.

Interruptions come in all shapes and sizes, so be sure to close all unnecessary tabs and programmes on your computer as well. It’ll help you concentrate on the matter at hand – without wondering about that client email that just popped up – and prevent accidentally bringing sounds of that morning’s yoga YouTube tutorial into your interview.

Unfortunately, however, interruptions are just a fun risk of interviewing from home. If you know there’s a high chance of disturbances, have the initiative to warn the interviewer at the start of the call.

One bonus tip, courtesy of McLean: “With a video interview you have the advantage of being able to stick Post-it notes around the webcam”. This allows you to maintain ‘eye’ contact and effortlessly reel off your points and questions – just remember to avoid the camera lens with the Post-its.

 

Ultimately, Zoom interviews aren’t too different from regular interviews – and are equally as nerve-wracking. Just ensure you have the tech figured out and don’t slack on the professional-front just because you’re at home. If in doubt, remember this succinct piece of advice I received after asking people on Twitter for advice on video interviews: “Be yourself and wear trousers”. What more can you do?

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