Imagine that you’re a recruiter, tasked with finding someone to fit in to a busy work group. The work requires a lot of attention to detail, organization, and ability pull client-facing materials together for presentations.

You find a candidate who seems great on paper. You schedule a video interview, prepare your questions, and sign on to Zoom to see …

the guy’s messy bed behind him, piled with clothes; food bowls and wrappers on his nightstand, and a soggy towel hanging over his bedroom door. The candidate may not know it, but his video interview background says much more about him as a potential employee than his spoken words ever could.

Your video interview background matters

You may think it’s not fair for a recruiter to judge your candidacy by your video interview background, but I think it’s naive to think it doesn’t play a part. Here’s what recruiters really infer about you, based on your setting:

Messy/Cluttered = lack of follow-through; lack of attention to detail; disorganization

Public Setting (people around) = you’re not taking the interview seriously; you didn’t problem-solve well enough to find a private spot

Bedroom (even if it doubles as your office) = unprofessional; lack of understanding of the boundary between home and work

Unreliable WiFi = lack of planning ahead

Distractions in the background (TV, phone alerts, etc.) = this isn’t a priority for you; you may not bring focus to conversations with co-workers

Here’s What to Do Instead

So the next time you have an interview by Skype/Zoom/whatever, make sure that your video interview background isn’t leaving the wrong impression about you as a candidate. Find a clean, private, quiet spot (if you’re at home, then the living room is probably best). Shoo away everyone else for the duration of your interview. Even if you need to hold the call in your bedroom, arrange the computer so that there’s no actual bed in the background. Turn off cell phone alerts and anything else that makes sound. Make sure the dog or cat’s in another room, so that you’re not getting a surprise visit or hearing barking sounds. Consider setting up a temporary, makeshift desk where there’s just a wall behind you and nothing else to distract the interviewer.

Above all, the key is to be memorable for your spoken words to the interviewer, and not the environment behind you.