Virtual Job Interviews: How to Look and Sound Your Best
Welcome to the era of live streaming career management!
Job interviews that are live streamed are the new normal. Likely, they’ll be permanent. If you are currently looking for a job or thinking about making a change, you need to acquire the skills and tools to make the best online impression.
We are in the midst of a sea change.
Millions of people have been laid off or furloughed. Millions more are looking at the work they’ve been doing and have decided it’s time for a change. In the midst of people losing their jobs, it's extraordinary to also see the number of people on LinkedIn and other social media platforms who are announcing they’ve accepted new jobs or promotions.
The way people search for and apply for jobs looks nothing like it did just a few years ago. In the Old World, the printed resume was everything. Great attention was given to the details of a resume design including lay-out, type faces, print color, and paper quality. Today, it’s not your resume that gets results; it’s your online profile. Headhunters and human resources professionals search online profiles using filters to zero in on the most qualified set of candidates.
Social distancing is here to stay. Gone are the days of every candidate going to a company’s offices for a job interview. I doubt that you’ll see many job interviews being conducted at Starbucks in the future.
Hiring managers and recruiters are embracing virtual job interviews. They’ve realized live streaming is a great way to quickly conduct interviews. They save on transportation costs and all of the attendant complications. They can also get the interview process started much faster than scheduling in-person interviews.
At the beginning of this crisis, most people were focused on just connecting with others. We wanted to make sure everyone was ok. This new adventure allowed us to peak into each other's homes. We enjoyed hearing the dog bark or seeing our colleague's kids run by the camera.
Since I've been at home like many others, I've attended several live streaming meetings and webinars. I've had the chance to view lots of people on video. I've seen a wide range of the way people have presented themselves. Some do it well; others not so much.
For many of us, the longer we’ve been home, the less attention we’ve given to what we wear. Throw on some old sweat pants, wear the same t-shirt for a couple of days, or wear a cap instead of washing your hair.
Others prepare everyday as if they are going to work. People say it makes them feel better. Because they physically look like they are going to work, people tend to be more serious about what they are doing. They are more productive.
That’s why you should dress as if you were going to the company for a job interview. Dress appropriately for the type of job you’re after. Research the company to see what people wear for their profile photos. For example, if all of the attorneys, men and women, on the law firm’s web site are dressed professionally in suits, you should wear one for the interview. If, like a lot of companies, people wear business casual attire for their profile photos, do the same.
- Avoid all black. It’s too stark and somber.
- Avoid all white. People wearing all white aren’t taken as seriously.
- If you wear a dark suit, add something colorful like a bright tie or scarf.
- For women, I’ve always been a fan of pearl necklaces. It’s classy and they tend to throw brightness into your face.
- Avoid huge chunky jewelry, especially if it makes noise when you move.
- If you’re a woman, consider a brightly colored top. If red is your color, it looks great on camera.
- For men and women, avoid shirts and other tops with large patterns.
- No polo shirts, golf shirts, or t-shirts.
- No caps. Seriously.
- For women, avoid sleeveless tops or plunging necklines.
- Dress appropriately below the waist. During your interview, you might have to stand up or lean over to get something. Don’t let them see that you’re wearing your pj’s on the bottom and a suit on the top!
People want to see the “normal” you. If you don’t wear makeup don’t start now. But, whether you are a man or a woman, you may want to think about some basic attention to your face. You’d be amazed at the amount of makeup both male and female television broadcasters use. Just like TV cameras, webcams and DSLR’s in video mode produce a very hard image which emphasizes blemishes, wrinkles, and skin texture.
- Use some neutral lipstick or lip balm so your lips don’t look dry and chapped.
- Use a powder foundation applied with a large soft brush.
- Consider a lightening cream to reduce the bags or darker skin under your eyes.
- Use a subtle eye shadow above your eyes.
- Apply some mascara.
Since we currently have no access to hair salons and barbershops, most of us are probably looking a little shaggy. That’s no excuse, however, for looking like a wild beast.
Do the best you can to trim back any flyaways and loose hair around your face. For women (and for some men), consider a spritz of water around your face followed by a quick blow dry. It will make a big difference.
For men with facial hair, trim it back. In particular, pay attention to the hair around your nostrils. Shave stray hairs that grow out of your cheeks near your beard line. Trim your eye brows.
- Sit up straight. You’ll look stronger and more confident. If necessary, put a small pillow behind the small of your back to keep you from slumping against the back of the chair. Keep you shoulders back.
- Don’t talk over others. This is much easier to avoid in person. On occasion there will be a “burp” in the stream causing audio to slow down for a second. When it comes back, you may find that you’ve been talking over one of the interviewers. Although pauses may sound “pregnant” they are acceptable when you are online.
- Pause between phrases. For the same reason. It also gives the person interviewing a chance to react or provide more information about the job opportunity. When we get nervous, we tend to talk too much.
- Slow down. Talking too fast is a sign of nervousness.
- Don’t over answer questions. In other words, don’t pivot to what you wanted to talk about like a scripted politician at a debate. Chances are, the interview will be recorded and played over and over to other stakeholders. This will look worse every time it’s replayed.
- Be visually engaged. Smile. Nod. Avoid the passive television face, the one we unknowingly take on when we are vegetating in front of the TV.
- Look at the camera, not at the faces on the computer monitor. This is anti-intuitive because we naturally think we should look the interviewer straight in the eyes. That’s what they will see if you look at the camera. If you look at their image on the computer screen, you will appear to be looking down.
- Choose a quiet spot in your home. Keep the kids and the pets away.
9. Keep your spouse/partner out of the room. It’s terribly distracting to see someone walking across the room in the background.
10. Switch your phone to silent. Consider taking it to another room so you aren’t compelled to look at it all the time. That’s already a bad habit many of us have formed.
11. Turn off notifications on all of your other devices, particularly the computer you are using for the interview. You don’t want to be distracted by pings coming from your weather app.
12. Avoid making large hand gestures. They can actually slow the stream down.
13. Keep your hands away from your face. Don’t scratch your nose, rub your eyes, put a finger in your ear, or constantly brush your hair back. These are hard wired habits tough to break. Practice with a timer. Sit for 5 minutes at a time and see if you can keep your hands away from your face.
14. Practice. Set up your camera as if it’s connected to a live stream platform. Evaluate how you look.
15. Wake up! We all start feeling numb after we’ve been sitting awhile. Before the interview, get up, do some jumping jacks, slap yourself in the face, get some water. Do whatever it takes to get you energized!
Well before your interview is scheduled, take care of technical details so you don’t blow it because you are unable to connect.
Test the Technology.
- Hold a practice session with a friend or your spouse. Be sure your connection to the live streaming platform is working. Have a mock interview with a friend or your spouse.
- Equipment check. Make sure the camera and microphone are working. You can verify this during your practice session and by checking if everything is correct in the streaming app’s settings.
- Avoid headphones. They’ll make you look like an airplane pilot. You can use ear buds, particularly if they also include a microphone. I prefer that you use the computer’s microphone or an external mike.
- Have a back up plan. Tell the interviewer you’ll call in if the live stream doesn’t work.
- Scout for a location. Using your smartphone's camera on Live View, walk around your house looking for a location that looks pleasant.
- Avoid using a blank wall as a background. It’s too sterile looking.
- Observe the scene behind you. If you have to be at your desk during live streaming, look at the area behind you. Clean up any clutter. Consider moving a piece of furniture or a plant behind you for some visual interest.
- Make sure the background is well lit. You don't want some murky dark area behind you. Some people suggest purchasing a pop up background in gray or some other neutral color. Avoid black or white. I'm neutral on this idea. It looks a bit too "studio" considering that almost everyone is streaming from home.
- Avoid virtual backgrounds. Some live streaming apps offer a virtual background as an option. This mostly eliminates the need to look for a suitable background in your house. I find most of the stock backgrounds very distracting. Some are downright goofy. You can also upload your own background. Tempting. The risk here is that you may THINK your background of a bunch of your friends going crazy at a party is a good picture, it may not serve you well. One person used a photo of the inside of her company's office. That worked well. She actually looked like she was at work. One other particularly bad downside of this effect is that when you turn your head from side to side, portions of you will disappear. It's also very distracting. One person told me the only his hair and glasses appeared on the screen; the rest of his body was masked out.
- Computer and camera placement. If you are using a laptop, place it on top of a box or a stack of books so the computer’s camera is at eye level or 3-4 inches above. Leaving the laptop at desk level sets you up for a very unflattering picture. Viewers will be looking directly up your nose. The angle will tend to widen and flatten your face. You can make minor adjustments by tipping the back of the laptop up or down.
- Your face in the frame. Sit back a bit so both of your shoulders are visible. Don’t fill your face in the frame.
3. Turn slightly to one side. Particularly if you’re a bigger person, this will make you look more slender.
The best way to create good lighting is by having control over it.
- Don’t rely on outside or natural light. It can change dramatically if clouds suddenly obscure the sun or daylight turns into twilight during your job interview.
- The main light source should be in front of you. If the main light source (a window, for example) is bright and behind you, your face will be in silhouette.
- Look for a space where your face is the most evenly lit with no shadows. Look for areas where the light is coming equally from 3 directions: front, left, and right. Use your smartphone on live view to help you choose a suitable location.
- Pull the shades down if you have to live stream near a window.
- Borrow lamps from other rooms to add light if necessary. This includes floor lamps, table lamps, and desk lamps with telescoping arms.
- The background should be well lit, too. Avoid a dark, gloomy background. It will detract from your own personal energy.
- Consider purchasing lights. Some options are included in this article: click
As a Minneapolis commercial photographer who takes professional headshots and business portraits for numerous companies, I have a lot of experience coaching people how to look their best. In a previous life, I owned retail men’s clothing stores employing over 40 people. I conducted hundreds of job interviews. In addition, I delivered “Dress for Success” talks for students about to graduate from college as well as other job seekers.
Besides my background, I collected input from numerous people recently about what they’ve observed, both good and bad, during live streaming sessions.
More articles about photography: click here
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