I remember quite well one interview I conducted with a talented software engineer who was competing for a coveted job at a fast-growing startup. Actually, to be honest, I don’t remember the guy all that well, or the details of his coding background. What I do remember clear as day is his messy bed behind him, piled with clothes, and his bedroom door with a soggy towel hanging on it to dry. He may not have known it, but his video interview background said much more about him as a candidate than his spoken words ever could.
Then there was the guy at a crowded cafe, who popped open his laptop and a soda, and proceeded to scream-interview into his headset with people and kids running around behind him. Or the female executive whose piles (and piles and piles) of papers behind her made me wonder how many years those papers had been sitting there and how she ever found anything she needed.
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. 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, be memorable for your spoken words to the interviewer, and not the environment behind you.
~Kathy Robinson, Founder, TurningPoint
Readers, what tips do you have for a video interview background? How do you manage finding a spot for video calls, and what solutions have you found that work well?