How to nail your next virtual interview

Remember the days when you started with a phone interview and advanced to at least one in-person interview with the hiring manager before landing the job? Those days are over. Just as remote work and hybrid arrangements are here to stay, we predict Zoom interviews will remain a standard in the hiring process. 

Not only is a virtual interview more cost-efficient and convenient for all parties, widening the pool of candidates, but it reflects the everyday work environment for many marketing professionals now.

Even executive positions at large organizations are being filled without face-to-face interviews in 2022. 

If you are on the job market or plan to be soon, it’s important that you learn what it takes to nail your Zoom interview. 

1. Pretend it’s an in-person interview.

We always recommend that you treat a video interview as you would an in-person interview. This is your opportunity to show the employer exactly who you are and present the best version of yourself, so why not take it as seriously as you would a face-to-face meeting? 

Dress for the job you want.

As you get ready for the interview, pretend that they’re expecting you to walk into the office — prepared, poised, polished, and portfolio in hand.  

This includes dressing for the job you want, from head to toe. Sure, ultra-comfort is one of the biggest perks of working from home. And we’re all in on the secret; as long as you keep a business casual shirt within arm’s reach, you can get away with wearing athleisure all day and jump on a video call at a moment’s notice. 

But a job interview is not the time to sport your “Zoom mullet” — business in the front, party in the back (or, more accurately, work-ready waist-up, nap-ready waist-down).

Always wear professional attire — down to your pants and shoes. We’ve had clients ask candidates to stand up and show them their shoes. Even if it’s done in a lighthearted way, it could happen to you — you don’t want to be caught wearing coffee-stained sweatpants and ratty slippers!

Give them your undivided attention.

No matter your location, the always-connected culture of modern business means the workday is rife with distractions. We’re all a text, DM, Slack ping, or door knock away from someone vying for our attention. This can derail an interview.

Remember when AMC Theaters warned us, “Don’t ruin the movie by adding your own soundtrack”? (Remember movie theaters?) When it’s time for your Zoom interview, don’t forget to silence your phone and turn off your notifications to eliminate all distractions.

Stick a Post-it to your screen if you need a reminder, and put a sign on your door to ward off your family.

We’ve seen candidates answer texts while on-camera or ask the interviewer to hold on while responding to an email. If you wouldn’t do it sitting on the other side of the hiring manager’s desk, don’t do it on Zoom. Take an “it can wait” stance and focus all of your attention on the task at hand. 

Remind everyone in the house that you have an important interview and put a plan in place to eliminate interruptions. Many of us have seen the funny, but cringe-worthy, viral videos of kids bursting through the door and naked spouses emerging from the shower. This happens more often than you might think, and while many employers are understanding to a point, you don’t want it to happen to you. 

Practice professional presence. 

One of the drawbacks of Zoom is that neither party can fully read the other’s body language — an important part of communication. So it’s up to you to project confidence, good listening skills, calm under pressure, and gravitas while communicating on camera.

Remember to maintain your focus and look into the camera while speaking, just as you would look the interviewer in the eye, face-to-face.

We can tell when a candidate is reading something on their screen or searching the internet for an answer. And you should be familiar enough with your device that you know where to look when having a conversation. 

Part of being comfortable with communicating on-camera means paying closer attention to the other person. Look for cues in their body language and expressions to follow a cadence and build rapport.

Sit with your shoulders back, not too close to the screen, and don’t be afraid to use your hands — but not too much. 

You might find it helpful to record yourself doing mock interviews with a friend or coach to identify any nervous tics or habits that you’ll want to avoid, such as touching your hair, fidgeting, leaning back or swiveling around in your chair. Because you are likely sitting at a desk where you commonly work alone, the familiarity of your environment may make you more prone to act this way on camera than you would in person.

2. Be the art director of your background and environment.

Every aspect of the interview process is an opportunity to showcase your personal brand. You’re a marketing professional and, no matter the role, that means you should have some awareness of what it means to market yourself. 

The brand you present in an interview is a full package — not only your person and what you bring to the table but also the environment in which you work. 

Remember, your space tells a story.

In an interview, you want to show up in your best light and take center stage — the set matters. Think of your backdrop as part of your brand story. It’s a glimpse into your world; what does it say about you?

Not only that, but chances are, the role will be either remote or hybrid. Employers want to know you have a dedicated space in which to focus and stay productive. Whether or not you are client-facing, you will be expected to participate in Zoom meetings. Are you able to represent yourself and the company well? 

Simply put, your background should look like a professional home office — not a garage, bedroom, or laundry room. Of course, you can use any of these spaces as your office, but do your best to arrange the background and camera angle in such a way that it appears to be a dedicated office. Virtual backgrounds can be distracting, so we generally advise against them.

If your options are limited, use a room divider or screen to block off an office area.

As a caution, you should still ensure the space behind your backdrop is neat and tidy.

Assume that it could fall at any moment, which is what happened to one of our candidates — only to reveal a room full of empty beer bottles and other trash.

You might not realize it, but things such as flickering candles, whirring fans, and pets grooming themselves behind you can irk the person on the other end of the video call and distract from what you are saying. 

You may not even notice things like piles of laundry, stacks of scattered papers, and cluttered bookshelves in your home, but the interviewer will and it will give the impression that you are unorganized. Ask a friend to hop on a Zoom with you and point out anything that may need sprucing up.

Make the most of unavoidable scenarios.

Ideally, you should make every effort to be in your home office for the interview. In most cases, you only have one shot to make the right impression, so it’s important to do whatever you can to put yourself in the right environment. 

But sometimes a less-than-ideal scenario can’t be avoided. So, no matter where you are, do your best to minimize noise and visual distractions. 

If you are traveling or must do the interview while on-premise at your current job or in your car, make sure the recruiter and interviewer are aware so they know what to expect.

Avoid busy parking lots, dark parking decks, or windy outside areas. And whatever you do, never hold an interview in your office with any logos in the background — and especially not those of your prospective employer’s competitors.

Put technology to work for you, not against you.

Good lighting can go a long way in putting your best face forward, so take the time to try out different angles and options. As a rule of thumb, the lighting should be behind the camera, not behind your head — shining on your face, but not too brightly. You can purchase an inexpensive ring light on Amazon or simply place a lamp behind your monitor.

Point the camera straight-on, not below you or above you. The interviewer should not be looking up your nose, and your forehead should not be cut off.  Make sure your full face and shoulders are within view. 

Don’t let your tech get the best of you. Always test your camera, mic, speakers, and internet connection to make sure everything is in working order prior to your interview start time.

Even if it all worked fine yesterday, check and double-check to ensure no software updates, glitches, or password mishaps get in the way of logging in.

If you’ve never actually used Zoom, Teams, or the company’s video conferencing tool of choice, be sure you’ve downloaded the app and tested it well in advance.

Pull up the meeting invitation with plenty of time to spare; you don’t want to be late just because the app took an extra minute to load. And have a phone number or email address as a backup to reach the interviewer, just in case you run into any trouble. 

Looking for tips on how to add a virtual background? Check out tutorials from Zoom (or whichever virtual meeting platform your interviewers are using).

3. Research, research, research.

The best way to make a strong impression in your Zoom interview is to first research the company and the role for which you are applying. More than anything, the employer wants to know that you are capable but also knowledgeable about the company. You want to convey that you not only want a job, but that you want this specific job.

Dive into the job description.

Chances are, you’ve applied for a number of jobs, so it’s crucial that you again review the job description for this particular role, even more carefully. Job descriptions often contain gems that can be valuable in your interview prep. 

Look for the details that align with your skills and experience as well as those that don’t. You want to be able to speak to the exact value you bring to the table when it comes to what the employer needs and also be cognizant of where gaps exist — so you can address everything confidently.

By the time you show up for the interview, you should be intimately familiar with every detail of the job description. Don’t let them catch you off-guard when they know you had the information right in front of you.

Do some studying up on the company.

Allow yourself plenty of time to read everything you can about the company and how the role for which you’re applying fits into the big picture. 

Read through their website, check out their recent social media posts, and look for any recent press releases or news stories. Make sure you are familiar with industry news and trends. You should be aware of who their main competitors are, where they are in the marketplace, and what makes them different.  

Familiarize yourself with the company’s leadership team, your potential coworkers, and the interviewer.

Do some LinkedIn homework to find out about their background, schools, and any mutual connections you have. Don’t hesitate to bring up commonalities or discuss interesting points you find. It’s not creepy; it shows that you were interested enough to come prepared.

If you have friends or acquaintances that work for the company, consider reaching out to get the inside scoop. You’ll find that people are often eager to offer helpful insights. 

It’s surprising how common it is for candidates to show up to an interview knowing very little about the company and missing key points that they should’ve known. Don’t let this be you. 

Lack of curiosity kills the interview.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in an interview is to not ask questions. If you don’t have questions, it can seem as if you’re uninterested, that you haven’t been paying attention, or that you’re a know-it-all.

Asking good questions shows that you’ve done your research, that you are well prepared to go deeper, and that you are a curious person.

Remember, you are testing them out as much as they are you.

As a professional, you should know enough about what you want out of a company to be inquisitive about how you fit into the mix.

4. Prepare your personal talking points.

All too often, candidates arrive to an interview unprepared to speak on who they are, what they stand for, and what makes them different. Being prepared with personal talking points will boost your confidence and help you stand out from your competition. Why struggle to come up with strong stories on the spot when you have the material to identify stories in advance?

Bring your A-game.

You’ve read the job description and you’ve done your research, so you should have a good idea of what your potential employer is looking for in a candidate. This is your chance to demonstrate the value you’d bring. Yes, you’re good at data analytics, sales, graphic design, or branding — they want to know how you can solve problems and help their company create value with those skills. How have you done so in the past?

Again, go back to the job description and identify specific examples of how you’ve been successful in demonstrating the required skills and responsibilities in previous roles. What change did you drive? How far did you move the needle? How did you create a win?

Be prepared to tell your stories, and come ready with examples. 

We recommend having in your pocket three stories about ways that you have overcome challenges, generated results, or otherwise brought value to your current or past employers.

Make it personal.

Companies aren’t looking for robots, they’re looking for people. More specifically, they’re looking for a cultural fit. Will you fit in with the company ethos? Are you someone they’ll want to work with?

If you’ve ever been advised to keep it all business, all the time, at work, it’s bad advice. Yes, you should always be professional. But it’s important to show off your personality too, so don’t be afraid to share personal stories that highlight your interests outside of work. It’s how people find common ground and relate to one another.

Fascinating experiences, interesting hobbies, and unusual talents that have nothing to do with the job could be the thing that makes you stand out in a sea of candidates. 

Our president and CMO, Kathy Leonard, once met with a young candidate who thought he had nothing interesting in his background to share during an interview. Upon further questioning, it turns out this candidate had traveled by himself to Peru for soccer camp before he was a teenager, and had learned to fly a plane before he learned to drive a car.

What he didn’t realize is that these experiences demonstrate that he’s a very independent and self-motivated person. 

Reach into your past and think outside the box to find ways to demonstrate your unique value. If you are stuck, talk it out with a friend or colleague. They may notice or remember something you don’t.

Lights, camera, action — you’ve got this!

In many ways, Zoom interviews are much the same as in-person interviews. But don’t neglect to address the important differences. Now, it won’t take place in the controlled office environment you may be accustomed to, but the ball is in your court, and you have a home-court advantage.

You’ve been preparing for this interview throughout your career — your whole life! The company needs strong candidates and the right hire just as much as you want the opportunity.

Make an effort to follow the tips we’ve outlined, and you can nail your Zoom interview.

BONUS: Download these tips as a free 1-page checklist! Click here to grab the PDF.