In the end, the hiring manager had to choose between two memorable candidates. One had sent her a thoughtful note about a presentation she gave at an industry conference, only casually mentioning the open position. The other candidate stood out for a different reason—during the Zoom call, the recruiter could see that he was sitting poolside on a lounge chair.
There are many ways to make an impression during a job interview, both good and bad. That’s particularly true on Zoom, where candidates can easily become lax. “People have gotten more used to being on camera for personal calls, and that has translated into more informal behavior on professional calls,” says Ilene Gochman, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and global head of assessment and succession solutions. This goes beyond the occasional dog or toddler running into the room, she says, to include candidates eating or checking their phones during interviews.
With unemployment in this pandemic still hovering at around 8%, many job hunters may be waiting months for a shot at an interview. Here are some thoughts on positive ways to be memorable and how to avoid making a bad impression.
Good: Amping up the energy
Zoom fatigue is not only real but also extremely transparent on-screen. That’s true for both the candidate and the interviewer. Experts say, remember that your interview is probably one of many that the recruiter or hiring manager is conducting that day, and they could very well be listless. Pep them up by bringing energy, enthusiasm, and a positive attitude. Be upbeat and animated when telling your story, says Nancy Von Horn, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach. “If you can leave the interviewer feeling comfortable, at ease with you, and with more positive feelings than negative, that’s memorable,” she says.
Good: Offering a plan
Val Olson, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach, says hiring managers are always impressed by initiative, and one way to show that is with an “accomplishment plan.” She says, “Offer a plan that includes some ideas about what you would hope to accomplish in the first months of the job.” To really stand out, she suggests researching the company and perhaps making contact with a few insiders to get details about the organization’s challenges and objectives, and then talking about ways to solve and meet them as part of the plan.
Good or Bad: Background setting
What recruiters and hiring managers see in the background of a video call can work for—and against—candidates, says Stacey Perkins, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. For instance, she says, a bookcase can work to your advantage with a few strategically placed items, such as industry-related books or an item that nods to something you have in common with the interviewer, like a school or sports team affiliation. It can work against you, however, if it is stocked with awards and self-congratulatory items, experts say. “Definitely check your surroundings to be sure there isn’t anything questionable showing in the background,” says Perkins. She says, for instance, that during one interview, the candidate had a vase on the desk that looked like a large bottle of liquor.
Bad: “Woe is me” talk
It’s perfectly fine to talk about getting laid off because of the pandemic or the difficulty of balancing remote work with homeschooling or eldercare. It’s not OK, however, to be overly dramatic about it or make it seem as if your struggle has been harder than anyone else’s. Granted, it’s a uniquely stressful time, but what recruiters and hiring managers want to see is how candidates cope with challenges and uncertainty. “Woe is me” talk, experts say, can make the candidate seem haggard and unable to overcome obstacles.
Bad: Forgetting your manners
A slumping posture or looking more at yourself than the interviewer may be one thing. But Gochman recounts a recent experience during a Zoom interview for an executive position where the candidate scratched their armpit at length at one point. “That’s something you’d never see in an in-person interview,” she says. Needless to say, it was pretty memorable. She’s also seen candidates twirl or play with their hair or bring plates or bowls of food to the interview. To remind candidates to mind their manners during a Zoom interview, Gochman suggests creating an atmosphere reminiscent of being in someone’s office, such as setting up a specific area for interview calls, changing the lighting, and scheduling a time to arrive.