How to Look More Professional on Your Zoom Calls

How to Look Better on Everything from Zoom Happy Hours to Video Interviews

Let’s face it. Zoom calls are now a part of our everyday lives. Even as we start getting back to a more normal way of living, video calls are sure to stick around. For one, they’re an easy way to stay connected with our friends and family who live hundreds of miles away. And with so many jobs shifting to either a fully remote or a more flexible office policy, Zoom meetings aren’t likely to go away anytime soon. 

Whether you’re preparing for a Zoom interview or just want to look good on your next virtual happy hour, here are some tips to look better on your Zoom calls. 

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Computer on desk with "How to look better on Zoom calls"

Consider the Context of your Video Call

Before deciding on your outfit and fixing up your background, it’s important to consider the context of your Zoom call. Are you preparing for a presentation to the executive team, or are you planning a happy hour with friends? While the general rules to look good will apply to any circumstance, you can be more relaxed during a happy hour or virtual party than you can during a meeting or interview.

For a themed happy hour, a fun background might make sense, but keep it professional for a work setting. Make sure your children weren’t playing around with their friends on your account in the morning, or you might end up having to assure your boss (or a judge!) that you’re not a cat. Filters can be a fun way to add some humor and levity to your calls, but there’s a time and a place for them. Make sure you consider who you’ll be talking to and the purpose of the call when deciding on everything from your background, to your outfit, and even the platform you use for the call.

Zoom Background 

Your background can have an outsized impact on how professional you appear to others on a Zoom call. Although we’ve all grown accustomed to our coworkers’ cats and kids walking around in the background of our calls, you should still make an effort to keep the area behind you as neat and clean as possible. Make sure there are no dirty clothes or candy wrappers in your frame, and you’ll be halfway there.

Many people have taken to using fancy virtual backgrounds for their Zoom calls, but I prefer to avoid them in most situations. If you live in a small space and have to share the room with your kids or roommates, a virtual background may be your best choice to protect their privacy and prevent distractions. Virtual backgrounds can also work great for themed happy hours when you’re trying to set the scene with a beach for a luau or a stadium for a game day party. 

But I’m from New Jersey. I’m a very animated speaker, and I talk with my hands a lot. Virtual backgrounds cause my hands to disappear when I’m waving them around, and can make you appear two-dimensional, even in an ideal situation. Virtual backgrounds may also appear spotty if the room behind you is too busy, or even if your skin color blends in with the wall behind you. If you don’t want to risk appearing as a floating head on your next video interview, it may be safe to stick with your actual background instead of a virtual one.

If your house is messy or you don’t have many quiet spots to take a call, a plain wall can work well. Sure, you wouldn’t get a very high score from the Room Raters Twitter account, but the lack of distraction will be suitable for most situations.

To take your background up a notch, consider showing some depth. Bookshelves make for a great background, as they add both interest and sophistication. Add some plants and a pop of color, and you’ll have the perfect setup for any situation. Make sure everything on your shelf is work-appropriate, neaten up your knick knacks, and you’ll be all set. Organized desks, fireplaces, and gallery walls can also make interesting, fun backgrounds for your Zoom calls.

A white home office with a large window and a bookshelf build into the wall

Perfect Your Lighting For Your Video Call

Your lighting can have a huge impact on how professional you appear on a video call. The number one rule is to make sure your lighting source is in front of you (or at least above you,) and not behind you. Please don’t take any Zoom calls with your back to a window! When you sit right in front of a window or a lamp, you’ll look washed out and will be hard to see. Conversely, when your lighting source is in front of you, your features will be softened and you’ll look your best.

Natural lighting is always great, but not everyone will be lucky enough to set up their computer in front of a bright window for their video calls. And what do you do during the winter when your daylight hours are limited? If you can, set up a bright (but not harsh!) light right behind your computer, facing you. 

To really ensure you look your best for your calls, consider purchasing a ring light for your computer. There are many inexpensive options available, and they can completely change your look. If you’re like me and can count the amount of times you’ve worn makeup in the last year on one hand, trust me, a ring light will make all the difference. Any model can tell you that taking a great picture is all about the lighting, and the same is true of a video call. With proper lighting, you’ll look more awake and attentive—and thus more professional. 

Fix Your Camera Angle

Don’t skip this step! It may seem simple, but setting your camera to the proper height can make a big difference in how you appear to others. Your camera should be right at eye level, facing you head-on. If you need to, get a riser for your laptop or place it on a stack of books to make sure it’s the right height. An adjustable standing desk can also work really well for setting your laptop camera at the perfect height. (And as a bonus it can help you feel better while working from home!)

If you have a desktop without a built-in camera, or if your laptop has the camera on the bottom of the screen near the keyboard, you may need to purchase a separate webcam to ensure the camera’s at the proper angle. If you need to get a webcam, consider one with a built-in ring light for optimal performance. 

Pick Out the Perfect Outfit

Zoom calls are not the time to test out your new Zebra-print top. Bold prints can be disorienting for others on video calls, as they can blur when you move around. Unless you’re dressing for a specific happy hour theme, stick to solid colors for video calls. Make sure your shirt doesn’t blend in with your background, and limit embellishments. 

I’m not going to be the person who tells you to wear a full suit for your Zoom interview. After all, I went through an entire interview process wearing shorts and running tights with dress tops. But what I will caution is to make sure your camera only shows your tops, and to be 100% confident you won’t have to get up during the call and accidentally show off your mismatched bottoms. 

If you’re the type of person who feels more confident when getting dressed up, then by all means, wear a fancy dress or suit. Just check ahead of time to see how your outfit will appear on the call. Even if you look great in a full-length mirror, you may find your shirt rides up when you’re sitting down, making it look awkward.

A woman wearing a yellow sweater sits in front of a computer

Check Your Video Call Settings

Configure the settings on your video call platform to make sure you look your best. If your internet speed can handle it, make sure your settings are set to HD. This is particularly important if you plan on recording the call, as the quality will be much higher than standard definition video.

Zoom also has a helpful setting to touch up your appearance. This will soften your features and hide imperfections, which is particularly nice if your lighting situation isn’t ideal. While you may be tempted to turn this feature to its maximum, it can look a little unnatural at 100%, almost making your face look like it’s glowing. If you’re going for a natural look, it may be better to keep the slider at a lower setting rather than going all out.

Also make sure that you have the correct camera and microphone selected if you’re using external devices. You don’t want to set everything up to look your best, only for the keyboard-level camera to turn on and show you at an awkward angle. And I’ll mention it again since it’s so important—make sure any cutesy filters are turned off before logging into an important meeting or interview!

A computer sits on a desk with a grey zig-zag designed blanked

Other Video Call Platforms

Be aware that you’ll look a little different on each video platform. Even if you’re using the same camera, some platforms will show a wider view of you background than others, or will make you appear closer to the camera. Make sure to test out each platform before you use it to ensure you look your best on each one. You don’t want to clean up an area just big enough that the mess isn’t visible on your Microsoft Teams call, just to hop on Zoom and have your boss see a pile of clothes in the corner! 

Zoom Fatigue and Other Considerations

After a year of nonstop Zoom calls, everyone’s a bit fed up with the medium. Zoom fatigue is a real thing, and you may be struggling with putting your best self forward on video conferences. If you can get away with it, keep your camera off for some calls. (This may work best on company-wide calls when you’re not expected to speak, or on webinars where you’re just listening in.) 

Remember that while video calls can help us gauge our coworkers’ and friends’ emotions and perspective, they’re not the same thing as in-person conversations. We’re not used to talking to people in such close proximity, with nothing to look at other than the other person’s face. In this context, your emotions may be easier to read, and you may tire more easily. Be extra sensitive to how the other person may interpret your body language, as they may notice things they wouldn’t if you were, for example, interviewing in person.

Most importantly, go easy on yourself! Video calls are tough for everyone. They can be a great way to help you stay connected with your family, friends, and colleagues when you can’t be together in person, but they can also be really tiring. Recognize that everyone has been in a situation where their toddler has burst into the room or their WiFi suddenly dropped, and know that a Zoom faux pas is not the end of the world. But by preparing and setting up as much as you can ahead of time, you’ll limit these challenges, and look better and more professional than you imagined the next time you have an important video call.

Find more work from home tips here.

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