The most awkward Zoom interruptions — and how to handle them

·4 min read

Katie’s greatest nightmare was realized when her cats began attacking a bird that had somehow barged in and was flying around her house during a Zoom interview.

“All hell broke out in the background, complete with paw marks on the wall, feathers and blood,” the management trainee said. “Somehow, the bird was fine, but my nerves were shot.”

Zoom horror stories may be a dime a dozen, but you don’t have to let them throw you off your game. In fact, you might be able to use such inescapable mishaps to your advantage.

Our tried-and-tested hacks for Zoom crisis management can help set you up for success — even in the most awkward situations.

Scenario #1: There’s a bird in your house

When the unexpected happens, it’s bound to be at the least inopportune time, so you’re going to have to learn to roll with it.

Our advice? Stay calm, smile through it and tell your teammates or interviewer something along the lines of, “I’m really sorry about this. Please excuse me while I find a quiet spot.” Then mute your mic and turn off your video.

After that, usher the uninvited guest or feathered creature out of the room, or find another quiet area where you can relocate with your laptop. Take a deep, calming breath — in through the nose, out through your mouth — and rejoin the call. Think of it as the perfect way to show your unflappability.

Hopefully, whatever your fellow attendees even see on screen — your roommate practicing a TikTok dance, perhaps; or, in Katie’s case, Animal Planet live — is material light enough to provide some comic relief. Make a joke, take that deep breath and move on.

Scenario #2: You can’t hide your creepy collectibles

Your Beanie Baby collection is so expansive that there’s no place in your bedroom where they’d be out of frame. And, of course, your Zoom interview is in 10 minutes.

“Use the blurred background option if you can't find an uncluttered spot for your video,” suggests Cheryl Fergusson, vice president of talent at Heist Studios.

To do so, simply click the arrow next to the camera icon at the bottom left of your Zoom screen. There, in either Virtual Background or Background and Filters (depending on the device and operating system you use), you should see the Blur option.

A blurred background is always better than a virtual one, says Stephanie Perez, head of human resources at Fairstead: “Avoid using distracting virtual backgrounds,” she advises.

Scenario #3: Your interviewer thinks you’re a marsupial

“My Wi-Fi was too patchy to have my video on, so my still image was stuck on a random photo of a possum,” remembers Emma, a marketing executive. “I didn’t realize Zoom pulled your profile pic from Facebook if you logged in that way!”

Do yourself a favor — right now, if possible — and make sure your Zoom profile photo is something PG and preferably human.

While you can take care of the photo easily, it’s not always so simple to remedy the issue of whatever virtual background you last used during a Zoom call with your friends. If, for whatever reason, you join an interview or meeting and see that your background image is still set to that mortifying high-school throwback pic instead of something neutral and professional, you’ll need to act fast to change it.

Thankfully, the fix isn’t complicated:

  • To start, simply disable your video momentarily by clicking Stop Video.

  • Then select the small arrow to the right; you’ll see the option to Choose Virtual Background.

  • Select None — or choose something work-friendly — and restart your video.

Voila! It’s like it never happened. Alternatively, you could just fess up to what went wrong, if it feels appropriate for the situation.

Scenario #4: Your Wi-Fi is less reliable than your ex

Isn’t it Murphy’s law that says you will have technical difficulties during your most important meeting? If your Wi-Fi taps out, you have the option of dialing in via phone (ask the meeting organizer for the number if it’s not on the invite). Just make sure it’s a toll-free number so you can avoid any scary surcharges from your phone company. You could also turn on your cellular data and email the interviewer your phone number — or, better yet, find theirs in their email signature (using your cell).

If your audio or video isn’t playing ball, don’t panic. If you’re not accidentally muted, you may just need to leave the meeting and then rejoin, or restart your computer.

Everyone falls victim to patchy internet from time to time, so don’t stress. “Tech issues happen when you are in the remote world,” Perez says. ”Be patient with yourself and the process.”

Besides, if you’re connecting with a reasonable person, they’ll understand the amusing inevitability of it all — no matter how embarrassing it might seem in the moment.

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