Online virtual job interview tips from dress code to body language

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[Originally written for and published by loveMONEY.com]

Acing that virtual interview

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With many people still working from home, virtual online job interviews have become companies’ go-to for recruiting remotely. And they pose new challenges in terms of impressing potential employers: a solid handshake and a confident walk are now redundant in this new world, but there are plenty of tips and tricks for coming across well on a screen. We spoke to internationally-renowned body language expert India Ford – founder of talkbodylanguage – about how you can give yourself a competitive edge and the best chance at acing that virtual interview. Click or scroll through to read her tips.

Looking the part

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It takes an interviewer a mere seven seconds to decide whether or not they want to hire you, so dressing to impress is crucial in making the right impression. But how can your clothes project traits that an employer wants to see in a potential new hire if you’re not actually meeting face to face?

Tip: Dress as if for a face-to-face interview

Jacek Korzeniewski/Shutterstock Your virtual interviewer will likely only see your head and torso, which could tempt you into doing the interview in your pyjama bottoms. But that’s a big mistake. “To get yourself in the right frame of mind you need to make sure that you dress exactly as you would if you were going to a face-to-face interview,” says India. And that includes shoes. “It’s subconscious, but it’ll get you in the right state of mind.”

Tip: Avoid noisy accessories

Doucefleur/Shutterstock Looking the part often involves the added accessory or two, like a watch, or jewellery. This will help you get into the right frame of mind but be careful with what you choose. “Watch out for dangly jewellery that could clank around and interfere with the sound quality,” cautions India.

Energy levels

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One of the main challenges in doing an interview virtually is that energy levels will naturally be much lower, making it difficult to project the right kind of body language. There are no new surroundings or direct contact with different people to give you that adrenaline and testosterone boost. So how can you ramp up those energy levels?

Tip: Don’t slump over your notes

NDAB Creativity/Shutterstock Waiting to start an interview, you might be tempted to go over your notes one last time and revise your answers – this is fine, but don’t do it slumped at your desk. “When you’re hunched up, you’re boosting the stress hormone, cortisol, which is the last hormone you need during a job interview,” says India.

Tip: Power pose

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One trick for reducing stress levels pre-interview is striking the power pose. Stand with your head up, hands on hips, and feet hip-width apart, with closed eyes. Smile to yourself and reflect on a time you felt your most confident. “Get into those feelings, and stay in that pose and frame of mind for two minutes,” recommends India. “Within that time, the stress hormone cortisol will go down by over 20%, and testosterone, which is our confidence-boosting hormone, goes up by 25%. This pose is a very quick and powerful way to regulate these hormones that affect us all the time.”

Tip: Just get moving

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If the power pose isn’t for you, any activity that involves movement can have a similar impact on your hormones. Whether it’s jumping on the spot or dancing around the room, just get those energy levels up before you sit down to face the interviewer. “We want to project an energy that is open and engaging. In a face-to-face meeting you have so many opportunities to project that energy – an interviewer comes to meet you, they see how you walk and move. In a virtual interview you’re just a static person sitting at a desk. This is a great way to get yourself into that state of mind.”

Posture

LStockStudio/Shutterstock During a virtual interview a potential employer will only see you while you are sat down, so it’s key that you do it right. Your body language needs to reflect the traits that will draw them in, and that even extends to how you sit on your chair. So how should you hold yourself?

Tip: Sit at a desk

Jack Frog/Shutterstock Sometimes the simplest set-ups are the best, and sitting at a desk during your virtual interview will give you a good chance of success. “The lower half of our body can sometimes give us away. It is easier, and much more relaxing, to be sitting at a desk as opposed to just sitting on a chair,” says India. It also means that you’ll be close enough to the camera for the interviewer to see your face and eyes, where a lot of crucial body language will be taking place… 

Tip: Sit back

Mangostar/Shutterstock India advises sitting tall in your chair and making sure you sit right back, with your back against the chair. “Lots of nervous people sit on the edge of their chair, and you don’t want to look tentative.”

Tip: ‘Squeeze an orange’ between your shoulder blades 

fizkes/Shutterstock Good posture is paramount in projecting confidence and competency. The key is to pull your shoulders back and down, which India simplifies with a fruit-based exercise. “Imagine you’ve got an orange between your shoulder blades, and just gently squeeze that orange two or three times. You don’t need to stay in that position, but you need to find that sweet spot where you’re not slouching but you’re sitting tall.”

Tip: Keep your chin parallel to the floor

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Head positioning can also say a lot about you, and keeping your chin parallel to the ground will create a positive impression. “If your head is too far back, it looks like you’re looking down at people, making you look very arrogant. If you start pushing your head too far down you will look submissive, as though you’re lacking in confidence – this looks as if you’re hiding your neck, which is what we do when we feel vulnerable.” You might need to adjust the position of your screen or laptop for this one, but to show confidence and credibility make sure you keep that chin at a steady angle. 

Tip: Don’t sit like a T-rex

fizkes/Shutterstock Looking like a T-rex is unlikely to give off the right cues about you as a person, so make sure your arms aren’t clamped to your torso. “When we’re nervous or anxious, we keep our limbs close to the body – make sure there’s a V shape of space. If you can, sit on a chair that has arms. That’ll make you look relaxed, you’ll feel relaxed, and arms of the chair will automatically create that V shape.”

Facial expressions

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Our resting expressions, or “screensaver faces”, are rarely inviting and, particularly in anxiety-inducing situations, they can appear angry or bad-tempered. A first impression is made in just 1/10th of a second, and if that resting face is the first sight an interviewer sees, their initial thought won’t be that you’re the one for the job. So how do you get it right when it comes to your facial expressions?

Tip: Smile more

fizkes/Shutterstock The best way to look warm, engaging, and inviting is simple: smile. “A smile is one of our most powerful gestures,” India emphasises. “When we smile at someone, it lights up the neural frontal cortex, which is the same area of the brain as when we receive a gift.” 

Tip: Mirror their body language

fizkes/Shutterstock Smiling is also infectious. “We have mirror neurons,” India explains, “so when we smile at someone, they automatically smile back.” Reciprocating a smile is a great way to build rapport, and it also makes us feel better subconsciously. 

Eye contact

G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock Eye contact is a huge part of social interaction in the Western world, and it’s expected of us 60-70% of the time. Without it, it’s impossible to look confident, credible, or competent, which are key traits you want to be showing off to a potential employer. But how do you achieve it through a camera?

Tip: Look directly into the camera

DisobeyArt/Shutterstock Mastering the art of virtual eye contact isn’t as complicated as it sounds, and India breaks it down into two easy tricks: 1) look directly into the camera when you’re speaking – to the other person this will look as though you are looking straight into their eyes, and 2) look at the interviewer on your screen when they are talking – this will provide you with important non-verbal feedback to let you know how they are reacting to you. 

Tip: Don’t look at yourself

Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock It’s important to look the part for an interview, but don’t become preoccupied with looking at the image of yourself on-screen. “If you’ve got a tendency to do that, your eye contact is going to be all over the place,” India warns. If you can’t help yourself, move the thumbnail so that it is as close to the camera as possible, or get rid of it altogether. 

Using your hands

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Fidgeting can happen in any anxiety-inducing environment, and as the nerves creep in the body brings in “self-pacifying” behaviours such as touching your face or neck and wringing your hands to try and calm itself down. But it doesn’t come across well in an interview. “On screen it will be amplified and will destroy all credibility. It’ll also raise red flags in the other person’s mind as they’ll wonder why you’ve suddenly started fidgeting.” But there are ways to use your hands effectively in an interview…

Tip: Keep your hands in view

Flamingo Images/Shutterstock India advises keeping your hands in view. If your hands are out of sight it raises questions as to where they are, causing the subconscious brain to become suspicious. “It starts wondering what you’re trying to hide, especially in a virtual interview. It’s important to make sure that your hands are always visible on the screen.”

Tip: Gesture to emphasise points

fizkes/Shutterstock If you are prone to moving your hands around you can use that to your advantage, as it can ramp up your communication while making you look more confident and credible. “Gestures make you look as though you really know what you’re talking about and add conviction to your words,” says India. Hand movements should be kept around the waist area – anything above the shoulders will just look erratic.

Tip: Clasp your hands

fizkes/Shutterstock If you do feel like you need to hold your hands, gently clasp them together in front of you on the desk. “You can also use this as a default position in-between gestures,” recommends India. But make sure the hold isn’t too tight, as white knuckles won’t send positive signals to the interviewer. 

Tip: Keep both feet on the ground

Rawpixel.com/ShutterstockIt isn’t just your top half that might get the fidgets. While your lower body will likely be underneath a table or desk, moving your legs and feet can cause the rest of the body to shift around, which will be noticeable. India advises keeping both feet on the floor, as that will make you feel grounded and prevent the upper body from moving around on-screen.

Being engaged

fizkes/Shutterstock Building rapport through a screen can be really challenging, but showing that you’re interested in what’s being said is a great way to indicate to the interviewer that you’re the right person for the job. 

Tip: Nod your head

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Nodding your head is a good rapport-building gesture, and two or three slow nods will say that you hear, understand, and agree with the speaker, which are all sentiments you want to get across during an interview. “If you’re speaking to somebody and they’re sitting there with their head vertical, not moving at all, you just assume that they’re not paying attention, so the head nod is a really good way to draw people in,” says India.

Tip: Lean in 

fizkes/Shutterstock Another tip for building rapport with your interviewer is leaning in slightly towards the screen. “This shows that you’re interested and engaged in what they’re saying.”. Obviously avoid going too close to the camera, as giving your potential future employer an extreme close-up of your face may give off a very different message…

Ending on a high

Peshkova/Shutterstock While you never get a second chance at a first impression, that final impression will be the last the interviewer sees of you, so make the most of your remaining opportunity to impress. “The final impression is 100% as important as the first, so the same rules apply,” India says. Here are a couple of extra tips to think about before you hurry to log off.

Tip: Don’t rush

Travelerpix/Shutterstock During the interview you will likely have considered all your answers, and hopefully delivered them in a calm and convincing way. Take your time in saying your goodbyes to make sure you continue to project all that good body language that you’ve already delivered throughout.

Tip: End on a light note

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With a virtual interview, we miss out on one of the most important rapport-building gestures: the handshake. But you can make light of the situation. “You could even do a bit of a joke,” suggests India. “You could put out your hand and say ‘nice to meet you’. If the interviewer is laughing, that’s a very good sign.” 

Tip: Remember names

New Africa/Shutterstock Using names is a great way to strengthen relationships, and so slipping your interviewer’s name in as you sign off is always a good idea. “Remember their name,” India says, “and use it.” The formula “[Interviewer’s name], it was great to meet you, thank you for your time” is an easy way to include their name as you say goodbye.

Tip: Smile until the end

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Smiling is integral throughout the interview, and you want to ensure it’s the final facial expression a potential employer sees, even if you’re having to fumble a little to find the “leave meeting” button. “There’s nothing worse than putting on a smile that’s a quick on-off expression, as that looks very inauthentic. Make sure you maintain that relaxed, open, engaging facial expression as the last impression, rather than your screensaver face,” recommends India.

Practice makes perfect

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All of these tips are excellent ways to improve your performance in a virtual interview, but they’re not necessarily habits you can learn overnight. Most people focus on what to say and will be busy creating all of the narrative and preparing for questions – this is all very well, but you also need to put some time aside to practice all of the non-verbal answers you’ll be giving off throughout the interview.

Tip: Film yourself

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Very few people enjoy watching themselves on camera, but it’s the best way to see what you’re doing right and how you can improve. “Most people are pretty horrified when they see themselves,” India admits, “but if it’s really important that you get this job, then make that effort and put the time in to see how you come across and how you can best work through the virtual medium.” Check the lighting, how you look on screen, and whether or not you’re ticking all the boxes when it comes to projecting good body language.

Tip: Get your friends involved

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You’re only going to get one shot at an interview, so why not practice with friends before the real thing? “Do a virtual meeting with your friends. Practising is the only way you’re going to get used to it, and it’s worth doing as this format will likely be around for the foreseeable future,” says India. Even better: record your practices and watch those back too, either by capturing the screen or getting a friend to record you. This will also help you make sure your technology works and you’re in a quiet enough environment.

Tip: Smile at yourself

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Acing that social smile is key for success both in your personal and professional life, so it really is worth making sure you get it right. “It doesn’t have to be a 70s gameshow host-type smile that’s all teeth, and under no circumstance should it be a stretched, fake, oblong smile. In front of the mirror, find that great smile that you can project when you need to connect and create that really good first impression,” suggests India.

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Tip: Practise on strangers

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When it comes to good body language, you really can practise with anyone. For example, if you’re in a supermarket or a café, try and look people right in their eyes when you say “thank you”. India has a top tip for making this a regular habit: “When you first meet people, look for their eye colour. Just noticing it will force you to look straight into their eyes. You don’t need to remember it, but that instant connection is a great way to build rapport and promotes trust and credibility.” We may have to settle for looking into cameras for now, but getting into this habit will put you in good stead for face-to-face interactions. “These little things can help you get a competitive edge in the business and corporate world, but also in the personal social world.”

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Final tip: Manage your state of mind

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When we are relaxed and happy our body language is naturally good as it just reflects how we are feeling – being able to create that state of calm and confidence in anxiety-inducing environments will naturally lead to better body language. The power pose is perfect for this, but simple breathing exercises can also help you to keep your cool. “If you feel anxiety levels going up, just doing a quick breathing exercise will help. Inhale for three to four seconds, hold for three seconds, and then exhale on four. That will help to relax the entire body.” 

India Ford is a UK-based corporate trainer, business consultant and executive coach, and the founder of talkbodylanguage. Her clientele includes global media corporations, top-ranking law firms, heads of state, and leaders of multiple Fortune 500 companies.

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