Several years ago, I published an article entitled “They Can Hear You In Your Pajamas” regarding non-verbal communication and phone interviews. The basic message? Take the interview seriously, as if it were in person, because how you sound on the phone is affected by your appearance and surroundings.

Your voice becomes the “telephonic appearance.” In a phone interview, it’s just as important to get up, get showered, and get professionally dressed as it is in a live interview. The reason is simple. “They can hear you in your pajamas.” Let’s fast-forward.

With today’s uptick in Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, and other popular platforms for virtual interviewing, the applicant has many new communication challenges to consider. Not only can the interviewer potentially “hear you in your PJs,” let’s make sure they do not see you in them (or anything else personal and unprofessional for that matter)! This brings voyeurism to a whole new level.

I maintain my original position for video interviews. We should treat them as if they are in-person and prepare accordingly. Yes, I encourage all to go the extra mile and complete the outfit – tempting as it might be to remain in your boxers or yoga pants and only dress from the waist up. Beware! You never know when an interviewer may want to test how serious you are and ask you to please stand for a moment.

Proper dress aside, the video interview has many touchpoints, and we need to be aware of what they are and how we prepare for them. Candidates are also at a disadvantage by interviewing on screen.

Non-verbal body language makes up 55 percent of communication, and the video interview makes it far more difficult to receive, transmit, and/or accurately interpret those non-verbal cues. So, let’s look at both.

Interview Prep
Check the internet connection the day of the interview and if you have concerns, make sure to have a backup venue.

There is nothing worse than being late to an interview, so double-check the day, time and time zone! Too often, a candidate has blown the interview because of a scheduling mix-up or not having read the invite carefully. Also, with video interviews, a candidate is often interviewing in another time zone so make sure everyone is clear about the time.

Always  practice, and if possible, ask a friend or colleague to log on with you so they can see how you are positioned on camera. Check for good lighting, reduce any glare, ensure that all equipment is working and that your audio is clear.

“Set your stage” by minimizing any clutter or personal items in your background. I don’t recommend any of the computer offered backgrounds as they can distort your image and distract the viewer. Make sure to close your door to minimize sound and deter any furry/four-legged visitors who might want to make a sudden appearance.

Once again, get fully and professionally (suit, sport coat/jacket, tie, etc.) dressed for your interview. Again, solid colors are suggested as we can’t be sure how patterns might distract on the other end.

Take care of all grooming in advance (shaving, hair combing, fixing makeup). Sit up straight and look into the camera. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by your image. The camera is not a mirror. Resist the tendency to be “fixing” yourself up during the interview. Sign on early and wait patiently without fidgeting until admitted to the video call if you have been placed in a “waiting room.”

Make sure to have a printed copy of your resume, a pen and a pad of paper for notes on your desk.

Navigating The Video Platform
Although COVID-19 has forced many into substituting the in-person interview for the video interview, the video interview presents challenges that the face-to-face interview does not and, in the long run, is not the preferred method.

A study from the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, revealed that applicants interviewed via video platforms were viewed as less likable than in-person candidates. It’s very difficult to build rapport on video the way one can build rapport in person. Therefore, the video interviewer is at a disadvantage.

Eye contact in a live interview is crucial. Making eye contact during a video interview is not impossible; look directly into the webcam. Stay focused and not get distracted. Don’t get too comfortable. Because applicants are interviewing from home these days, there may be a tendency to forget they are in a “real” meeting. Maybe you tend to work in your comfy chair with your feet up or spin in your chair while you are thinking.

Remember to bring your executive demeanor to the interview and present yourself accordingly. For the interview, you are not sitting at home but in an important meeting.

Your interview will most likely have a designated start and stop time. Be succinct. Do not look away from the camera to think about your answers. If you need prompters or reminders to keep the interview moving along, place sticky notes on the wall behind your screen to aid you, such as “look at webcam”, “stay focused”, etc.

“It” Happens…

As Forrest Gump says, “It happens…Sometimes.” Our best laid plans can go awry. Eliminate all potential issues and distractions. Find a quiet, uncluttered space to conduct a professional interview; we live in unprecedented times and have ll had our share of “COVID-age” work interruptions.

If it happens during your interview, remember you are on camera. How you handle the unexpected situation indicates how you might respond to a minor work situation, so respond wisely.

Perhaps the lawncare company showed up a day early and you hear the lawnmower outside your window. You might want to apologize and ask if they can hear you clearly and if the noise is distracting. The right move might be to apologize and excuse yourself for one minute, turn off your video/ audio and remove the distraction. Apologize for any inconvenience, don’t get flustered, and jump right back in where you left off.

Whether in-person or through one of the many video platforms available today, the interview is often the most important part of the application process. Our goal and commitment is always to help you present yourself in the most professional manner possible.

Michelle Riklan, ACRW, CPRW, CEIC, CJSS is a career strategist, consultant and search executive with KOPPLIN KUEBLER & WALLACE. She can be reached via email: michelle@kkandw.com.

THE BOARDROOM MAGAZINE July/August 2021

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