video interviews when you’re trapped at home and looking shaggy

A reader writes:

I was job searching before the pandemic, and I’m hoping to start getting some interviews soon. I am wondering about COVID-era best practices for video interviews.

If I have limited options for quiet, private places with reliable internet for such calls, is it unprofessional to do these calls from my desk in my bedroom? The backdrop doesn’t really show anything personal — bookshelves, plants, a neat sofa. Part of my bed would be visible, though of course I would make it neatly. Is a bedroom too personal a locale to take a video call?

Also, if I haven’t had a chance to go to the salon in several months, my general appearance might be slightly less than professional. Is that something to mention in an joking apology sort of way (“Sorry for looking a little unkempt, I haven’t trusted my roommate to take the shears to me just yet!”), or is it better to just do my best to disguise the situation and not mention it?

Any other tips or tricks for video interviews while we’re basically confined to our apartments?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 141 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth West*

    Thanks for these tips, Alison. I’m saving them even though I feel like I will never have another interview again.

    1. Blarg*

      I feel you. In the mornings I feel optimistic and as the clock ticks closer to 5, I get more and more down. The three day weekend knowing I wasn’t getting any calls was awful. Best wishes to you in your hunt!

  2. F.M.*

    Oh dear. I have been doing all my Zoom meetings from my actual bed! But I don’t think it’s obvious on camera, as I’m sitting sideways on it, with just a wall seen directly behind me.

    (The dog goes into a noisy frenzy if I sit anywhere else for more than fifteen minutes, so I learned about two days into the sudden swap to online teaching that my options were Bed or Barking, and Bed it was.)

    1. BRR*

      It could be ok in the context of a regular meeting depending on your office. It’s just not recommended for an interview.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I think Alison means, not in your ragged pyjamas cross-legged slouched against the pillows. “Still in bed” v “using bed as chair”.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        ^this!

        Sitting on your bed is a very different thing from laying draped across a few large pillows, obviously with a headboard behind you, perhaps even in silk pajamas.

        Didn’t we have someone write in that their grandboss or something was Zoom-ing from what was obviously them laying in bed? Or did my brain make that up?

        1. kt*

          Full disclosure: I was in bed for a Zoom call once… ok, twice… but in my defense, it was ‘spa zoom’ with my college girlfriends ;) If a sheet mask is ok, then a clean bed ought to be — and I think that goes both ways!

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Well, personal calls are significantly different from business calls… a sheet mask is okay with friends, but wouldn’t be with business calls. That’s not really a good comparison.

    3. Lisa*

      I’ve done some meetings from my bed too. Usually the wall is behind me so you can’t really tell where I’m sitting. I did some interviews with just the dark wooden backboard of the bed behind me (no pillows, sheets, etc) and I got a follow up interview, so it can’t have been that bad.

    4. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Yeah, my husband discovered our guest bed, which is a futon with no headboard, is a great place to take video meetings. He can sit on it and lean his back on the bare wall, and not worry about what’s behind him.

    5. Artemesia*

      If possible I would use a virtual background and especially if you have to do the interview from your bed or bedroom or anyplace that looks messy. You can take a photograph of your own bookshelf or a wall with neutral artwork and then sit on the bed with that virtual background. Something neutral and bland and uncluttered. Or you could choose a frankly not your house scene — I have one of the ice on lake Michigan I sometimes use in video chats — it looks like abstract art. If you have a place to do it that is private and the background looks pretty professional great — but if you have to hunker down in the bedroom or back porch or even bathroom to get privacy then a virtual background is your friend if the platform allows it.

      1. Rachel in NYC*

        OP, if you decide to go with a zoom background, test it out beforehand a lot- and don’t wear white or green. I’ve progressed to literally disappearing when I use a virtual background if I’m wearing a white shirt.

        I always knew I was the same color as the wall. I finally proved it.

    6. Social distancer*

      OP should get a greenscreen and use a virtual background, ideally something that is not obviously fake — bookshelves create an impression of seriousness and intellectualism. Perhaps add a curio or two to the books. Joe Biden’s home office is actually a really great example — lots of books, a football, and a US flag.

  3. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I had a video interview last week and set it up in the bedroom, so yes, it can work!

    (Husband was working from home downstairs on the sofa and my back injury was flaring so I couldn’t handle the computer room chairs)

    Alison’s advice is spot on, just ensure the background is neat and as little of the bed as possible is visible in frame. I’m on the ‘needs work’ side of unkempt at the moment so getting ready did involve searching round for hairgrips and hairbands as my hair is in too bad a condition to not be tied back securely with all the frizzy front hairs pinned back.

    I found I look really pale though. I haven’t been outside for a long time and it shows. I didn’t realise how much till I saw my video screen. Not sure if that is something that can (or should) be dealt with before an interview? One of my friends suggested afterward that I eat something spicy beforehand to get a bit of a ‘flush’ to the cheeks so as to look less zombie like?

    1. Ranon*

      Makeup is one solution, lighting is another. A lot of light bulbs don’t render skin tone very well, a warmer bulb (3000K or lower color temp) with better color rendering (90+ CRI, CRI stands for color rendering index) might help. Generally faces look better lit from the sides than from top or bottom. Or getting more daylight into the room if you can.

      1. Smithy*

        Coming here to reference the mix of lighting and camera angels. Personally, I find those have far more impact on how I look (and my particular “problem” areas of bags under the eyes) way more than make-up. Changing how high/low the camera angel is plus where the light makes far more dramatic changes and is also reliable in a way that can be predicted.

        1. Artemesia*

          Camera angle is a big deal — a low angle makes everyone look worse and so being on the bed with the computer in your lap is risky. We now do our social zooms at the dining table because we can position the computer camera even rather than below and we look so much better. And lighting really matters — I look like a zombie in some light and as good as possible in others — We have one room with red walls and just the reflected light in that room is so much more flattering.

    2. PB*

      I wouldn’t worry about the paleness too much. For some of us, that’s just our natural coloring. In addition, the camera can drastically change your coloring, regardless. I don’t think I’d notice or care if someone was on the pale side! And pale is better than sweaty, which is how I’d look if I ate spicy food.

      1. Swiftly Tilting Planet*

        I think that the most truly surprising thing to me about the pandemic has been learning how few adults are able to cut or color either their own hair or that of others, which says a lot more about how out of step I am with mainstream society than it does about those who are used to salons & barbers.

        In my entirely pre-WWII family (my dad was a veteran, lied & entered the military underage), all the women did their own hair & nails, and cut their husbands & children’s hair too- and nary a bowl cut in sight. I suppose it helped that my grandmother was a (quite successful) hairdresser & cosmetician, but also the prevailing attitudes of the time as well as the poverty of the Depression meant that that kind of self-maintenance was the rule, not the exception, and my family kept their thrifty ways even after they could have comfortably afforded to go to pros.
        I grew up with the assumption that this was just one of those basic adult skills that everyone is expected to learn, like driving, cooking, balancing a checkbook, changing a tire, etc.
        So, I learned, as I also was a creative discovering an emerging scene full of other creatives, where interesting & exotic & mostly DIY hairstyles ran rampant, I have spent close to 40 years cutting, coloring, and styling my own hair, just like most of the people around me.

        Of course, it also helped that the price of a salon visit, to me, was simply a luxury that was entirely beyond my means. I mean, maybe I could have afforded Supercuts, but why would I when could DIY something FAR better and more professional looking than I could get there for the same price (or less?)

        1. RoseDark*

          I could probably have done a pretty decent trim on my hair when it was chest-length (though I likely wouldn’t bother given that long hair just continues to be long if you don’t cut it) but there is no way in heck I would even attempt to shape my own pixie cut. I don’t have the tools and I definitely don’t have the skills for that kind of hairstyle. I’ve embraced my pandemic muppet hair for now.

          I do my own color though, because I like bright rainbow colors and have been doing my own and my friends’ hair since college. I’ve done all-over color, streaks, an under-color (that one was cool), gradients, all kinds of things.

        2. allathian*

          When I was interning in Spain 20 years ago, all the young women had long hair and friends routinely cut each other’s hair, because it was basically just cutting the split ends. If they had bangs, they usually cut it themselves. My hair is thick and looks best in layers when I cut it short, so I happily paid for a pro to do it. Now, though, I haven’t been to a salon for nearly three months and it shows. My bangs are finally long enough to stay behind my ears, yay! Now I’m using better shampoo than I did when I last had longer hair, and so far, my scalp isn’t complaining. I may stick to a longer hairstyle even when I’m comfortable going to a salon again.

          1. EM*

            When my hair was long I cut it myself sometimes, it was low risk because I could pull it back if it went wrong. It’s too short now.

            Also, though no doubt our (great-) grandparents were comparatively thrifty in lots of way, social expectations were different. Women generally wore their hair long, pulled back, and covered. By the time hats were abandoned and short hair-styles were fashionable, hair salons were also common. For what it’s worth, my grandmother certainly never cut her own hair or did her own perm.

            This is by way of saying, to my mind, no one should feel bad for not having the same skills of their ancestors. The comparison is not realistic – I can’t easily full wool, cut hair, split kindling or tell the temperature of my oven with damp newspaper – Nanna can’t use excel or pay her bills online.

            1. Swiftly Tilting Planet*

              My great grandmother was born in the 1800s, and even then it wasn’t expected that women wear their hair long, pulled back, and covered. (I have a lot of family pictures from these times, and even her *MiL* wore more intricate hair than that.)

              But I’m not even talking about women that far back, I’m talking about my grandmother, my mother, my aunts & uncles…I’m only 53, but both my parents were born in the 1920s. They didn’t meet, marry, and start a family until they were ~40, so my brother and I grew up in a household very much unlike those of our friends around us.

              All of the women in my family worked- great grand owned/ran a now-historical inn. She was the savvy one (not her husband) who owned the big house that kept the entire family sheltered after the Depression hit, and my divorced grandmother was plying her trade of beauty operator (hairdresser + manicurist + cosmetician) to feed her 2 small kids, my mom & aunt. She eventually was pretty successful, owning a small local chain of salons in the 50s & 60s.
              My mother worked until she met & married my father in her late 30s, and in those days, the social expectations for a woman certainly were different, as they were expected to be in dress/stockings/heels, full face of cosmetics, and far more complicated every ay hairstyles than most women today would ever dream of- and that was EVERY DAY, ALL THE TIME, not just at work. My mom cut/colored/set/styled her own hair her whole working life, which didn’t seem to impede her STEM career in the aerospace industry, nor did her DIY haircuts hurt my dad’s white collar professional career in same.

              And that’s the thing- my dad had a great job that allowed my mom to quit work, start a family, and be a stay at home mom, we always had plenty, but neither one could ever fully rid themselves of their backgrounds. They COULD have afforded salons & barbers at that point, but still did DIY because why pay $$$ when you could do it just as good at home? Why buy a brand new car/brand new furniture/brand new clothes when used is just as good? The non-family adults my parents had as friends were from similar backgrounds, so like pretty much all kids, I grew up assuming that this was just the normal way of life for everyone.

          2. Swiftly Tilting Planet*

            My friends and I called it “hair parties” when we’d get together to cut & color each other’s hair, and were still doing into our late 30s.
            Because granted, even when you know how, it’s still easier & faster to have someone else do it for you!

        3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          “balancing a checkbook, changing a tire,”

          I’m in my 50s and never did either. Well, I can change a bike tire.

          1. Swiftly Tilting Planet*

            My dad taught both my brother & I as soon as we each started to drive (I am female.) It came in handy !

        4. Swiftly Tilting Planet*

          I don’t know why this posted here, it was supposed to be it’s own comment!

        5. AuroraLight37*

          I think it depends on the haircut. A simple trim job on long hair is one thing, something complicated would not be my choice to mess with if I didn’t absolutely have to. I’d look for hairbands/clips to keep it neat if it’s short(er) because there is no way I’d be willing to try a pixie cut/undercut. That is beyond my comfort zone.
          I do cut and color my own hair, it’s a simple split end trim since I keep it long. And color is a basic cover the gray rinse, so I can manage that myself. And I do my own nails, but that’s a basic pedicure and buffed fingernails. I don’t think I could pull off anything really fancy on my own.

          1. Swiftly Tilting Planet*

            My mom never went to a salon, and her nails were always perfectly manicured and polished, because in her day (she was born in the 20s) it was simply expected of women. If you couldn’t afford a salon, you simply did it yourself. She taught me how to do my own in middle school, though TBH, mine have always looked pretty janky due to a disability that affects my fine motor skills. I could in no way, shape, or form afford a professional manicure most of my adult life, so I just wore janky nails or nothing at all (and just clip them super short.)

            I haven’t had hair longer than shoulder length since I was a child, and for me, that is VERY long. I love short & very short & very VERY short hair, and have learned to cut (both clipper & scissors) a wide variety of styles.
            It does take practice, and a willingness to push the envelope, and for me, a lot of extra care because Disability, but again, I was so very poor for so damn long that DIY was my only reasonable option, and I HAD to make it work.

          1. Swiftly Tilting Planet*

            @casually mentions growing up in an environment that taught me that “cutting ones own hair” is a Basic Skill of Adulting

            @casually mentions being in an adult social/cultural movement where DIY hair was the norm, so assumption continues

            @casually mentions the Real Life Actual Poverty that prevented me from stepping foot in a salon even IF had I wanted to/had grown up with that expectation.

            Please point out the “better than you”

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Just camera test your makeup if you can, because I have a blush that looks lovely IRL but like clown makeup on my webcam. Especially with cheap or built in webcams sometimes the way they handle white balance and contrast is a bit unusual so you can end up looking weird.

    3. WellRed*

      ha! When I get a spicy food flush it tends to center on the nose. Not a good look. Warmer lighting and some blush and tinted moisturizer.

    4. Eukomos*

      Flushing on the cheeks can make you look more pale, be careful there. The contrast between high color on your cheeks and the rest of your skin can lead to a sort of consumptive maiden effect. I’d recommend trying a few different lighting setups, and maybe a different color shirt. The camera’s white balance will affect how colors render, so if your shirt is really bright or dark compared to your skin, your face can look odd.

    5. Jdc*

      I even just saw a insurance company (i think State Farm) where they showed employees working from home and numerous were in bedrooms. I think people right now know you just are finding a quiet space and appreciate that. Of course with following Alisons tips so you aren’t lounging in bed.

    6. Edwina*

      There are actually a lot of articles on line about making yourself look better for a Zoom call (just google that exact question). I looked like a big fat pale ghost, and here are the tips that now make me look more humanoid:
      1. MOST IMPORTANT: place your laptop slightly ABOVE your head, so you’re looking up at the camera. If possible, sit at a table, with your laptop on top of a pile of books
      2. Move back a little from the camera
      3. Find a place where there is as much natural light as possible. Bring warmer lights into the room. Turn off any bright white light.
      4. You can also buy inexpensive lights that have WARM color light (which makes you look less pale), for around $30 on amazon. They call them things like selfie lights, instagram lights, ring lights, etc. I bought one but actually didn’t find that it made a difference–natural light was ok
      5. Style your hair–if you’re like me, with grey roots, buy temporary root cover up (they have it in sprays and in a sort of “powder” like eye shadow, you brush it on–it really works!). Again just search for “root cover up” on Amazon.
      6. Put on some kind of makeup. I’m a total makeup minimalist, usually just wear a little foundation-type powder and lipstick. But I’ve found that adding a little blush makes a big difference.
      7. If your eyebrows are sparse, invest in an eyebrow pencil (the Chanel one is AWESOME).
      8. Before your meeting, go onto the Zoom app; you can test how you look. Make adjustments until you feel you look your best. The Zoom app also has some settings that include an “enhance” setting where it adjusts the lighting and focus to improve how you look, just a bit, but it makes a difference. You can also check your background and adjust what you have there, and adjust the position of the laptop.
      9. Wear a simple, one-color top in a flattering color

      I’m a screenwriter and have been having “pitch” meetings via zoom, where I’m the one presenting the project, and I often feel the prep is more anxiety-provoking than the pitch itself, but it really makes a difference when I feel I look a little more professional.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Many thanks all for the advice! I don’t wear any makeup because my skin hates being covered by anything (even hates moisturiser. Water and soap is all it can handle) but I’ll definitely look into improving the lighting in the room. I just realised I’ve got my sewing lightbulb in here which is blue tinged to match sunlight…great for sewing but probably is making me look like a vampire.

  4. Kimmy Schmidt*

    In addition to Alison’s great tips, I’d say to make sure that you are already in your professional interviewing spot and position when you answer the video call. I’ve had some video calls where the person will answer from a tablet and in addition to the beautiful up-the-nostril shot, you get all the tumbling and jostling and blurred colors as they walk to their desk. It makes me a bit seasick.

    1. LilPinkSock*

      Oof, yes! I recently conducted an interview where the candidate was very obviously on a tablet–started out looking right up their nose, and they evidently couldn’t get comfortable during our 45-minute meeting, because the image was constantly moving. It was very distracting.

      1. Eva Luna*

        Not everyone owns a laptop. I don’t. My choices for video are my iPad or my phone. (My main computer is a desktop with no webcam.)

    2. Coverage Associate*

      I keep my laptop in my lap, and I always turn off my camera if I have to get up during a video meeting. I thought that was polite because of the seasick thing, but it confuses people. (These aren’t interviews. These are regular meetings where if they were in person I would leave to go to the bathroom or whatever without announcing it to the room.)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I finally got some of those little sliding webcam covers from Kerblam!* I had been using a blackout sticker, but after removing it several times for Zoom calls, it wouldn’t stick anymore. I didn’t want to waste all my stickers on that.

        The package came with six covers. You take the backing off, open it, put the hole over the camera, then press so the adhesive side sticks it on and slide it shut. It’s very thin so the laptop closes easily with no problem, and you can barely see it. I LOVE it.

        *Doctor Who reference, lol

  5. Free Meerkats*

    If you’re using a separate camera, set it up so it’s directly in front of your screen. That way you won’t have to think about looking into the camera instead of looking at the person on your screen.

    And anyone who will judge you for being a bit feral right now isn’t someone you want to work for.

    1. Sparrow*

      I really don’t like looking into the camera instead of at the person speaking – part of the benefit of doing it over video instead of phone is that you can see and read body language, and if you’re not actually looking at them while you’re talking, you miss that entirely. So during smaller zoom meetings, I arrange the window (in gallery view) so it’s long and narrow along the very top of my screen, as close to the camera as possible. It means all the images are fairly small, but I can still see everyone’s body language and not be looking wildly away from the camera.

      And for the record, I recently ran some interviews over zoom, and the only thing that I found actively off-putting or distracting was lighting so poor I could barely see the candidate’s face. If they’d looked like they just rolled out of bed, appearance-wise, that probably would’ve been an issue, but slightly more casual but still neat styling, a bed in a picture, the occasional pet interruption, etc. really weren’t a big deal for us.

      Good luck, OP!

      1. Allonge*

        This – certainly you should be aware of looking towards the people you are talking to, so try practicing for camera placement, but even in a live interview you would not be obsessive about looking people in the eye all the time. Not to mention that in some cases they will also be lookinig at you on a rather small screen, with no way of telling the difference. So make it close enough, practice, but do dare to look at their faces once in a while too!

  6. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

    I had a video interview that led to an offer towards the beginning of isolation!

    I would say, if the LW is uncomfortable with having their bed be in the background, it may not be too much effort to flip the desk around so that the wall is behind you. I have an apartment with very few simple backgrounds (we have skylights, a spiral staircase, and no well-lit spaces that are sealed by a door besides a bathroom), so I ended up stacking a bunch of boxes of cans and creating a bit of a war-room setup in front of one of our skylights so that all that was visible behind me was a black wall. I felt better with this setup–I could trust that nothing was going to be distracting my audience and that I would be the focus of the interview.

    As far as beauty goes, I can strongly recommend a couple things. I tied my hair back into a high ponytail for my interview. This was great for several reasons — it framed my face well, but wasn’t a distraction for me during the interview, especially since I, like many, have not had a recent trim. I also did fairly aggressive makeup that day. I wanted my features to pop, so I did the whole look–foundation, eyeliner, brows, plenty of blush, and even lip color. Since nobody was going to see me in person, I wasn’t worried about poor makeup application appearing on camera. I really liked the way I ended up looking over the video.

    Good luck OP!

  7. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’ve removed a complaint about NYMag’s paywall and the replies that followed. We aren’t going to debate this here every time I link to my work for an outside site.

    Paywalls are how some publications pay their writers, including me. You might choose not to pay for that access, which is fine, but I’m going to continue to link to my work. There’s lots of other free content here to read.

    1. MissBliss*

      Alison, apologies if this is harping on the topic and understand if you delete, but I just wanted to share: NYMag is currently having a subscription sale of only $25/year for online access, which comes out to just over $2/month. If anyone here is inclined to support NYMag, now might be a good time to sign up! It also appears their regular online-only subscription is $5/month.

    2. Lynn*

      I’m sorry you have to put up with that debate every time! You work hard so your cats can have a better life!

    3. Anonforthis*

      Ugh yes. As someone who was furloughed by NYMag, these are professionals who need to get paid for their work. Readership is up, but advertising sales (which pay most of the bills) are DOWN.

      Writers, and those working to keep media going, are integral to our free press and it’s not unreasonable for their work to be worth something.

      (And, as always, Alison deserves to be paid for her work.)

      1. Artemesia*

        Those of us who are retired or lucky enough to still have our usual income should really be looking for ways to support struggling businesses. We do take out once a week from local restaurants not because we like take out so much as we want to help keep them able to pay rent; we have made our annual donations early to cultural organizations; we have subscribed to a couple of publications that we had been sampling on line etc. Those of us who are lucky should be doing what we can to keep those hammered by this in business.

    4. Cordoba*

      I don’t blame you.

      Suggestion: In the future perhaps you can put a note to this effect right next to the link? This might help to prevent it coming up every time you have an external article that’s behind a paywall.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          I’d prefer a snarky response from AAM to each person who complains.

          1. Blueberry*

            That might be fun to read but it would be exhausting to write. I just wish Alison didn’t have to deal with this anymore.

      1. allathian*

        Thirding, it is getting really tiresome. So are the frequent suggestions to use an incognito/anonymous browser window to get around the paywall. It may be legal to do so, but I think it’s unethical.

    5. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I am not sure if NYMag is one of these, but many print publications with online paywalls are available for checkout on the magazine app from your local library.

    6. Can't Afford to Pay*

      I think it would help if it was clear that the answer was hosted offsite from the title or a note before the letter, instead of right at the end. The way it currently is, people read the letter, want to know the answer, but then aren’t able to access it and thus become frustrated and want to express that (I certainly do!). It feels clickbaity. (Most readers are not going to memorise your posting schedule, as I’ve seen suggested before!) If it was clear from the start, people could make an informed choice to scroll past and wouldn’t feel as cheated and manipulated, and would hopefully be less motivated to complain.

      1. Alianora*

        I think you’re right about the thought process, although I think “cheated and manipulated” is kind of an extreme reaction. Maybe just prefacing the title with “Link: [title]” could help cut down on these complaints?

      2. Elenna*

        I agree that “cheated and manipulated” seems excessive (certainly it’s clear that Allison isn’t intending to cheat or manipulate anyone!) but yes, having a note at the start of the post would be nice.

        That being said, for a lot of these (at least the NYMag ones), you can copy-paste the link into a private/incognito window to see as many articles as you want. Not sure about other browsers, but for Firefox, you do this by clicking the icon with the three horizontal lines in the top right corner and then choosing “New Private Window”. Then just copy-paste the link into the window that pops up.

        1. Anonforthis*

          Explaining to people how to get around the paywall by exploiting extra free articles is really antithetical to Alison’s point that journalists need to be paid.

          Not to mention that use of that loophole with cause more publications to fully lock down articles with a paywall.

          1. allathian*

            Indeed. So is copying Alison’s answer and posting it in the comments, as happened last week or the week before that. In some forums I’ve been, that sort of behavior would get you a ban.
            That said, I would appreciate a note about articles being hosted offsite before the body of the letter.

      3. Swiftly Tilting Planet*

        Yes. This.

        I don’t ever seem to have an issue with the paywall links here (I don’t know why, I am not subscribed to anything, anywhere), but other places, it is a real frustration. Because if I can’t afford to subscribe to the magazines and newspapers that I actually WOULD like to be able to freely read at my leisure, I sure AF can’t afford to subscribe to every site that wants me to subscribe so I can read a single/occasional article, or wants me to pay $1-$5 for temporary access (when you don’t have a lot of income, that is not nickel & dime money, that’s part of your actual monthly budget.)
        Like how enraging it is to hear “stop buying coffee/avocado toast and you will be rich” when you know that is bullshit and your coffee/toast/whatever is one of the small pleasures in life that help you get by?
        It’s also enraging to hear people say “but [thing] only costs $[coffee price]!”, when you make so much less than them that you can’t even afford to buy a daily (or even WEEKLY) coffee.

        And even worse when sites try to make you either turn off your adblocker or pay, when you can’t afford to pay, and you can’t turn off your adblocker because you have a disability that makes ads UNBEARABLE.
        And yes, I understand that people need to get paid, sites cost money, etc, it still feels both classist and ableist when the ONLY way I can read something I am highly interested in is to give in and pay money I don’t have, or exacerbate a disability.

        Don’t even get me STARTED on those that want you to sign up for an account (and give them my personal information when there is already a glut of too much invasion of privacy? I DON’T F’ING THINK SO) not to comment or have privileges, but simply to READ them, for free.

        1. Cat*

          So . . . what do you think news organizations should do to pay journalists if both ads and subscription fees are outrageous?

        2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          I feel the same way about groceries. I mean WTF – I make the effort to walk to the store (in a pandemic at the moment!) and they want me to pay money?! Serious???

          Sooo annoying.

        3. coffee cup*

          ‘And yes, I understand that people need to get paid, sites cost money, etc’

          It very much sounds like you don’t.

      4. Elsajeni*

        I understand that some people find this frustrating, but… making you interested enough to want to click the link is sort of the point. Are the people who feel “cheated and manipulated” by being able to read the letter, but not the answer, also outraged that movie trailers don’t show the resolution of the plot? Anyway, you could get into the habit of scrolling down to the bottom of the post to look for a link before you dive into reading; it’s generally just a few paragraphs.

    7. ...*

      Omg, THANK YOU. Those comments are maddening. Personally I’m too cheap to pay it, so I don’t read it! I just come and read the comments haha.

      1. ...*

        Commenting again because daily on this site people stress the fact that people need to be paid fairly for their work and the #1 thing people want is better pay and benefits. So why should writers not get paid? I don’t get it.

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          Word. I don’t get why this concept seems to be very difficult for some people.

    8. No bees on Typhon*

      I just wish they (and other similar sites) offered an option to pay for a single article, without a subscription – I would happily do that, but I don’t want to buy an annual subscription to a foreign site whose other articles I’m not interested in.

      (I remember reading an oped years ago predicting that the web was going to move towards that kind of microtransasction, where you pay a couple of cents per page, but it hasn’t happened yet. Shame – it sounded like a good model!)

      1. Cat*

        They offer a certain number of free articles a month, so if you really aren’t interested in much of what they have to offer, it shouldn’t be an issue.

      2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        I remember reading about that. It would be nice from a user point of view but presumably it was determined to be less profitable than ads and subscriptions.

    9. voyager1*

      Honestly Alison, I think it is to the point where you should delete the comments complaining about the paywalls on sight.

  8. Mockingjay*

    Pants. Wear them.

    Of all the advice Alison has offered on professional norms, I never thought she would have to tell people to cover their lower halves.

    1. Jam Today*

      Speaking of which: for those who remember Keenan Ivory Wayans’ brilliant show In Living Color, I encourage you to google (but not on your work network or laptop) “Keenan Ivory Wayans graduation video”

    2. Artemesia*

      I just bought another pair of lightweight pajama bottoms for wearing around the house since most days I don’t leave it — so yeah — good advice LOL.

    3. PhyllisB*

      I remember going to a grocery store in New Orleans a number of years ago with a sign that said, “Shoes, shirt, and pants must be worn.” I couldn’t help but wonder how people were dressed (or not) to prompt that.

      1. Mrs_helm*

        I live in a coastal area. People will walk off the beach and into a restaurant or grocery store, still in their wet bathing suit. So, yeah, it does have to be spelled out for them if “fully clothed” is what you want.

    4. AuroraLight37*

      I got hired for a new job during all of this. Both of the HR people I spoke to pre-video orientation said they had to tell everyone that they would be onscreen, so please dress work appropriately and clothe your lower parts in actual pants/skirt, also please make sure your work background isn’t too off. Apparently one person decided that he should do his meetings in a tank top with an obscenity spelled out in big letters and boxers- the latter were noticed when he walked away from the screen. Someone else did their orientation in bed and under the covers. I laughed when they told me these stories, because I’d heard one recently about someone who forgot that their background included a very NSFW naked lady in a poster. Oops.

  9. dontoverthinkitseasytodo*

    Honestly I think you’re overthinking it OP. I would say as long as their is nothing offensive in your background or its super messy you are fine. As far as your appearance, just try to neatly style your hair. If you can pull it back off your face, or use gel to style it you will be fine.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t worry over much about the hair. Put it up in a pony or neat bun with some spritz to keep it in place. People know salons aren’t open yet in most parts of the country.

      1. Mina*

        That’s fine if your hair is long enough to put up. I have short hair which should have been cut seven weeks ago, and it’s bushy and shaggy and a complete mess, but it’s nowhere near long enough to put it up.

        1. pingmelater*

          Same here. When I need to appear on video calls, I try to brush as much of it behind my ears as possible. Looks a bit strange, but better than having it literally stick out in all directions.

        2. Environmental Compliance*

          I am officially at Post Pixie Mullet right now. The random curls at the nape of my neck are just added hilarity, along with the one spot at the front that has weird waves.

          I’ve settled on headbands and/or twisted back and bobby pinned. At least then it’s out of my face. I also have a hair scarf thingie I wear when I’m feeling retro. That’s probably the most comfortable option for me, personally.

          1. RoseDark*

            I’m enough past the Mullet stage that I’ve reached some kind of hilariously terrible.. Beatles/Muppet stage, where it looks like it’s on purpose but just very ill-thought-out. It’s not visibly “this wasn’t what you intended to look like” but it does scream “this person has very bad taste”. It doesn’t help that my hair is thick so it keeps getting fluffier with every passing week!

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              I’m so sorry that I am giggling so much at the visual you gave me!!

              And I hear you on the thick fluff. I also have thick hair, and it just goes weird. Any direction it wants to. Then the random curls/wave (seriously, why is my head patchy with that texture??? What the hell??) just go even more Poof.

              I’m trying to be positive, because I was planning on growing it out. Just with a lot more dignity than current times can allow, lol.

            2. Blueberry*

              I’m Black and wear my hair natural. One of the things I do to control my hair is to comb conditioner through it at the end of washing it (this is a leave-in conditioner), which ‘weighs down’ the curls and helps keep them from tangling and poofing. (The conditioner also acts as a detangler.) Or even just dampen it with a small spray bottle, not until it’s dripping wet or anything but just until the water helps weigh it down.

          2. TardyTardis*

            A little hairspray can’t hurt if your hair frizzes in the traditional stuck in electrical outlet mode.

        3. Yvette*

          Can you slick the sides back with gel to give the front-on appearance of a ponytail?

        4. dontoverthinkitseasytodo*

          Try and youtube some easy updo’s for short hair. They look really cute and often easy and quick to throw together with bobby pins and gel/spray. I used to have short hair and was able to do this all the time. I can barely put braided pig tails in my little girl’s hair, so I promise they are easy.

      2. Julia*

        Putting it back makes me look like I have almost no hair on camera, so I either do a half-up, let the pony tail fall over one shoulder, or create a fake short haircut by making a very loose ponytail and pulling.

        If your hair is too short for that, I guess clips can work to keep it away from your eyes/forehead.

  10. Coco*

    If you’re worried about not having a blank wall behind you and showing home decor and it is impractical to move your desk, there are inexpensive room dividers available.

    My coworker has a green tarp on a clothing rack behind him and can do zoom backgrounds. You could use a white sheet or something if you’re inclined.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      The clothing rack is a good idea! You can usually adjust the height.
      If you really wanted to get fancy, you could buy one of those roll-up or x-banner stands with a graphic. They’re not too expensive for the smaller ones (about $50). I’ve seen some news and weather people doing that with the station logo, or even just a plain green. Or maybe even one of those folding screen/room things.

      1. Lexi*

        I have a couple of folding paper screen that I use. You can find them by searching for room divider or shoji screens. They are wonderful because they are really light so you can easily move them around and they aren’t terribly expensive. And as a bonus if you ever get a kitten, they are great for blocking things off – when the kitten tries to climb, they are light enough that they start to tip and scare the kitten off, and if the kitten knocks it over, its light enough to not hurt them.

  11. Unique User Name*

    One of the piece of advice that I would add: stabilize your laptop/phone/whatever. We interviewed someone recently who was using a phone and it kept jostling around it was very distracting.

  12. Kiki*

    While I do think it’s important to present yourself well and agree with all of the advice Alison gave, I also think it’s important to recognize that a company that declines to hire you because they could see your bed in the background of a Zoom call during a pandemic is probably not actually a company you’d like to work for1

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it’s less about them consciously thinking that and more about wanting to present a generally polished and professional image, to the extent you can.

  13. Bree*

    Many of the video chat platforms also allow you to set virtual background, and have some nice, tidy office-type rooms as options. Of course, because of a bit of blurring, etc. you can tell they’re not “real” but around my office they’re quite common and it’s understood we just might not want to show off our messy kitchens or our bedrooms.

    1. Smithy*

      There are green screen attachments for chairs that are relatively affordable if you regularly want to set a virtual background without the the blurring risks. I have a friend who when quarantine started found this to be an investment that was more relaxing than thinking about what in her home was on camera. In her case it wasn’t so much about interviewing, but the number of Zoom calls she was taking with audiences where that was professional issue she wanted to avoid wholesale.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        I’m doing this. It works pretty well.

        My current background is a sort of skyline view shot hanging outside my window of part of upper Manhattan. So it’s both “fake” in the sense that there is no window frame or anything – it looks like I must be on a beautiful balcony or roof. Think of a nighttime talk show with a skyline the background (though the images in back are the day time usually). But also authentic to me.

        I’d be wary of doing a virtual background with a lot of books unless they are your own books – unless you have exceptional lighting it’s hard for the virtualness of the background to not be apparent to a discerning eye, even with a green screen. And books are such a cliche at the moment. Books can come across as trying too hard unless they’re clearly your own.

    2. Artemesia*

      And zoom at least allows you to upload your own photo — I do most of my zooming from the garden of Chateau Maintenon but if it were professional, I’d go for my book shelf or perhaps a more abstract scene. It can be ‘yours’ while being professional even if you don’t have a way to actually position yourself in your home in front of the bookcase (and vet your books — we have a number we would not probably choose for a job interview).

      1. Al*

        Dear AAM,

        Is my Zoom background of Mahna Mahna and the Snowths appropriate for a job interview?

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          Hmmm, what about a video virtual background I made of myself walking in and out of the scene. So I be on a call and then another me walks up behind me and waves.

          Good for a laugh with colleagues at least. Though my boss asked me to switch to that in a call with external partners at once. True story.

  14. MAUREEN MCGETTIGAN*

    I’ve done about six Zoom interviews in the past few weeks to hire someone new for my team. The one I interviewed last week looked professional initially, but then she kept squirming in her chair and put her leg up making it clear she was wearing neon pajama pants. That and the constant nail biting made it clear to me that she was not a professional.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Eek! Not good. Though I must say video interviews are pretty uncomfortable in general. I keep getting the eyelines wrong.

  15. irritable vowel*

    The pants advice is so important! I was on a virtual happy hour with a professional group I belong to a couple of weeks ago and someone asked if they could have a closer look at something they could see in the display cabinet behind me. I was so thankful I had actual pants on, rather than pajama pants with penguins on them, so I could stand up and get the thing out of the cabinet! You truly never know when you’re going to have to stand up on camera.

    1. Artemesia*

      Or select pajama pants that pass muster — a black lightweight pair might work on screen for a brief view.

    2. MechanicalPencil*

      I definitely have my work lounge wear and my sleeping wear for this exact reason. And I also always feel like I have to work in some sort of lightweight bra. Precautionary measure.

  16. Chris*

    I’ll second the “trial run” advice. I did a video interview last week. Since they were using a piece of software I hadn’t used before, I asked the admin who set up the meeting to to a test meeting ahead of time. Turns out, in the test meeting my audio didn’t work. The admin contacted their IT staff and got it straightened out; he also put a conference call number on the meeting invite just in case.

    The interview itself went off without any technical hitches (and went pretty well overall). I sent the admin who helped me out copious thanks afterwards.

    1. Artemesia*

      soooo smart. I remember years ago insisting we do a tech run through the night before I was doing a morning presentation involving media — everything went wrong and it took us literally two hours to get it working. So glad that wasn’t happening the morning of with 100 people fidgiting. No matter whose fault it is, it is your fault if you are the presenter. It is hard to overcome this sort of issue.

  17. Mimosa Jones*

    My tip for looking at the camera is to place a small picture of someone right at camera level. My camera is at the top of my laptop so when I have a video chat I tape a small school picture of my daughter so her head is just above the camera.

  18. X*

    So much of this letter, Alison’s response, and the comments here reek of the same sort of classism and outdated professional nonsense that previous letters and conversations like “Do I really need to send a thank you letter?” and “Is natural hair professional?” tend to bring up. Remember the boss who automatically threw out any candidates who didn’t send a Thank You note? And Alison’s response was basically, this is a ridiculous position, some people don’t even know that that may be a thing so you shouldn’t base your whole decision on one trivial task? I kinda feel the same about people who’s roots may have grown out, or need a haircut but can’t get one for whatever reason, or don’t have anywhere in their apartment they can take a Zoom call that doesn’t show their bed in the background. By all means, don’t wear rainbow printed fleece pants to your interview, but even in previously normal times you might be interviewing someone who has been unemployed for 9 months and hasn’t had the money to get their roots done in that time, or someone who never had to wear anything but jeans or Khakis and a polo to work before and doesn’t know, or have the means, to go get a suit before they start interviewing.

    Do your hair as best you can, even if that means just pull it back in a ponytail or clips (there are ways to pull back even previous pixie cuts that are growing out when it’s not long enough to put in a pony), wear presentable clothing, even if it’s black pajamas or leggings and not strictly business attire, make sure there aren’t any sex toys showing in your background and you should be good to go. I would hope that anyone conducting interviews, whether now or in the before times, would be paying more attention to the content of my answers than to whether my hair was freshly cut and dyed or the material my pants are made out of.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s nothing in my response that says roots are problematic now or in normal times (and in fact I’ve said before here that roots are fine in the best of times).

      But most people want to look polished and put together at interviews and that’s what this question is about.

    2. revueller*

      I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I see how your advice is much different from Alison’s or other commenters’. I 100% agree that things like roots shouldn’t matter in any interview context, but across the comments in this post, I see basic things like “try a ponytail,” “brush your hair a bit,” “have a safe background,” and “try to prevent technical issues as best you can.” A few people even mention black leggings as well.

  19. knitcrazybooknut*

    Regarding looking at the camera instead of the interviewer’s face on the screen, I’m one of those people who have a built in camera instead of a separate, mobile one. I picked up this advice somewhere: Tape a picture of a friend next to the camera, and talk to them during the interview. I didn’t have a picture handy, so I just drew a little stick figure waving and saying, “Hi!” Worked like a charm, and made me smile every time.

    1. hayling*

      Oh I love this idea! When I had to do a video interview (pre-COVID actually, but it was before an on-site) I put an arrow-shaped sticky note next to the camera and wrote LOOK HERE!

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I like that idea a lot (the stick figure). I’m always terrified in interviews and worry that I look it. A friendly little figure would help me relax.

      1. Blueberry*

        I wish I could send you a cheerful little drawing for these purposes. But/and absolutely draw an encouraging stick figure friend.

    3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      You could also make the window of Zoom or whatever you’re using very small and move it right close to where the camera is.

  20. Combinatorialist*

    One tip for getting the hang of looking at the camera — stick a pair of googly eyes on either side of your webcam. It helps your brain with its habit of looking them in the eye. Looking your interviewers in the eyes of their screen will have you looking down, so putting a visual reminder of their “eyes” at your webcam is helpful

  21. Eukomos*

    I’ve been wondering about formality level of clothing. I feel like it looks weird for me to be wearing a blazer in the middle of my living room, so I’ve been going for polished cardigans or a blouse without anything over it, even for interviews with organizations where I would have worn the blazer to come interview with them at their office. Is that crazy? Should I just wear the blazer? If it makes a difference, I live in a very casual city, so blazers are definitely an “interviewing at a bank or presenting at a conference” item and not worn in any other situation.

    1. AuroraLight37*

      I think if you would normally wear the blazer to a physical interview, I would pick it or the cardigan rather than just a blouse. The second layer makes things look a little more polished.

  22. Canadian Yankee*

    Personally, I like to see myself in one of the boxes on the screen during a meeting – it helps me police my own posture, keep myself centered on the screen, remember not to pick my nose, etc.

    We are actually hiring during lockdown, so I’ve been part of interview panels these past few weeks. One candidate called in with an absolutely *terrible* internet connection – there was a good four or five second delay between when we spoke and when she heard us. Even turning off video didn’t help. It was an excruciating experience and it was really, really hard to judge her objectively or to have a useful back-and-forth discussion. Don’t do this if you can help it!

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