Professional Development
Career development / Remote work

How to prepare for a Zoom job interview

Dressing for a video call is a little different from dressing for an IRL meeting — and your background matters more. With remote work still popular, here's what to consider.

Improve your Zoom game — at least for important interviews. (Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels)
You’ve landed that job interview, and it’s on Zoom.

If you haven’t had a lot of experience using a video conferencing platform for work, you may have questions, like “Can I really just wear pajamas?” or “Do people really go pants-less in Zoom meetings?”

(The answers are no, and if they do it right, no one will ever know.)

With remote work remaining popular, even as some companies are moving back to the office, your next company might not be located locally, making Zoom (or Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet, etc.) the way you’ll likely speak with your potential new employers.

When it comes to a virtual job interview, there are three main considerations: the company’s workplace culture, your personal Zoom environment, and basic on-camera tips for looking professional.

When in doubt, dress up

If the job is corporate, you can’t go wrong dressing business professional, with a suit or jacket and tie. And no, you don’t have to worry about going all out on a skirt or slacks, but you do need to wear something other than pajama bottoms in case you have to get up suddenly for some reason.

If you know for a fact that the company’s office culture is casual, you still might want to go more professional than you would in the office, or follow the general rules of business casual, which is different from casual casual.

What’s the difference?

  • Business casual is a less formal type of business attire. Instead of a full suit and tie, for example, an employee may wear khakis or jeans with a button-down shirt or blouse or a collarless sweater and maybe a jacket. Ties are not required, but business casual allows for more personal style. Scarves, prints and brighter colors are acceptable — and if a tie is part of your personal style, you’re free to wear one.
  • Importantly, business casual attire is neat and clean and doesn’t make you look like it’s your day off.
  • Casual casual is loungewear, pajamas, beachwear and ratty t-shirts (though t-shirts in good condition are often fine for business casual, especially paired with a jacket). You might actually be doing your work in casual clothes, especially if you’re working remotely, but you want to look more professional for a job interview — and, once you get the job, this will apply to business meetings, too.

Ultimately, always look for cues. If you receive a pre-interview email and it says “We are strictly casual, no suits ever!” then that’s the guide you follow.

(And workplace leaders, remember: Any written dress code policy should be gender neutral.)

Your background environment

If you’re new to video calls, you’ll want to consider where you’re going to set your laptop for the interview, including your surrounding environment.

A blank, neutral wall is safe — maybe a little bit bland, but safe. It might take some rearranging of furniture to get such a wall behind you if your desk ordinarily has your back facing a room, but it’s worth the trouble if it means not standing and holding your laptop or phone. That isn’t going to work, and it definitely won’t look professional.

Ideally, you have a corner of your space where you can curate a background – maybe a bookshelf or a piece of art behind you. That adds just a little bit of your personality, without exposing too much. Just don’t overdo it to the point of distraction (and check out Room Raters for inspo).

If you have no choice but to have a full view of a room in your background, make it as uncluttered as possible. You can also use Zoom’s blur feature for more privacy, or a simple, neutral Zoom background.

Things to avoid:

  • The outdoors — This is fine for informal work meetings, but you shouldn’t look too relaxed for a job interview. They want to see you in an “office” setting. Depending on the location, noise can also be an issue outdoors.
  • Coffee shops — Again, fine when you have the job and attend informal meetings, but coffee shops can be loud and distracting and you’ll have to talk out loud to the interviewee about your business in public.
  • Novelty backgrounds — It can be a fun thing when communicating with team members, but a background that puts you on a space station or in Middle Earth or on a tropical island is not showing you’re serious about getting the job.
  • Sitting in front of a window or other light source — Backlight is not your friend on camera. If you have a lot of natural light, maneuver your setup so that you’re facing it.

If you don’t feel good about your space, you might look into using a free study space or a meeting room at your public library (reservations usually required), community center, school or coworking space.

On-camera tips

Unless you use Zoom frequently, you should do a test run by yourself or with a friend before the interview, checking the to see that everything is ready to go for interview time.

Quick checklist:

  • Is the camera height right? You should be looking straight into the camera, not down at it. And, even though a high camera takes flattering selfies, you shouldn’t be looking up, either. If your desk isn’t height adjustable, use books or boxes to get your laptop at eye level (and think about buying yourself a laptop riser).
  • Is the light bright enough? A ring light can make your eyes pop, and small “selfie” ring lights that can clip to your laptop are cheap. Otherwise, move a lamp near your setup to brighten things up if necessary.
  • Your clothing should make you stand out from the background. If your background is white, go for a bright color; if your background includes a piece of art or stacks of books, wear solid colors, if you want to follow the advice of the many Zoom fashion advisors who have appeared since 2020.
  • If you choose to wear makeup, make sure the light doesn’t make it look streaky or uneven, and that any lip or eye color complements your shirt on camera.
  • Do not overdo the filters. Zoom has a filter called “touch up my appearance” under video settings, which gives you a subtle boost that should be unnoticeable. Applying more filters than that will soon become noticeable to most people and will look unnatural, a potential turnoff for interviewers.

Once you get this down, Zoom interviews and meetings will start to get less stressful. Just watch out for Zoom burnout once you get the job.

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