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8 mistakes that can ruin your video job interview

This post was originally published by Fast Co., and was written by Gwen Moran.

Woman in an orange blouse and tan pants, sitting in a black wheel chair. She is waving to an open laptop, has headphones on, and a coffee cup beside her.
Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels

Doing interviews from the comfort of your home may seem easier than doing them in person. But video interviews hold their own pitfalls.

Video interviews are now the norm during the hiring process. Gartner research found that 86% of companies used video interviews during the pandemic. As remote work expands, this shift may continue for some time.

So, it’s more important than ever to know the nuances of acing your video interview. Of course, you still need to do typical interview preparation—research the company, anticipate the questions you’ll be asked, etc. But being ready for your close-up now requires new skills and concerns. Here are some of the biggest mistakes people make, according to experts.

TECH GLITCHES Nothing will bring your interview to a screeching halt faster than being unfamiliar with the technology and having operating glitches, says Annie Lin, vice president of people for Lever, a talent relationship management platform. Make sure you know the platform that will be used for the interview and, if possible, enlist a friend or family member to do a practice session with you so you’re comfortable with the platform’s features.

DISTRACTING BACKGROUNDS You know you need to check how your space looks in the interview. But don’t assume that it looks the same from one interview to another. “Turn on the camera and see what shows up on the screen. If there is a trashcan or a messy bookshelf, clean it up,” says body language expert Patti Wood, who coaches people for video interviews. Wood says it’s also a good idea simplify your background. Remove anything that might be distracting or off-putting. It is okay to have some interesting art or something that may spark conversation in the background, though.

PERSONAL PRESENTATION You may have a killer outfit planned, but check it in front of the camera sitting down to make sure that nothing “rides up and makes you look funny,” Wood says. To look good on camera, jewel tones like royal blue come across well. Avoid bulky jackets. And make sure any collar on your shirt lies properly.

It’s also a good idea to check your lighting, says career coach Irina Cozma. Backlighting may make it hard to see your face. Ring lights can give your environment an extra boost of flattering light. Inexpensive versions are widely available online.

RAPPORT-BUSTING Beyond how you and your environment look, you still have just a few seconds to make a first impression in your interview, Lin says. So, don’t skip over those initial ice-breaking and rapport-building moments and try to rush right into the interview. If someone asks you about something in your background, go ahead and engage in the discussion, just as you would if you were in person, Lin says. Make small talk as you wait for everyone to join the interview. Those moments can make a big difference in how people perceive you.

COMFORT CUES We all have “comfort cues,” Wood says. They may be little touches on our face or neck, for example, when we’re nervous. “These are normal stress cues, we do them all the time, but they increase during on-camera interviews,” she says. Don’t be afraid to use hand gestures, which can reduce comfort cues, Wood says. Don’t try to be still—you don’t want to look “frozen,” she adds. Look for a place to rest your hands off-camera.

SLOUCHING Slouching on video is just as visible as slouching in person, and it doesn’t make a great impression, Cozma says. If possible consider standing during the interview, which could improve posture, make it easier to breathe if you get nervous, and boost your energy. If that’s not possible, sit up straight, and focus on coming across energetic and engaged.

LACK OF ENGAGEMENT Wood suggests practicing with someone greeting you and asking you questions while you practice making eye contact with the camera. If you’re doing a panel interview with multiple people, engage with the person who is asking you the question, so you have individual interactions.

THE LAST GAFFE Baseball legend Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” And that holds true for video interviews. Wood cautions about making a face or saying something off-color until you’re sure you’re disconnected. “Make sure you are entirely off-camera and everything is turned off before you make a sigh, make a face, or make a comment. You would be surprised at how many times that last look of someone is saying, darn or some cuss word when they think they are ‘done,'” she says.

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