Avoid These Online Job Interview Mistakes That Turn Employers Off

Avoid these online interviewing mistakes to help create a positive presence.
Avoid these online interviewing mistakes to improve your presence. [Getty Images]

Are you underestimating how challenging online job interviewing is? Tim was. In the last year, this over 50 year old had gone on 10 executive-level online interviews using platforms like Zoom and lost out on every one of those jobs. He sought me out for an interviewing coaching session, saying “I’m zero for ten and so I need help as I’m obviously doing something wrong.”

When we conducted the interview preparation session, I immediately saw that he was sending off the wrong nonverbal clues. Tim came across cold, distant, almost distracted, and then the recruiter gave him similar feedback saying he seemed glib and not personal enough.

Tim did not realize that his poor ZOOM presence – the non-smiling, robotic-like vocal tunes, with eyes turned away from the camera a lot and his stiff posture — were non-verbal signals that sent off these clues that were turning employers off.

As his job role required a lot of interaction with other people, he was failing to display his true personality. His nonverbal signals were allowing these lucrative jobs to slip through his fingers. I’m glad to report that he made significant improvements as we role played and worked on eliminating these mistakes. In his very next interview, he landed a coveted job.

Tim’s situation when he came to me is all too common.  Because so many job searchers have been using Zoom, or other online meeting platforms, frequently on their jobs, most think that interviewing online should be easy.  However 80% of the time, they aren’t offered the job.

Gen-Z and Millennials are super tech-savvy, yet they also make typical mistakes that cause them to lose out on good job opportunities. 

Here are some critical tips to improve your online presence and ensure you excel at answering the Interviewer’s questions.

Are you ready for your next interview?

Robin's one-on-one interview preparation coaches you on what to say, how to say it, and what not to say so that you make a great first and lasting impression.

Know the Online Platform

When you schedule your interview, ask which online platform they are using. Is it Zoom? Google Meet? Skype? WebEx? GoTo Meeting? Or something else? Learn the technical aspects of that platform so you feel comfortable and not frustrated because of any difficulties using the technology.

Continuous eye contact is essential

Your eyes are your connection to the interviewer or panel members that you are talking to. Online, when you look up, down, turn your head, you break that critical connection. You will not come across as confident and so they may doubt your competence and whether you can truly perform the job.

Most people look away when they are thinking. Instead, try my proven strategy that my clients say works like a charm. Make some post-it notes with a few keywords to help you recall certain accomplishments or work examples. Paste them on around your monitor or laptop screen. Set up your camera so it focuses on directly your face not too far above or below.

Lighten Up and SMILE

You need to seem personable and not stiff or robotic. Smiling is essential and yet many people seem to lose their personality during an interview. The candidate suffers from displaying a frozen, cold face. Show the real you – an occasional smile makes you seem more engaging and likable. Use some vocal variety to keep the conversation interesting. Lean in a bit to make a point.

Avoid fidgeting and any nervous distractions

Individuals often do unconscious things when they are nervous. They play with their hair, move around, and fidget. You likely are not even aware of it but on screen, it is quite distracting. Try to control this behavior by not playing with your hair, clothing, jewelry, fingers, or rubbing your face.

To curb the nervousness before the interview starts, this works:  stand up and jump up and down 10 times. Move your arms and legs. Jumping jacks – something like that. The physical movements help remove a bit of the nervousness so you look and feel more relaxed.

Clean up your background

Employers do not want to see their potential sales exec sitting in his or her bedroom with the messy bed showing. Keep in mind you are being judged on how you will appear online to their customers, team members, and any person you might be interactive with while working for this organization.

To solve this problem, clean up the background. No beds, no clothes lying around, no junk everywhere. Quiet rooms at home are often bedrooms so use plants, a different wall angle, or something to hide the personal items. Make it as neutral as you can.

Many people have tried using these customized virtual ZOOM backgrounds. They do have a cool factor, but the technology is too unreliable for a job interview. Yes, they can place you in an office, or numerous other professional scenes. (The visual of being in Hawaii is likely going to send the wrong message so most skip that). As we listen and watch you on screen though any time you move it is often causing a lag around you or a distracting flash to readjusting the virtual background and many recruiters and hiring managers have complained they dislike it.

Ensure good lighting to look great

You will not come across as sharp as you want if it is hard to see you. Be sure you are not too far from the camera lens. Make sure that you have good lighting on your entire face. Notice where your windows are and if you are shadowed on one side of your face. Fix that. You may need to add a light ring or lamp off-screen to make yourself equally well light, so your complete face and eyes are clearly visible on the monitor.

Professional dress is a must

People have become too sloppy since working remotely. They have a complete disregard for how they look online. One lady showed up in her bathrobe for an online executive interview, she did NOT get hired. Employers are already nervous about hiring people they cannot “see” in person so dress up. You can do meetings in business casual attire but not interviews.

Wear the same suit, dress shirt with a blazer, or for women, the dress, plain colored non-see-through blouse, or sweater set outfit that you would wear if you were going to an in-person interview. Avoid prints, plaids, or bold stripes as that clothing is very distracting on screen. No party or sexy attire. 

Professional attire is a must.  This is easily fixed. Wear the same outfit you would choose if you were headed to an in-person interview. Avoid prints, plaids, or bold stripes as that clothing is very distracting on screen. Your smiling face is the focus, so ensure you have excellent lighting to be viewed properly. Notice where your windows are and if you are shadowed on one side of your face. Fix that. You may need to add a light ring or lamp off-screen to make yourself well-lit so that your entire face, eyes, and smile are clearly visible on the monitor.

Shorten Your Answers

Talking too long, or in a monotone voice will surely cause the interviewer’s mind to wander. Never speak for longer than 60 seconds. Craft potential answers to questions beforehand by writing them out and reviewing them. This helps you be more focused and concise in answering questions.


Set up a trial online run with a friend and practice roleplaying where you answer questions. Listen to their feedback on how you look or how they feel about your answers.

Originally Published in Forbes Magazine

©2024 Robin Ryan

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Robin Ryan

A career counselor that helps clients land jobs, I offer Resume Writing, LinkedIn Profile Writing, Interview Coaching, and Salary Negotiation services.

I’ve appeared on Oprah, Dr. Phil and over 3200 other TV and radio shows. A Wall Street Journal #1 bestselling author, I have written eight career books including: 60 Seconds & You’re Hired, Retirement Reinvention, Winning Resumes and Over 40 & You’re Hired. Currently I write a careers column for Forbes.com.

Helping people advance their careers and land a new job is my mission.

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