Got an online interview coming up? As a veteran, spouse or active-duty military member in transition, you need to know that most interviews these days happen on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. While you prep interview questions and think about what to wear, don't forget to prep your environment, too. Your video background matters. A calm, professional environment makes you seem like a calm, professional candidate.
A lot of my senior military clients hear this and think they should get one of those fake virtual backgrounds. They think it will look more professional, even tech savvy. Should you do it? Should you keep your “I Love Me” wall as your video background? Is there a better option?
Skip the Zoom Background
Even if you avoid the lure of the beach as your virtual background or the uber-mod office, interviewers tell me virtual backgrounds can be distracting. They make the interviewer wonder why you picked that background. Then the background can jitter disconcertingly when you move and make everyone wish for a Dramamine with a Pepto chaser.
What Is an “I Love Me” Wall?
That said, I am all for the I Love Me wall as your interview background during military transition. Behind my clients and colleagues, I like to glimpse photos from past commands. Framed citations and awards. Plaques like hockey pucks. Ship's pennants and command flags. Beautifully hand-crafted memory boxes.
I may be biased. My Navy husband's I Love Me wall boasts a skillfully wrought oil painting of a shockingly homely amphibious transport dock. (He loves her.)
My Air Force dad's I Love Me wall featured a picture of a handsome young Vietnam-era pilot in front of his jet. My dad claimed that he never looked like that in real life. (But really, he did.)
As a military sociologist, I have always thought that was the point of the I Love Me wall for active-duty members, veterans and their families. Those items on the I Love Me wall served not as bragging rights, but as identity markers -- an anchor to the past, a mast toward the future, a physical manifestation of our abilities and belonging.
Is Your “I Love Me” Wall Hurting or Helping You?
When it comes to the job hunt, though, is it time to take the I Love Me wall down? Is it hurting or helping you?
It is hard to tell. I've had senior military clients who were told they ought to take down their I Love Me wall to nails and wires, Grinch style. "You don't need that," someone tells them, implying it is a crutch. Which seems mean to me, but OK.
I've also had veteran colleagues say they make sure they hang their I Love Me wall in full view of the camera. They claim it is frequently a conversation starter on a call, especially among other veterans. I can see how that would serve them well.
One civilian hiring manager I know told me that she thinks it is a good thing to see the I Love Me on the wall behind the interviewee. "Those are the things that are never on your resume, but they are part of your history, which is why they should be on the wall behind you," she said. I like that idea, too.
Yet, as Military.com's transition master coach, I think that when it comes to the job interview itself, nothing beats a neutral background during a Zoom interview. The neutral background focuses the interviewer's attention on you and what you are saying.
Best Interview Background Tips
Here is how your I Love Me wall can help you give a great Zoom interview and increase your chances of getting hired:
1. A neutral background rules. During the months you are interviewing, set up your desk and computer so that you have a neutral background behind you -- preferably a blank wall or a bookcase. This may mean the wires and cables of your computer and printer trail into the room. It may be temporarily unsightly, but remember, the important view right now is the one the interviewer sees.
2. Make sure the light shines on your face. Most of us are visual learners who take in the majority of information through our eyes. Set up your computer so the light from a window or a couple of desk lamps (never the overhead fixture) shines on your face. Nothing makes an interviewer on video more peevish than peering through the murk to find you.
3. Raise your camera. Experiment with the height of the camera on your computer by raising the screen with a stack of books or a small stool. I'm not kidding about this, guys. Otherwise, I see you glaring down into the screen like Dorothy Zbornak from "The Golden Girls" sporting a 5 o'clock shadow. Terrifying.
4. Hang your I Love Me wall in front of you. Job interviews make even the bravest, strongest, most qualified soul quake in their shiny, new interview shoes. This is the time that visual reminders of your most competent self can help a lot. So hang or prop three examples of your best self where you can see them behind the camera.
5. Don't forget your cheat sheet. The other thing that should be hanging on the wall behind the camera is your cheat sheet for this job. Make note of the three things the hiring manager mentioned most often as desirable qualities in the job listing and the stories you intend to tell to illustrate those qualities.
Your I Love Me wall does its best work when it is reminding you of what you want to bring to your next high-impact job in the civilian world. Hang it in front of you or behind you and prepare to make a difference.
Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.
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Transitioning military, veterans and spouses may be qualified for the job, but they are missing the secrets of civilian hiring. Find out everything you need to know with our FREE master class series, including our next class. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.