Virtual interviews: 6 ways to succeed

Have a virtual job interview coming up? Use these tips to present your best self on the video conference – minding factors including lighting and posture - and land that role
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Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more companies are using teleconferencing tools like Zoom to not only hold meetings, but also interview and negotiate with job candidates.

But online interviews are inherently different from face-to-face interviews; even when you are at home, environmental and nonverbal cues can influence the way you are perceived and judged. Your body language, screen backgrounds, and other factors influence your interactions and others’ impressions in ways you might not realize.

[ Read also: Zoom tips: 7 ways to improve on-screen body language.]

6 tips for virtual job interviews

Here are seven tips to help ensure that you are presenting your best virtual self.

1. Do a background check

Start with your screen background – the part of the room that others see behind you. First, make sure it is clean and tidy. It may be amusing to watch people shove clutter to the corner just before a video meeting starts, but if you want to make a good impression, don’t be that person. Not only will it make you seem sloppy, but people sometimes subconsciously associate physical cleanliness with honesty and other positive traits.

The cleaner and tidier you and your surroundings look, the more likely you are to be perceived as an honest, upstanding person.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of transformation. Get the eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Check your background and decide if you want a bookcase, certain photos, or other personal items to be in view. If you’re sitting in a common area such as a living room or kitchen, try pointing the camera at a blank wall, and perhaps hang a picture or place an item you want to be seen behind you.

2. Take a hard seat

In face-to-face meetings, the host usually controls the meeting environment, setting up the chairs (soft or hard, high or low), determining the distance between participants, and deciding whether to offer a beverage or snack that might affect the other person’s attitude or behavior.

In contrast, online meetings involve two separate spaces, each with its own physical cues. Studies show that the chair you are sitting on can influence your actions and judgments: When you sit on a hard chair, you may be a harder negotiator, whereas a soft chair may soften your negotiation skills.

So, in online interviews or negotiations, carefully choose the chair you sit on. Pay attention to its texture. The height of the chair plays also plays a role because it can impact the angle of the camera ... 

3. Control your angles

An upward camera angle conveys submission and shyness, whereas a downward camera angle conveys dominance and power. 

The angle of your camera is associated with the perception of power: An upward camera angle conveys submission and shyness, whereas a downward camera angle conveys dominance and power. If you want to look more powerful, make sure the camera is positioned below your face. 

Similarly, people who tilt their heads upward are often perceived as happier and are better liked, and smiling faces are perceived as brighter. So lift your head up, check the angle of the camera, and smile from time to time. It may increase your chance of being perceived as someone people want to work with.

4. Take a height advantage

Many studies reflect an association between size, expansion, and dominance (you may be familiar with Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on power poses). In face-to-face meetings, a person’s height plays an important role: Taller people are often perceived as more powerful.

A height advantage might not be clearly visible in an online meeting, but your posture and the way you position your body and move within your personal space can influence how you are perceived. 

Your posture and the way you position your body and move within your personal space can influence how you are perceived.

This in turn can influence the way you perceive yourself: When you feel more confident and powerful, this influences your behavior. So, think about expanding within your space: Sit up straight, and move your arms when you speak (but do not exaggerate).

5. Watch your light 

Strong light influences your behavior as well as how others judge you. Bright light has been found to increase energy and boost mood, helping many people perform better on cognitive tasks. To be more alert, positive, and focused for your interview, light up the room. And, of course, make sure that light is on your face so the interviewer can see you well.

6. Dress for success

While you may be tempted to focus on your attire only from the waist up when you’re online, for interviews and other important meetings, dress as you would for a face-to-face. How you dress affects your own self-perception as well as how others perceive you: In one study, people wearing suits performed better in negotiations and made fewer concessions than those clad in sweatpants and t-shirts. So dress up – you will feel better and perform better.

[ Want more advice on how to communicate effectively? Read also: Zoom tips: 6 ways to make meetings better. ]

Thalma E. Lobel is an internationally recognized psychologist and expert on human behavior.