A little more than a year ago, when we heard the word “zoom,” we likely thought about our haste scurrying from one task to the next.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed that perspective. These days the “z” in Zoom is uppercase, and Zoom culture has replaced what used to be face-to-face professional engagement. Businesses and their employees have become nimble enough to use the camera, mute and chat functions that make Zoom the app of choice for 10 million daily meeting participants.
Sharing insight on Zoom etiquette during a job interview mimics good advice on etiquette in general. However, many employers and some staffing firms overlook one guiding principle: Just because we have Zoom doesn’t mean we have to use it for every single interaction. Zoom, Skype and others like it existed prior to the pandemic, but they weren’t used for basic communication.
Use Zoom when it makes the most sense. The basic phone interview still works fine and is often the better choice. As good a tool as Zoom is, people tend to concentrate longer on the phone when they’re not concerned about how they look or the dirty dishes or pile of laundry behind them. An unexpected interruption on a phone call doesn’t turn into a visual distraction that lingers. There’s no reason to make the initial screening from a human resources manager be on Zoom, as it certainly wasn’t the way pre-pandemic.
For those occasions when Zoom is necessary, the same rules of etiquette apply as if a candidate and employer were meeting in person. If you wouldn’t show up to an in-person interview in khakis and a polo, don’t dress that way for a Zoom one. Dress the part. It’s best to overdo it rather than assume business casual is OK. Wearing a business suit is a good idea.
Your actions and intentions during an in-person interview should be reflected on Zoom. No gum. Save your lunch for afterward. Your cell phone should be in another room unless, of course, you’re using it for the Zoom call. Make sure it is on Do Not Disturb during the interview. Notifications about the latest NBA trade or another reminder to pick up a tub of ice cream — and chimes from group texts — distract and leave a bad impression.
Zoom isn’t Facetime among friends. The candidate should retreat to a room at home with the door closed, free of noise. Sometimes candidates are interviewing during lunch hours of their current jobs and must do so from their car. That is acceptable. The key is to minimize distractions. Abandon the idea of a virtual background in favor of something simple and uncluttered. A few items on a shelf, a plant and a family photo are some options. Home offices are ideal provided they offer enough light.
Do a test run before the actual interview or meeting to ensure your Internet connection is stable. Keep in mind a WIFI connection can work well for a test but be overloaded for a daytime interview when multiple people in the same household might be online. Have a notebook nearby to take notes during the interview itself. By all means, include some reminders for yourself, though at no point do you want to appear to be reading from that notebook.
Eye contact can be a challenge during Zoom, but don’t be daunted by the idea of sitting in a chair and staring directly into an interviewer’s eyes for the duration of the conversation. Relax (but don’t slouch), and by all means, change positions just as you would sitting in a chair across from a desk. Maintain an appropriate distance from the computer. The interviewer should be able to see your head and shoulders.
When the Zoom call concludes, follow up just as you would after any job interview. If you’re writing a letter to send online, format it as you would if you were dropping it in the mail. Attach it to an email with the subject line “Thank you,” and in the body of the email, type “Please see attached.” A good, old fashioned hand-written thank you note is still proper and acceptable, delivered by regular mail. With so many inboxes flooded with spam, your note might have a better chance of being read and certainly appreciated, improving your chance of landing the job.
Eric Kean is principal at The Lee Group, executive recruitment and headhunting firm, serving in multiple roles as one of the firm’s leaders and visionaries. He manages business across all of The Lee Group locations, collaborating with the leadership team on key decision making and strategy. Kean can be reached at 757-873-0792 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.