8 body language tips for a successful virtual interview

The longer the pandemic lasts, the more likely it is you’ll participate in a virtual job interview at some point. Use these tips to nail yours.
Feature Virtual Job Interviews Body Language Panel

With unemployment benefits ending for many U.S. workers last week, and a new deal that would extend the benefits still in limbo in Congress — and likely to be greatly reduced from the $600 a week unemployed workers have been receiving — job seekers may find themselves thrust into new territory: the virtual job interview.

However, without the in-person cornerstones of the interview process — a firm handshake, a self-assured walk — how can professionals differentiate themselves through a computer screen? What kind of body language can they use to convey their confidence and seal the deal?

Now more than ever, job seekers have to rely on other nonverbal cues to illustrate their enthusiasm for the job. Each of the following has an impact on how a candidate is perceived in the virtual job interview, notes Sasha Truckenbrod, branch manager of staffing firm Robert Half in Madison, and can make or break his or her chances of success:

  • Eye contact — Besides what you say, maintaining eye contact may be one of the most important things you can do during a virtual interview. It’s equivalent to a virtual handshake. Resist the urge to look at your own photo and focus instead on the interviewer; looking directly at your camera will achieve the same result.
  • Facial expression — When you first log on to your virtual interview, it’s important to have a confident and genuine smile as you greet the hiring manager and kick off the interview. While the hiring manager is speaking, it’s important to look interested, focused, nod when appropriate, and generally have a pleasant expression on your face. When you are wrapping up, smile confidently, just as you would for an in-person interview.
  • Posture — Being slouched or leaning too far back in your chair can make it seem that you’re disinterested in the opportunity or have a casual, cavalier attitude. Always sit in a desk chair with your back straight, feet on the ground, and arms resting in your lap or on the desk.
  • Tone of voice — Without the body language cues of traditional in-person interviews, your tone of voice will take on new importance. You want to have a confident, enthusiastic, and steady tone of voice. If you tend to get nervous in interviews, rehearse some of your responses before the call. Remember to breathe. Practice ahead of time with a friend or mentor to help relax your voice and speak naturally.
  • Attire — A professional, put-together outfit can make a strong impact on a hiring manager and solidify that first impression during a job interview. Dress as you would for an in-person interview from head to toe. Doing so will make you feel more confident. Don’t try the old newscaster trick of wearing a blazer with sweatpants assuming you’ll only be seen from the waist up. Also avoid wearing bright, flashy colors and choose something that looks neatly pressed while you’re sitting down.
  • Distance from the camera — It’s natural to show interest during an interview by leaning in slightly, and that’s no different in a virtual interview. However, you don’t want to be too close to the camera, or the hiring manager might be turned off by your nose hairs. A good rule of thumb is to be an arm’s length from your screen and lean forward just a few inches to express your interest when the interviewer is speaking.
  • Background —It may be tempting to utilize a virtual background during your virtual interview, but it’s best to refrain from this as it can look artificial and there can be technical issues with the background. Instead, opt for an area of your home that’s neat, clean, and ideally has neutral decor. Set up lighting that’s bright but not glaring, illuminating your face from the front — natural light is best. This way, the interviewer can focus their attention on you, rather than the piece of artwork or children’s toys behind you.
  • Distractions — The moment something begins happening in the background, the hiring manager is no longer listening to anything you’re saying. Plan ahead and consider pets, family members, roommates, delivery people, loud noises that may occur in your living space or anything else you may be able to take control of ahead of time and eliminate before it becomes an issue. That said, by now we all know distractions can and do happen during video meetings. So, if you’re interrupted during your interview, politely apologize, eliminate the distraction quickly but gently, and continue with the interview. By not getting flustered and retaining your composure, you’ll communicate to your interviewer that you’re calm under pressure and can handle the unexpected with grace.

Before, during, and after a virtual interview, Truckenbrod recommends several additional tips to ensure a smooth meeting:

  • Test your technology — Do a technical trial run to make sure your equipment is working correctly. Download any apps or plugins you’ll need. Whether you’re using Skype, Zoom, or another video platform, make sure you have a username that’s professional, just as you would with your email address or social media handle.
    • Check that your computer’s camera, microphone, and internet connection are working.
    • Do a trial run with a friend or family member, if possible, so you have ample time to adjust if any of your equipment or software is malfunctioning.
  • Charge it up — Make sure your laptop or tablet is fully charged on the day of the interview and pick a spot that has strong Wi-Fi. If you’re using a tablet, find a way to keep it stationary. Otherwise, the screen may appear shaky if you’re holding the device.
    • Avoid using a smartphone for video interviews if possible.
  • Be a well-prepared early bird — Log in five or 10 minutes early so you can be calm and centered when the video interview begins. Print out your resume and have it nearby, along with the job description and any points you want to hit or notes you’ve taken about the company/position. You shouldn’t read from the pages but having them handy can take away some stress.
    • Expect to field some common interview questions, including:
      • Tell me about yourself.
      • Why do you want to work here?
      • Why are you leaving your current job?
      • What are your weaknesses?
      • What’s your expected salary?
  • Project and pause — Project your voice. Check your volume controls and speak clearly so the microphone picks up your voice and the interviewer doesn’t have to strain to hear you.
    • Remember that digital connections can sometimes be delayed.
    • To avoid talking over the interviewer or having your first few words cut out, let the interviewer finish the question and then pause for a few seconds before delivering your answer.
  • Close the video interview by sharing your appreciation — Just as you would with any interview, thank the interviewer for the opportunity. Follow up with a post-interview thank-you note within 24 hours.
    • In your note, briefly reinforce why you’re interested in the job and why you’d be a great match for the role and company.
    • Think about adding something that you and the employer discussed while getting to know each other that will make the thank-you message more personal.

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