How to Ace an Online Job Interview

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Interviewing via a Google Hangout is a lot different than meeting in person, but you don’t have to let that reality blow the job for you. To help your next video interview go as smoothly as possible, I’ve collected some tips from a number of experts and professionals who’ve been on both sides of the online interview dance.

1. Standard Rules Still Apply

Just because you’re on video doesn’t mean you can slack off on your appearance. The trend toward casual, devil-may-care attire in the workplace does not and should not trickle down to your choice of attire for a video job interview. Dress one notch above what the company’s typical attire is. So if the office culture favors collared shirts, check that box but also slip on a jacket. “Put your work shoes on,” says Adam Sanders, director of Successful Release, which helps felons find work after reentering society. “It might seem strange to wear your shoes during a videoconference, but it has an important psychological effect on you.” Also, be sure to wear solid colors, as stripes and complex patterns can look awful on video.

2. Eliminate Distractions

Close the door and windows in your room. Shut off the TV down the hall. Silence your cell phone (unless you’re using it for the conference, see tip #7 below). “And make sure the only window open on your computer screen is the video platform you are using,” says life coach Tom Marino. “Silence all pop-ups. The last thing you want is to lose your train of thought.”

3. Banish the Pets and Kids

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You know that barking dog who haunts every business meeting? He’ll ruin your interview too. “I can’t stand when dogs start barking in the background,” says Matthew Ross, COO of Slumber Yard, an online mattress review site with remote staff. “That tells me the candidate is not taking the interview seriously. You wouldn’t bring your dog to an interview in the office, so take the same approach for online interviews.”

The same advice goes for your children. Park them in front of a screen in a faraway part of the house, and give them enough candy to last the length of the interview.

4. Find a Neutral Background

More than any other tip, pros said that careful attention to your background is absolutely crucial. A bedroom with a sloppy bed, a home office full of clutter, a kitchen table … all of these connote information about you to the interviewer, none of it good. It’s not only unprofessional, but it also distracts the interviewer, who’ll be busy analyzing your dirty laundry instead of listening to what you have to say.

The most common advice: Set yourself up against a completely blank background (one that doesn’t clash with your shirt). “If you’re struggling to find a professional backdrop, try setting up a folding table near a neutral wall or corner,” says Michelle Vitus, CEO of Slate Advisers, a career coaching firm. But leave some distance: “Never sit right up against the wall,” says Karen Ripenburg, a TV producer and media trainer. “Allow for at least 3 feet minimum between the back of your head and the wall, so you don’t blend into the background and flatten your shot. You will look more confident with some space, and not like you have no escape.”

It should also go without saying that this is absolutely not the time for your favorite virtual background or any type of filter.

5. Choose a Small Chair

Slouching on a couch or in a big armchair will make you look less polished. “Don’t sit in a large chair with a back that takes up as much screen space as your face,” says Ripenburg. “Go with a low-backed chair that doesn’t creak when you move.”

6. Master Your Lighting

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Getting perfect lighting for video can be very difficult in a home environment, but ideally you want to aim for the following:

  • Get plenty of light overall so it doesn’t look like you’re cowering in the dark—but not so much light that it creates glare on any eyeglasses.
  • Position two lights, if possible, at a diagonal in front of you, one a bit to your right, and one a bit to your left. Table lamps work fine.
  • Use natural light where possible; if one of the above lights is a window, all the better. Avoid fluorescent bulbs or other “cool” light sources.
  • Eliminate any direct backlighting (like a window behind you) and avoid light shining directly over your head (especially if you’re losing your hair).

7. Prioritize the Camera, Not the Screen

This tip may sound counterintuitive, but it’s most important that the interviewer see you clearly, not the other way around. That means prioritizing the device with the best camera in your possession, not the best display. For example, my HP all-in-one desktop has a beautiful 23-inch screen, but the built-in webcam is a paltry 1-megapixel model. Meanwhile, my iPhone 8’s front-facing camera has a whopping 7 megapixels. The quality difference between the two on a Zoom meeting is massive and immediately apparent.

The challenge with using a phone for a videoconference is that it must remain absolutely still, and you’re best hoisting it up to eye level to avoid the dreaded up-the-nose camera angle. You can rig a temporary situation on top of your laptop screen or some other device, or pick up a flexible arm mount, which seems to still be in stock (unlike external webcams).

8. Test Your Gear

Sign up for an account on the service your interviewer is using and download the necessary software. Install a backup copy of the software on a second device (for example, install on both your phone and laptop) just in case one device fails. Now draft a friend to help you through a test run on both devices to make sure audio and video are working, and that your lighting is as good as possible. Test your earbuds and keep a back-up pair within reach. The day of your interview, test everything again. On many PCs, rebooting can reset your default camera and microphone, leaving your screen blank or your audio muted, wasting the interviewer’s time and making you flustered while you struggle to get everything fixed.

9. Check the Time Zone

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Interviewing for remote work? Your would-be New York employer may well have forgotten the time difference in California when he set up the call. Double-checking the time zone of the meeting “could be the difference between showing up on time or being three hours late,” says David Lynch, Content Lead for tech support site Payette Forward.


Speaking of timeliness, the jury’s out on whether you should dial in early. While being the first person on the call makes you look like a go-getter, it can also be awkward if multiple interviewers are joining on the other end. Being early may not be a bad thing, but it’s more critical that you aren’t late.

10. Keep Your Eyes Forward

This takes some practice and feels unnatural, but during your interview you should look at the camera as much as possible, not the picture of the other person on the screen. Looking at the camera is as close as you can get to making eye contact with the interviewer, while looking at the screen will appear to the other side like you’re staring off into space. The good news is that, on a small phone screen, this effect is minimized. If you’re doing your interview on a laptop, you can cheat this by shrinking the size of the videoconference app’s window and positioning it as close as possible to the location of the webcam. Also, elevate your laptop to eye level by stacking books or boxes underneath it. This way, you can stare directly into the camera without slouching or craning.

11. Wear Some Earbuds

It’s great that the interviewer can see you clearly, but if she can’t hear you, you’re sunk. “People can forgive bad video, but bad audio will tank your call,” says Ripenburg. “The people interviewing you will appreciate it if you use your headphones instead of your laptop’s built-in speakers. Onboard computer audio is usually lower in quality, which is a recipe for feedback and sound distortion.”

As well, in general, demure earbuds will make you look less crazy than your oversized gaming headset.

12. Practice

Systems like Zoom let you record your meeting, so use this to polish your interviewing skills. “Record yourself telling your story before you go into an interview,” says Nicolle Merrill, a former career coach with the Yale School of Management. “A strong professional story will set a confident tone that offsets the awkward start on Zoom.” Study the recording to help scrub nervous tics, stammers, and other flubs from your delivery.

13. Get in the Mood to Talk

“It’s hard to answer questions cheerfully and energetically if you’ve been cooped up indoors for a long time,” says Anh Trinh, managing editor of GeekWithLaptop, which employs an entirely remote staff. “Us interviewers can see exactly how tired and unexcited you are for the interview, which gives us a negative opinion of you. Energy and enthusiasm are some of the things we’re looking for in any recruit, so make sure you at least act the part.”

Try doing some jumping jacks or jogging around the block before the interview to get your energy level up—and to help calm any nerves.

14. Make a Cheat Sheet

Remember that the interviewer can’t see what’s not on camera, so use your interview space to your advantage. Stick a Post-It Note cheat sheet with notes, questions, or needed inspiration directly to the screen or to the wall behind your camera. The interviewer on the other side won’t ever know.

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