Efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 have had wide ranging impacts on the labour market. The unemployment rate in Australia rose to 7.5% nationally in July 2020, a 2.2% rise compared to July 2019, which translates into an increase of 296,200 people. Candidates who are exploring a career change or new opportunities are faced with an extremely competitive hiring landscape.
In many ways, the shift to online interviews has only made it more challenging. Now, candidates are being assessed by potential employers—whether subconsciously or not—on the whole experience of the virtual interview itself. However, the savvy candidate can position themselves ahead of the crowd by ensuring their tech setup is primed so that their first impression is one that’s professional and technically proficient.
First, you want to control every aspect of your environment for the interview. You cannot do that from the front seat of your car, in a park or from shopping mall (yes, candidates have done this!). If you book an interview and forget that you’re supposed to take some little people to the soccer or the cat to the vet, it’s far better to reschedule than try to cram it all in.
Pick a quiet room in which to do your interview and consider the background. Choose something more interesting than a flat, blank wall; however, ensure the background is also neat, tidy and uncluttered. Take a close look at the items that are in the frame. Is there some personal memento or piece of laundry you would rather not share with the interviewer?
Once you’ve decided on an appropriate location, it’s time to test your internet connection, the application you will use to connect with the interviewer, the sound, video and also the lighting.
It’s a good idea to speed test your internet connection well in advance of your interview. If your internet speed is too low, video streaming is compromised and you may ‘glitch’ or embarrassingly, freeze altogether. For video group calling, a minimum of 5.0 Mbps upload speed is recommended. If you determine your internet speed is too low, give your internet provider a call—as you may not be getting what you’re paying for.
Before your interview, ask everyone in your household to turn off their devices if possible, so your internet speed won’t be slowed down and appear fuzzy. Ask the gamers and series-streamers to do a quiet offline activity like folding laundry so they don’t bog down the Wi-Fi.
A variety of video apps are used by recruiters, like Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts, with Zoom being the most common. You can download Zoom for free on your device, set up a tester meeting and try it out in advance to check your audio, video and background. Be sure that your “Zoom name” is appropriate (it can be someone else’s, as long as it’s appropriate for the workplace).
To connect to the interview, you can simply click on the Zoom link and it will automatically direct you to the digital interview room if you are using a browser on a laptop or desktop computer. However, if you are using your phone or a tablet, you will need to download the Zoom app first, which takes more time to set up. Either way, it is far better to get set up and test in advance, so you don’t keep interviewers waiting while you fumble around with the tech.
In case anything does go sideways with your connection, make sure the interviewer has your contact number so they can quickly call you to switch to a phone interview if necessary.
Whether you use a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer, be sure to position it at eye level so the interviewer is not staring up at your nose and chin. Try to reduce the “head room” above your head. In other words, the top of your head should be near the top of the video frame, so the recruiter can see more of you, and less of the ceiling or wall.
Specific to Zoom, there is a setting for HD video, which you should enable to give better picture quality. In addition, Zoom does offer the option of a virtual background. Unless you are completely bereft of options for your background, this is not recommended as it can cause distracting effects when the Zoom images combine with your movement and clothing. Again, test this option in advance if you decide to go this route, and choose an appropriate background, as a tropical beach or outer space may not set the right tone.
Consider your audio background. Be sure to eliminate as much as possible any competing sounds around you like dishwashers, TVs and street noise from open windows. Double check that notification sounds on your computer and phone are turned off. Ideally, use a space that does not have an echo from a lot of blank walls.
Don’t sit in front of a window because your face will be too dark to see. The best lighting is even and steady, without distracting shadows that can be caused by side lighting or back lighting. The most flattering light comes from 45 degrees to your face. Play around with the lighting to see what looks the best, and do it at the same time of day as your planned interview, to account for any natural light from a window.
By taking all of these points seriously, you’ll be taken seriously as potential top talent, and gain the edge in a competitive marketplace where many people are looking for jobs.
Look out for Part 2 of this article, which will give suggestions on how to prepare and practice for interviews, ways to present yourself professionally, and tips on how to overcome the strangeness of the online interview.