What Your Video Interview Background Really Says About You
Even before COVID-19, online video job interviews had become mainstream. With the pandemic requiring remote work for many organizations today, meeting with a prospective employer virtually is likely the only way to interview at all—and this may be the norm for the foreseeable future. In fact, in June 2020, 91% of employers surveyed are utilizing virtual interviews.
If you’re in the job market now, though, video interviews require some discretion that you wouldn’t normally have to contemplate for an in-office interview, and it presents a bit of a paradox. While job interviews are the places where you’re expected to present the utmost professionalism, an online video interview lets the interviewer into your most personal and private space—your home.
So, how do you make sure you have an acceptable interview environment, especially if you don’t already have a home office set up? The good news is that any space in your home can suffice, provided it is relatively quiet, has proper lighting, and can provide the privacy needed to avoid distractions.
Since you’re interviewing from home instead of at the company’s office, it’s important to prepare your video interview setting just as much as would your wardrobe and answers. Remember, this is your only chance to make a good first impression.
What Your Video Interview Background Reveals
The setting you choose for your online video interview should be fairly neutral. Even if the background in your video is a perfect display of your personality and interests, any sort of distraction can take away from what you’re saying—and that’s where the real focus should be. Here are what some common scenes in your home interview setting may convey to a hiring manager.
Showcasing your home library behind you may send the message that you’re well-read, intellectual and put effort into personal and professional development, however, a busy bookcase or shelf could keep the interviewer focused on trying to read your book titles instead of making a connection with what you’re saying. Not to mention, a penchant for literature that your potential employer doesn’t agree with—whatever it may be—could affect the hiring decision.
Trinkets From Travels
Your treasured souvenirs convey that you’re well-traveled, cultured, and adventurous, which is a wonderful aspect of your personality. Yest, not only can souvenirs be distracting to an interviewer, but having them in your background can lead to potential assumptions about your lifestyle—whether true or not.
This is perhaps the most risky setting for a video interview. Having your home office in your bedroom or guest room may work for your daily office needs, but a view of your bed or guest bed during your video interview, even if it’s nice and well-kept, may not be the most professional background setting. You want your interviewer to see you as a professional that has a legitimate work-from-home setup.
You might think nothing of the neatly stacked piles of paper and books behind you, or the knickknacks randomly placed on the shelf, but to a recruiter, they may be a sign of questionable organizational skills. Even if you know the clutter has no bearing on how you work—after all, the decor may not even be yours—the interviewer might wonder if the lack of organization could carry over into your job.
How to Improve Your Background
Now that you know potential pitfalls and what to avoid, here’s what your background should reveal for a successful video interview.
Begin with Lighting
To look your best on a video interview, the first thing to consider is that you may need to move your desk, lamps, and other equipment around to get the best effect. Well before you’re going to have an interview, test out different setups to find what works well for you.
Videographers and photographers will tell you, the best lighting for any video interview is natural light that is positioned in front of you. If there’s a window you can sit in front of or next to, that’s ideal. Avoid the sun shining directly through the window because that can be too bright, washing out your image and causing you to squint. Indirect natural light coming through a window is ideal setting.
If you don’t have a window perfectly positioned near your computer, lamps and other electrical lights can work well, too. Try to position those behind your camera so the light will be in front of you and shine evenly across your face.
Avoid at all costs backlighting (where the light source is behind you) because it makes the light on your face very dim and the person you’re interviewing with will see you in a shadowy light.
Scrutinize What’s in View
Once you find a good setup for your lighting, turn on your computer’s camera and check out what’s behind you on the screen.
Artwork should be professionally appropriate and not too flashy, shiny, or busy. If you have a blank wall, make certain it is clean, chip and scuff free. Consider repainting the wall for a fresh, clean background. If it’s furniture or household items, are they clean and organized? Is the entire camera view professionally appropriate?
As mentioned earlier, if your home office is in a bedroom, having a bed in your video background may not be the most professional look, and boxes, papers, or other materials are distracting. Try to clean up the space as best you can, and even move furniture around if you have to. Remember, this isn’t a permanent change—you only need to create this temporary space for your video interviews.
Pet Free Zone
You may be used to your dog sleeping on the floor behind you, like I am, but what happens when he decides to make his presence known or the UPS driver shows up? If it all possible, leave pets out of your interviewing space during the interview.
If you do let your pet stay in the room, take off their collar for the interview to reduce the noise of pet tags clanking. If they usually bark or growl when someone approaches your front porch, hang a sign at the front door politely asking people not to knock or ring the doorbell.
Create a Sanctuary
With many schools still out during COVID and most people working from home, your once-quiet and calm household may feel more like a busy highway these days. Although employers likely understand the unprecedented situation everyone is dealing with, it’s still best to keep your video interview environment private and distraction-free (this means: nobody wandering through the background). Close the door if you have one, and remind children and all family members that you’ll need an hour or so of private time for your very important interview.
Then, turn off your phone and computer notifications, and get ready to present your best self!
There’s no doubt that times are challenging, and everyone is doing the best they can to make the most of ever-changing work scenarios. If you’re getting ready for a video interview, stay calm and remember that—no matter what space you choose—if you simply clear out the area behind you and make your background a plain wall, door, or closet, you’re likely to have a distraction-free interview where you, not your environment, are the focal point.