When I lost my job in February of 2020 the landscape of job searching was rapidly changing. I was incredibly daunted by having to understand how to interview effectively on digital platforms. Interviews in general are nerve wracking. There are so many elements to think about when wanting to present yourself well to a prospective employer. The digital landscape makes it even more challenging to understand how to stand out.
Preparation is key to making sure you are giving yourself the best possible shot at landing a job. I looked at an over saturated job market and realized I was competing with possibly hundreds of candidates applying for the same position. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t giving employers any reason big or small to rule me out. Below are six secret tips to stand out that I learned while navigating the pitfalls of digital interviews:
Before the interview:
1. Always test your equipment in advance:
Does your equipment work? How reliable is your Wi-Fi connection? Is your video clear?
An interview is your time to shine as a professional. Even if a technology malfunction might not necessarily be your fault, it still puts you at a disadvantage by not allowing you to truly shine. Think about how frustrating it would be as an interviewer to want to get a genuine impression of who you are but they can’t simply because your equipment is not working. Though technology malfunction wouldn’t automatically rule you out of a job even minor glitches put you at a disadvantage. Think about when you experience frustrations or inconveniences with people, even nice people, it usually makes you less likely to want to engage with them in the future. You don’t want something as silly as a bad Wi-Fi connection to give the interviewer the impression that you are someone who is unprofessional or unprepared.
If you’re using any sort of Bluetooth device as a microphone or headphones, make sure it’s connected seamlessly in advance of the interview. Make sure you are in a place with good Wi-Fi connection or are directly connected via ethernet.
Be prepared with backup options if the need arises. For example, make sure to have Zoom or Google hangouts downloaded on your phone and cued up as back up options should your connection be lost on your computer or laptop. Having immediate back up options if there are any technology malfunctions not only helps the interview run more smoothly, it also gives you a chance to shine showing you are a proactive problem solver.
Are you in a comfortable place? What does your background look like? Are your face and surroundings well-lit?
Prepare your surroundings in advance of the interview. Find a place where you feel relatively comfortable. If you feel comfortable you are more likely to come across as confident and less likely to be distracted. Make sure your background is clean and free of distractions. Though you can’t prove that a messy background would rule you out for a job it certainly makes you look more put together. Imagine if you are telling and interviewer that you are an organized person yet you are surrounded by large piles of dirty laundry or a messy kitchen in the background of the Zoom call, it just makes you look less credible. You want to make sure that the interviewer is focused on you, not distracted by anything going on in the background.
Is there a terrible amount of back light behind you making your face appear dark or washed out? Any inconsistencies in lighting on your face make it harder for the interviewer to see your facial expressions and therefore make it harder for them to engage and get a sense of who you are.
Here are the top three things that will make you look good in your setting:
- Camera angle. Make sure the camera on your laptop is at least eye level.
- Make sure that you are not sitting in front of a window which will create lots of light behind you and shadow your face.
- Remove any busy or large decorations or large items in the background that would distract such as posters, family photos…etc.
3. Prepare an outline:
Do you know what your answers would be to commonly asked interview questions? Do you remember your key accomplishments that highlight your strengths?
I am sure you can all relate to times in traditional in-person interviews when you rehearsed what you were going to say a hundred times and suddenly when the interviewer asked a question you went blank. Virtual interviews give you the opportunity to prepare and use notes. When I interviewed for new positions I would make bulleted outlines for myself and tape them on the wall behind my computer for reference when I got nervous. I highly recommend making an outline or note cards that you have within reach with responses you have to commonly asked questions like “What is your greatest strength?”…”What is a weakness of yours?” or the ever dreaded “Tell me about yourself.” I even went so far as printing out the job description and highlighting keywords or phrases to touch on when describing myself in the interview. It may also be a good idea to do some research on the company (values, mission statement, relevant statistics, etc.) and have these facts handy. The company research may seem a bit over the top. However, when I was interviewing for a large hometown corporation in the food and agriculture industry, knowing the company values and facts differentiated me from my peers and earned me a second interview.
I found it also helped me to include a list of key accomplishments for each of my former jobs as well so that when they asked a question like…”Tell me about a time when you…” I could answer with a specific example from my past experience at a job. I prepared 5 key accomplishment descriptions with examples from various former jobs. The best way to describe your key accomplishments is by using the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Use the prompts below to help guide you through how to outline your accomplishments:
- Describe the Situation.
- Describe the Tasks involved.
- Be specific about what Actions you took to bring results.
- Describe the Results that were directly influenced by your actions.
You will appear confident and polished when you don’t go blank or hesitate to answer interview questions.
During the interview:
4. Look at the camera not the screen:
Are you engaging as much as possible with the interviewer? Are you distracted by the movement and images on your screen?
During in-person interviews people often talk about making eye contact with the interviewer to appear engaged. Our instinct when on Zoom calls is to look directly at the person on the computer screen. However this means you are actually technically looking below this persons actual sightline. If you look directly into the camera you will be making more “eye contact” with the interviewer and appear even more engaged in the conversation. I definitely found it challenging to make this shift. It feels strange and less intuitive to look at the little camera circle on the top of the screen when someone’s face is right in front of you. I found that interviewers were more enthusiastic when I forced myself to look directly at the camera versus at their picture on my computer screen.
5. Be aware of your body language:
Does your body language on Zoom convey your emotions effectively?
Before when we were in close proximity to a person during our interview it would be easy for them to pick up on the subtleties of body language. Body language communicates so much more than we realize! I realized when I over exaggerated my body language slightly, like nodding very noticeably and obviously when someone else was talking to me, made my conversations flow more smoothly and allowed the speaker to feel as if they were being really “heard”. In person it is easier to gage whether or not someone is paying attention or “hearing” what you are saying instead of zoning out. On Zoom when all we are doing is staring at a screen its hard to know whether or not someone is tuning you out. I found that when I was intentional in exaggerating my body language a bit I had more positive connections and responses from people. Your Zoom call body language etiquette will definitely help you stand out from other candidates.
Are you aware of your facial expressions?
Last but certainly not least. Make sure to smile! I would often catch myself unintentionally straight faced during situations when I was listening really hard. This straight face made me come off as uninterested at times. Even though I consider myself a positive person I had to keep reminding myself to smile. To be fair though it is less intuitive to smile at a little black dot on the top of our computer versus smiling at a human face to face. Smiling also conveys positivity which we all could use more of right now!
I hope these tips helped you! Leave a comment if you have any more tips that you also have.