By Jim Grey (about)
I’ve been hiring engineers and testers lately. Even though pandemic restrictions are starting to lift, most of us are still working from home. So are the people I’m interviewing. That means I’m interviewing over Zoom.
I care a lot more about a candidate’s qualifications than I do about how they present on Zoom. I hope it’s true of all hiring managers. However, good presentation removes any subtle biases and barriers to your success.
Here are a few tips from the trenches that can help you present well.
- Video and audio quality need only be adequate. You don’t need pro equipment. The camera and microphone in your laptop are sufficient. A webcam from a major manufacturer will be fine. A headset might reduce ambient noise; try one and see.
- Test the videoconferencing platform before the meeting. A few times, candidates have struggled to get Zoom to work, and we lost the first five or ten minutes of the interview. If you know what videoconferencing platform the interview will use, install it on your computer well in advance and make sure your camera and microphone both work with it. Also make sure you know where the mute button is and how to recognize when you’re muted. Know where the app’s audio settings are, in case they say need you to turn up the volume on your end. If you don’t know what videoconferencing platform will be used, record ten seconds of yourself reading something into your computer’s video app. Play it back to see how it looks and sounds, and adjust settings in your computer accordingly.
- If you can, do it in a quiet place. I got to listen to loud sirens in one interview, as fire trucks rumbled by on their way to a call. I am embarrassed to admit that one interviewee got to listen to our microwave oven roar and beep while my son heated up a burrito, as my home office is just off the kitchen. Neither was the end of the world, but it would have been nicer not to have those interruptions.
- If you must use your phone, set it steady and level, in portrait orientation. One candidate used her phone, and turned it sideways so I appeared larger on her screen. But Zoom didn’t correct the orientation of her camera, and she appeared sideways on my screen. Another candidate held his phone in his hand the whole time, and it was a jerky experience. Get a stand for your phone.
- Face the camera. I know a lot of people place their laptop to the side and their main monitor in front of them. But then they appear in profile on camera, as if they’re speaking to someone outside the frame. If this is you, use the laptop screen for the interview. Or do what I did, buy a USB webcam and set it on top of your monitor.
- Position your camera so the top of your head is near the top of the screen, and you are centered horizontally. I spoke to one candidate who I could see only from his nose up, his head at the very bottom left of the Zoom window. I got a great view of his ceiling above. Another candidate appeared to tower over me on screen, as his monitor was somehow above his camera. When you are front and center, it’s far easier for the interviewer to connect with you. You may need to elevate your laptop to achieve this; a stack of books may do the trick.
- Consider how much or little of your body you want to show. My camera’s position and field of view reveals my torso from the sternum up. I’m good with that, but perhaps you prefer to show less of yourself. You can move closer to the camera, or buy a camera with a narrower field of view. Alternatively, for some cameras (like my webcam) Zoom lets you turn off HD, which will make you appear closer on the screen and show less of your body.
- Make sure the room behind you is tidy. In one screening call, I got a great view of the candidate’s unmade bed and some dirty clothes piled up on the dresser behind it. Tidy up behind you! If that’s not possible for some reason, consider using a Zoom background (but know that some people find them to be distracting). To use a background, you need to download Zoom in advance.
- Pay attention to clothes and grooming. One fellow appeared on my screen looking like he just crawled out of bed. You don’t need to dress formally for a Zoom interview, but do make sure your hair is in order, your face is clean, and your shirt is fresh.