Jeff Tang (MBA ’13) knows how to present his best self and create authentic connections. It’s what led him to win eight Emmy awards during his seven year tenure as a news reporter, and come to Darden as a Batten Media Fellow. That drive also propelled him into his post-Darden roles in marketing, brand management, and innovation at Clif Bar, General Mills, and ultimately, to his current role as Darden’s senior director of marketing and general management careers.
As Darden students prepare for MBA recruiting, Jeff offers this advice for creating memorable, professional, and unique connections with potential employers via virtual interviews.
Frame yourself from the mid-chest up.
Setting your shot up is akin to the suit that you’d wear for an in-person interview. You want to show up and dress in the classiest way. We can do the same thing from a quality of sound and quality of background perspective. Make your actual shot the best it can possibly be.
An ideal framing is from mid-chest level up, with a little bit of headroom at the top. I always joke that when my dad calls me on FaceTime that I can only see the top half of his head. That’s not good framing. You don’t want to be tiny and far away from the camera, but you also don’t want to be really close. It can be intimidating for a viewer.
Set yourself apart by carefully curating objects in your background.
Think about what’s in your background. You want to have a good foreground and background and depth of field. Be in a room that shows depth rather than being right against a wall. Walls create a super flat and boring background, whereas depth of field creates interest.
Your background is a chance for you to really express yourself as an individual. A lot of students have asked me about my whiteboard in my background, for example. My background shows me as a design thinker who loves to use sticky notes to organize and brainstorm; that reflects well on me.
I’ve also put my piano keyboard in the background. That’s a fun discussion starter with an interviewer before we launch into the formal interview. It allows me to talk about my band, which is another cool way to differentiate myself and show a little bit of my personality.
You can find your own items to display in the background, whether it be a diploma, something from your favorite sports teams, or a marathon metal that you won. Be careful to not to go too overboard, though.
Look primarily at your webcam when you’re speaking and listening.
As you’re talking and listening, don’t look at yourself. Watching yourself is not engaging to an interviewer. They’ll notice the difference when someone speaks at themselves versus directly into the webcam.
By looking at your computer camera or webcam, it mimics making eye contact with your interviewer. So be sure to talk into the camera and look into the camera when you’re speaking and when you’re listening.
Create flattering lighting and experiment to see what works best for you.
Natural light is best, but we of course know that sometimes interviews will happen on cloudy days, or your computer may not be near a window. You’ll likely have to supplement natural light with manufacturer lighting. There are different temperatures of lighting ranging from bright white to more yellow. So you’ll want to make sure you’re testing the different kinds of lights and how they reflect on your skin tone.
Not enough lighting can make you look grainy and out of focus, which means people can’t see your expressions well. Think about buying a ring light that goes over the top of your camera. Or you can grab a bunch of different lamps that have the same color temperature, set them behind your camera and turn them on to cast light on your face. Make sure you’re testing and changing and checking these things.
Be deliberate about when you might or might not use a virtual background.
I typically don’t recommend virtual backgrounds when it’s a one-on-one interaction. Objects can come in- and out of focus if you take a drink of water or make hand gestures, for example. You’re also missing an opportunity to show some of your own individuality by displaying an object that means something to you in your background.
If you have to use a virtual background or the blur feature in Zoom, it’s not the end of the world though. It can be nice looking, especially if you’re using a branded option like Darden’s virtual background.
Test your sound to ensure good quality.
Make sure your microphone is close to you. Sound quality is really, really important. What I would do is Zoom call your roommate, or your mom, and see what they say about your sound. This is especially important if you have a webcam or headset. Test your laptop or computer’s microphone, too because those can sound tinny.
These webcams are built to create sound that’s optimized for these kind of Zoom calls and teleconferencing events. So my preference would be to do that.
Headphones can be distracting, but necessary.
If you have roommates, kids, or other noises in the background, you might need headphones to concentrate. Personally, I think it looks a little bit better if you can go without headphones. If you can, you can use Air Pods, wireless headphones, or something low-profile that is a little bit less distracting to your interviewer or recruiter.
Investing in good gear can make a difference.
A ring light can be a good purchase, and there are a variety of price points at which you can purchase a light like that. You might combine that with an LED kit or a tripod to really frame your face well.
A webcam really does make a difference. Those are available at a lot of different price points and from many different retailers, too. Having a webcam might give you a little freedom from staring at one tiny camera on your laptop, and hopefully provide you with a higher quality image. Those are the two pieces of gear I would recommend you looking into purchasing, as you have the ability.
Practice, practice, practice.
Last but not least, guess and test. Practice makes perfect. Make sure you get your set up ready well in advance of your interview. That way, when the interview does come around, you’ll know exactly how to get everything dialed-in the way it was during your practice.
That way, all you have to focus on is nailing the interview and impressing the interviewee. You’re ready to rock and roll!