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How to present your best self in a virtual interview

​It's no surprise as we've had to fully embrace remote working and social distancing, virtual interviews have become the norm. Gone are the days where you didn't need to worry about lighting, technology, or backdrops and were able to focus solely on yourself. Today, the preparation and expectations of virtual interviews have changed the interview process. Success is now dependent on additional factors that can go incredibly wrong if not well organised and tested beforehand.

Below are our top four focus areas to help you present your best self at your next virtual interview.

Technology

In true honour of Murphy's Law - when something can go wrong, it often will go wrong. Technology can never be 100% reliable, and we've all experienced technical issues occurring at the worst of times.

To get you through a seamless interview experience, we suggest you verify the following:

Devices.

Choose the best device or devices you have access to when undertaking a virtual interview. You want the device or devices being used to have the sharpest camera, best microphone, and clearest audio. Try to avoid using a mobile device but if you have no other option be sure it is situated in a secure place and do not move it around.

System and software check.

If your computer has been lagging, we suggest restarting the computer or shutting down programs that are slowing it down to have a fresh slate. It is also a good idea to turn off notifications on your devices, so you are not distracted or lose your train of thought. Download the software required, or check for updates if you already have it installed, well before the session as this could also cause some untimely delays to your interview.

Test Run.

Run a mock interview with a friend beforehand using either the same video software being used in the interview or one similar. Use this opportunity to check that the camera quality is sharp, and that sound is crisp. Also, make sure you're familiar with certain software functions, such as mute and share screen buttons.

Batteries.

With the device or devices being used, ensure all components are either fully charged or connected to power sources to avoid untimely interruptions to your interview.

Set-Up

Your interview environment is something you'd never have to worry about in a face-to-face interview but plays a crucial part in the success of virtual interviews. To prepare, ensure you focus on the below points:

Lighting.

You want to be seen clearly which means you need a decent amount of light, but you also need to be aware of its positioning. If possible, it would be best to place yourself in an area filled with natural light as this would create a balanced visual on the camera. If this isn't possible, we suggest you use lamps that can create a similar effect when placed in front of you (besides the computer screen at a similar height to the webcam). As best said by Zoom, you want to avoid casting shadows over your face or being bleached out.

Backdrop.

A simple backdrop is always going to be a safe option. Aim to have a white wall about one metre away from you. Any closer than this, you will see shadows and your image will be flattened. If a white wall isn't available, use an area of your home that is the least intrusive, such as an uncluttered living or lounge room. You want to be the point of focus so minimalist vibes work best here.

Chair and Camera position.

You want to fill around one-third of the screen to avoid too much negative space. If you're using a chair, ensure that it, together with the webcam, are both at the right height allowing you to position your body for a ‘head and shoulders' shot. Laura E. Thomas and Daniel Pemstein discovered how you are perceived can depend on the position of your webcam, so it's best to position your webcam a few centimetres above your eye line to avoid ‘looking down' into the camera. You also don't want to be looking up!

Distractions.

Whilst it may be obvious that you need a quiet space so you're heard clearly and are not interrupted, some other things might not be as obvious. Be mindful of your surrounding appliances - if your washing machine is near your interview space, be sure no one turns it on. The same goes for any other loud appliances such as dryers, vacuums, or electric gardening tools. Not only do you need to be wary of appliances, but you also need to be aware of the sounds children and pets might make. You don't want a scene like the BBC News interview where the interviewee's kids come rolling into the room.

Presentation

First impressions count whether it's a face-to-face interview or virtual. As a virtual interview requires you to make an appearance (no avatars allowed), it's vital you still take into consideration your appearance. You want to appear professional. So, not only is your outfit important, but you also need to consider where you are looking, and how you are sitting or standing.

Outfit.

When it's a face-to-face interview your outfit only needs to be professional. Unfortunately, a virtual interview requires a bit more thought. It's suggested you should avoid wearing patterns, such as pinstripes, checks, houndstooth or other strong line patterns as they can create distracting moiré patterns on camera. While you may think a bright white or dark black shirt will do the trick, those colours can play with your webcam's automatic exposure settings making your image either under or overexposed. We suggest you wear softer solid colours to be safe. Tip – if there is a high contrast between two colours, it won't do well on camera.

Look at the camera.

Eye contact is still very important, and according to Business Insider it may even help you look smarter! Be mindful of where you place your interview screen. If using two screens it is best practice to have your interviewers on the screen with the camera. To help yourself come across as the strong candidate you are, get yourself comfortable with looking directly into the webcam, especially when you are trying to get key points across. If it helps, draw a person or some eyes on a sticky note and attach it behind the webcam so that you can have ‘someone' to look at.

Posture and movement.

It sounds obvious to sit up straight and not fidget but sadly nerves sometimes get the best of us. Be mindful of what you do on camera as it will get noticed since your interviewers are 100% focused on you. Sit up straight and keep your feet solidly planted on the floor with your hands placed comfortably in front of you.

Preparation and Go!

We're almost there - your virtual interview is just around the corner! To help you get into shape we have a few final points that can make this seemingly difficult experience a breeze.

Notes to save the day.

If you have some strong examples that you want to mention to the interviewers, have some figures that you want to highlight or need to remember your interviewer's names, it may be a good idea to have some sticky notes around your computer for a quick reference. Be sure they're clear to read and remember to not make it obvious that you're looking at them.

Take a walk.

You've just completed your set-up, done some testing and are ready to go. So, what should you do while waiting for your interview? We suggest you take a walk or do a mindfulness activity. Fresh air while getting some rays of sunlight, or even just five minutes of meditating, can help improve cognitive performance according to a research article published on Frontiers in Psychology, allowing you to coherently construct strong responses to the interviewer's questions.

Kick-off!

It's fair to say if you are late to an interview (either face-to-face or virtually), you're off to a bad start. Be sure you are ready to go around 15 minutes before. This should give you enough time to deal with any technical issues you may be experiencing and ensures you enter the interview on time. Once started, we suggest you allow around 30 seconds of informalities to say hello and ask how they're doing to set a positive tone for the formal part to come. Finally – don't forget to smile!

At Paxus we are at the forefront of diversity and inclusion, and place hundreds of candidates of all backgrounds into some of Australia's most exciting tech and digital roles each year. If you are looking for more career tips visit our blog.

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