If you’re interviewing for a remote role, your interviewer is going to be trying to answer several questions about you: Can you perform the tasks required for the job? Will you fit with the company culture? Can you survive and thrive as a remote worker?
While this article won’t help you with the first two points, it will most definitely help you nail the last one.
As you get ready for your interview, keep in mind that the basics are the same. This is a “real” interview. Do your research on the company. Have your talking points and examples ready to go. As a faculty manager for Kaplan Test Prep, I spent many years interviewing people via video call. I had a small window to figure out if the person staring at me through the screen was worth the time, money, and training I would invest in them. I never once hired someone who didn’t take the interview seriously. Your interviewer won’t either.
While virtual interviews share the same basic components of an in-person interview, the medium adds a layer of complexity that can trip up the unwary.
Starbucks Wi-Fi isn’t going to cut it for this. There are a lot of different video conferencing apps out there, and with few exceptions, they require a lot of bandwidth. Your favorite coffee shop is in the business of selling you delicious beverages, not strong Wi-Fi signal. Murphy’s Law also dictates that the barista will fire up the blender at the exact moment you start talking. Human ears are wonderful things: If we’re sitting together in a coffee shop, we can tune out the blender and still have a great conversation. Your device’s speakers can’t do the same thing. You want your interviewer to remember you—not the blender and the background music that overpowered your voice.
Find a quiet place with a router that you can plug into. If you don’t have access to a router in your home, ask a friend or family member if you can come over and use theirs. Libraries and shared workspaces are also great places to find a quiet room with a wired connection. Book the space ahead of time and test out the connection to make sure it’s strong enough for your needs. If you like the space and you land the job, this will be a good location to visit when you need a change of scenery.
Taking time to test out your internet connection also allows you to test out the video conferencing platform you will be using. You will likely need to register to use the video service. You will also probably need to download an app or even download a different browser. Enlist a friend or family member and use the platform to make a call. Play with the volume, mute buttons, and camera to make sure you know how to use them smoothly. Taking the time to perform these steps well ahead of your interview will help you feel calm and in control.
Once you get your internet and video platform sorted, it’s time to take things to the next level. Think of this as the difference between a Hollywood production and someone’s home movie. Professionals spend time curating their background, lighting, and ambient noise. This is a critical part of looking polished and professional.
Above all, your background shouldn’t be distracting. Sitting with your back against a blank wall is perfectly acceptable. Remove pictures or knickknacks if your background is cluttered. Get your device, turn on your camera, and really look at the things behind you. Pretend you are creating a movie set. Are those last night’s dishes in the sink? Can you see your bed?
Don’t be afraid to let some of your personality shine through – if you have a tasteful display of running medals, a vase full of flowers from your garden or a replica of a World War II fighter plane, by all means, put it behind you as a statement piece. Just make sure the statement you’re making isn’t “I haven’t done laundry for two weeks.”
It is entirely possible to spend hours trying to find the perfect light setup. Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes to find good enough light if you remember a few key points. Don’t sit with a window behind you. It will make you look like you’ve joined the witness protection program. Don’t point a task light directly at your face. While an interview may feel like an interrogation, you don’t want yours to look like one. Indirect light is best. Face a window, if you have one. If your image looks washed out, try turning off your overhead light.
The rule of thumb is to position your camera so it is at your eye level as you look straight ahead. Angle the camera so you can see the top of your head, all the way down to your shoulders. You may need to set your device on a stack of books or on a nearby shelf to achieve this. If your camera is too low, you will be looking down your nose at your interviewer. If it is too high, the interviewer will be looking down on you. If you use a prop to raise the angle of your camera, make sure it’s stable. You don’t want it falling down because you pressed the unmute button too hard.
Dogs. Kids. Errant significant others. They all have the capacity to make noise at the most inconvenient times. There are two things to keep in mind when it comes to noises in the home.
The first is that veteran remote employees know they will occasionally see or hear your family members. Most take these video bombings in stride. The second is that you should work hard to keep your household from intruding on your interview. You don’t know if the person interviewing you is a remote employee. They could be the national recruiter working from the home office and have little to no experience with the way home life can sometimes seep into your work life.
Err on the side of conservatism. Once you get a proper feel for the company culture, you can dial down the formality.
Fair warning: This last piece of advice is Western specific. If you are doing business in a culture where looking directly at someone when they speak to you is disrespectful, feel free to ignore what I’m about to say. In fact, do the opposite, and look at the screen the entire time.
If you want to look someone in the eye during a video call, you have to look into the camera. Doing so will feel counterintuitive. The person you’re talking to is right there on the screen, not in the little aperture on your phone or laptop.
Block out some time well ahead of the interview to work through any glitches that might arise.
It’s also surprisingly hard to remember your talking points and anecdotes when you’re staring at the camera instead of looking at someone’s face. If you want the person on the other end to feel you are listening to them and are engaged in the conversation, then you have to look at the camera most of the time. It’s fine to glance down at the screen during the course of the conversation to gauge the other person’s reaction to what you’re saying. Make those glances brief.
This is an important skill to cultivate as you work remotely. While you may not look into the camera as much in a group video meeting, you will find that difficult or emotionally charged conversations are easier if you look into the other person’s eyes. Start building that skill now.
Getting ready for a video interview may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Block out some time well ahead of the interview to work through any glitches that might arise. As an added bonus, you can use everything you learned to make a great impression on your first day in your new role.
By Teresa Douglas (MBA ’14), author of the book “Secrets of the Remote Workforce: By Employees, For Employees”