Over the shoulder view of a woman having a video conference with a businessman through her laptop

How Not to Botch a Video

Eric Ciechanowski
By Eric Ciechanowski
Last Updated: September 03, 2020

Video interviews can be daunting. You’re up against multiple distractions, both on your computer and in your home, and the hiring manager interviewing you can see your reactions in real time (funny hand gestures and all). This combination can quickly derail a conversation and cut a promising interview short.

The stakes are high – but not insurmountable. Here are nine ways to make sure you’ll finish your next video interview with flying colors.

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1. Check your tech

Remember, the person you’re interviewing with may be on the other coast — so double-check their time zone when you schedule the call. Confirm how many people will be on the interview, and test your Internet connection and the video software you’re using well before your video call. Give yourself ample time to double-check that everything is working correctly so you’re not scrambling five minutes before the interview starts. If possible, keep a backup device handy, and make sure your computer is either fully charged or plugged in to avoid losing power if the interview goes longer than expected.

2. Do a test run

To make things more productive, grab a friend or family member to do a mock video interview with you; this will help you become more comfortable with the video interview setting and make any needed adjustments. Run through some interview questions, and ask for constructive feedback on your diction, body language, facial expressions, and interview answers (better to make fixes now than during the actual interview).

3. Get the aesthetics right

Choose a location with soft, natural lighting for your interview if at all possible. If you’re forced to be in a windowless room, make sure the room is well-lit, and that the lighting looks right on your test call. If you’re using natural light, don’t sit in front of a bright window unless there is ample filler light. Think of your ideal “office” background when setting up your space; the wall in view behind you should be neutral and free of distracting elements (a tasteful painting or bookshelf is fine), and any clutter in the room should be banished (or at least moved to the nearest closet). A good rule of thumb? When in doubt, move it out.

4. Dress your best

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: No bathrobes. No pajamas. And, it should go without saying, the fresh-from-the-shower towel look is never recommended. Pants are a must. Wear a clean, pizza-stain-free, work-appropriate shirt; keep jewelry tasteful and understated; and stick to neutral colors. Check out how your outfit appears on camera while seated in your interview location. Your look should be professional, as if you were interviewing in person. Depending on the type of company you’re interviewing with, a suit may be appropriate. Even if your interviewer can’t see your entire outfit, dressing professionally from head to toe will help you exude confidence and get in the right mindset. After all, you have mere seconds to make a first impression.

5. Don’t start out stressed

Make sure you get a solid night of sleep the night before your interview. This is also a great time to practice calming rituals. Take a warm bath. Sip on your favorite herbal tea. Try an app like Headspace to meditate before bed, and start the morning off right with an online yoga class. Alternatively, go for a run, do some deep stretching, or put on your favorite playlist and dance yourself into a positive mood. All of these things will help you prepare mentally, which will translate to presenting yourself in the best light. After all, you’re going to be on display – literally.

6. Zero out your distractions

Before the interview starts, enforce a “zero-tolerance” policy of distractions. Close out other windows on your computer, declutter your workspace, isolate yourself from any people and animals in the house – and lock the door to avoid any unwanted visitors. If your dogs tend to be barkers, see if someone can take them for a walk during your interview. Post a note on your front door to instruct people not to ring the doorbell, and silence any alarms and notifications on your electronic devices.

7. Make yourself comfortable

We don’t mean sliding into a bean bag chair and the nearest bathrobe (see “dress your best” above if you’re still on the fence about going pants-less). Do, however, pick a spot where you’re comfortable, whether that’s at a desk, table, or counter. Get your necessities like water, coffee, or mints and practice mise en place. Have questions and notes clearly written or printed and bulleted out for yourself to refer to during the interview. Tape them at eye level so you can easily glance at them during the call. Place a favorite family picture or motivational frame out of view of the video but where you can see it, should you need a dash of inspiration or warm fuzzies mid-interview.

8. Remember your manners

The same rules apply as in any other type of interview when it comes to good manners. Introduce yourself on the call, and thank your interviewer for taking the time to talk with you. Try to minimize typing during the interview, as it can be distracting, and your main focus should be on the camera or webcam on your computer. If possible, opt for a pen and paper to take notes, and avoid checking your phone or trailing off while other people are talking. Apologize if a distraction comes up (like your child waltzing into the room), and try to correct the error and move on as quickly as possible. Thank your interviewer at the end of the interview, and follow up with a written thank-you note within 24 hours post-interview.

9. Keep your wits about you

If technology fails, or if you make a mistake, take a deep breath and remember that you’re just having a conversation with another human being. Technology has its limits, and some days, the universe doesn’t seem to be on your side. Apologize, fix the issue, smile, and move on. If you’re wowing a hiring manager with your next-level skills, the incident will probably be quickly forgotten – though your grace and tact won’t.

Put this advice into action, and you’ll ensure your next video interview is memorable (in all the right ways).