Remember the pre-Zoom days when we met in-person for interviews? Neither do I.
Less than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, the video call era is in full swing. Daily Zoom meetings skyrocketed from about 10 million in 2019, Zoom reports, to more than 200 million in 2020.
Is that a good thing?
For Zoom, definitely; the company’s stock price has more than quadrupled since March.
For freelance marketers, it’s more subjective. There are very real issues with video interviews, like lags, a lack of non-verbal cues, and security challenges. But the rise of the video call also means that you can make a great first impression on prospective clients — no commute necessary.
The key? Sticking to the emerging rules of video etiquette.
I know this because I help professionals show off their personalities and expertise — these days, primarily over video call. Before the pandemic, I focused on in-person image and wardrobe consultation, but as the world shifted to WFH, so did I. Now, I help clients get video-ready; I've also run workshops, filmed video, and been a guest expert on broadcast TV — all from the comfort of my home.
Here are my answers to freelancers’ most common etiquette questions about Zoom video interviews with potential clients.
How should I dress for a video interview?
When it comes to clothing, dress professionally — but not psychotically so. No one expects you to wear a suit in your living room. Pick something that fits comfortably, so you feel confident (and don’t tug at it during the interview). A relaxed dress shirt or a nice, solid-colored tee or sweater is perfect.
Just make sure to avoid fluorescents, busy patterns (including stripes, which can swirl on video), or anything that looks like you just rolled out of bed.
Also, consider: Does your top blend into your background? You don’t want to look like a floating head.
Now, what you wear below the waist is less important — but do make sure you’re wearing pants. You never know when you might have to get up, and the wrong camera angle can lower the field of view in unexpected ways.
In terms of grooming, you should look like you take showers regularly. (Whether you do or not is your business.) Do your hair and put on make-up as if you were meeting someone in person.
Bonus tip: if you haven’t already, turn on “touch up my appearance” in Zoom — you’re welcome.
How do I avoid tech glitches?
If this is your first Zoom interview, try out your tech out at least a day before with a test call. Make sure your internet, audio and video are all working.
There’s no way to completely avoid tech glitches, though — things happen. If something goes wrong during an interview, remain calm. You might need to restart Zoom or rejoin the “room.” As long as you don’t get flustered or fly off the handle, it won’t hurt you.
Which is best: a real background, or a virtual background?
If your home office is neat, then use your real background — that’s preferable. If you want to spruce it up a bit, large art pieces, tidy bookshelves, and plants all make pleasing background props. (Check out Room Rater on Twitter for inspiration.)
If your space isn’t ready for prime time, though, uploading a virtual Zoom background can be a good alternative. Try a well-designed office space. You can even use your background as a subtle branding opportunity by adding your logo, website, and social handles to the top or bottom of your background image.
When designing your virtual background, just make sure your image is 1920 x 1080 pixels, RGB, and in .jpg format.
Want to go the extra mile? Invest in a green screen, so your Zoom background is crisp and consistent.
What else can I do to create a professional call setting?
Make sure your camera is at eye level, and consider lighting. Sitting in front of and facing a window is good for natural light. If that’s not an option, you can also get a ring light or position lamps in front of you (not behind you — you don’t want to be backlit). In general, ambient light is better than one spotlight.
If there’s a chance you’ll need to share your screen, you also want to consider your desktop. Clear out any files or folders cluttering up your screen, and be careful you don’t have any questionable internet tabs open that could surprise you (and your interviewer) if they were to pop up.
It’s a good idea to turn on the “do not disturb” setting during your interview. Not only will this block unexpected calls and texts from interrupting you, but it will also stop them from showing up on your screen at inopportune times.
What’s appropriate video call body language?
People focus on your face in person, but video calls highlight your entire upper body. Sit up straight, and try not to gesture or fidget with your hands — it can look jerky, and the camera enlarges your hands when they’re in the foreground.
Also, watch your eye movement. When your eyes dart around, you seem distracted. Never sneak peeks at your phone or pull up your browser window to check your email during a video call. Instead, be fully present in the interview — and set your phone to silent. In another room.
How early should I be?
Conventional wisdom has it that you should show up to interviews 15 minutes early. But is that cushion really necessary when you’re not traveling to your destination?
The short answer: No. You should enter your Zoom “room” about one minute before your meeting is scheduled to start. Most interviews are conducted in someone’s personal “room,” so your interviewer may be using it for another meeting if you come knocking too early.
However, about 10 minutes before the meeting, you should be ready at your computer. Pull up any notes you might need, turn on your lights and set up your camera or mic (if external). Then, you’ll be ready to jump in at the one-minute mark.
You might even want to set an alarm for 10 minutes and one minute before your call, to make sure you’re right on time.
Finally, don’t forget to be mindful of time zones. That’s really all there is to say about that.
How do I make a great first impression?
The normal confidence indicators, like a strong handshake, are impossible to gauge through video, but you can still project confidence and professionalism through the screen.
- Smile as you enter the call. Same as you would entering a conference room.
- Simulate eye contact. That means looking into the camera instead of at your own image. (In fact, you might want to hide your own video from the screen if it makes you self-conscious.) If you tend to look at the other person’s video rather than the camera, move the Zoom window as close to your camera as possible.
- Remember that video lowers your perceived energy level. So when you answer questions, try to project enthusiasm. If you have the option to take the call at a standing desk or counter, do it; it will help you stay present (and improve your posture).
- Slow your speech. Just a tad — so it’s clear, even when the connection isn’t perfect.
- Explain any long pauses. If you’re silently typing notes, your interviewer may think your video froze. If they can’t see your screen, narrate your actions. For example, “I’m just jotting down a few notes about what you said,” or “One moment, I’m just looking up that link to put in the chat.”
How do I stand out in a Zoom interview?
This may sound counterintuitive, but listen more than you talk. Hamilton’s Aaron Burr would nail a Zoom interview in 2020: “Talk less, smile more” goes a long way.
Clients need to feel heard and understood.
So listen carefully to their company background and freelance needs. After they’re finished, ask thoughtful follow-up questions to show you understand their situation and are eager to dig in deeper.
Afterward, recap their challenges and walk them through your unique plan of attack. If you can play strategist and project manager in the interview, you’ll set yourself apart.
How do I answer “Why should we hire you?”
The goal is to show, not tell, that you are the right freelancer for the job. Listening and communication skills will help seal the deal.
However, you may still get the hot-seat question: “Why should we hire you?”
In this case, speak to your experience solving problems like theirs. Talk about your process and your track record helping clients hit their goals on time and on budget.
And if you know you’re not the right person for the job, let them know early and refer them to someone who’s a better fit. Saying no to new clients is hard in the moment, but pays back tenfold in the long run.
Now that we’re all meeting via Zoom for work interviews and meetings, first impressions are even more complicated. Not only is a conversation more stilted and eye contact literally impossible, but you’re also competing with email notifications, the pull of the scroll, and other freelance candidates sourced from all around the world.
You can adapt, though! Stay mindful of your appearance and your background. Prepare. Project confidence. As a freelancer, you are a specialist. If you know your strengths and trust the process, you’ll shine.