2020 Update: We still stand by these video interview tips, but you may want to check out our latest roundup of the best 7 tips for video conference calls.
In today’s world, video interviews are happening more and more often — at least 60 percent of employers use them for online job interviews! — and we haven’t talked about how to put your best self forward during a Skype interview in far too long. We asked Rebecca Berfanger, a journalist, adjunct journalism professor, and recent law school grad practicing law in Indiana, to take a look at the best tips and tricks for online job interviews. Welcome to Corporette®, Rebecca! – Kat
By now we’ve all seen the hilarious BBC interview where not one, but two children and their mom make an unscheduled appearance in the background, also giving away that the subject is not only in his home, but likely in a bedroom and not in a fancy office. To the dad/expert’s credit, he managed to keep a straight face and continue as if there wasn’t chaos unfolding behind him. After the video went viral, he went on to do interviews with his family and, once again, his children stole the show.
While that’s an extreme example of what can happen during a live broadcast, not to mention countless YouTube videos of cats walking across news desks and strangers, even former presidents, photo bombing on-camera interviews, there are a few lessons to be learned for anyone preparing for an online job interview.
1. Find a quiet space, preferably with a door that can be closed, latched, and ideally locked. To ensure quiet, tell anyone else in your home (roommates, spouses, parents, children, pets, etc.) that they are not to interrupt you for at least xx minutes or put a sign on the door. You might also ask them to turn off their ringers and, if they happen to get any phone calls while you are all in the same apartment, house, condo, etc., that they kindly take their calls outside.
2. Make sure you have a neutral background behind you. Try to avoid busy prints or anything that will take the attention away from you or might give away something about you that you might not want a potential employer to see just yet. For instance, you might not want them to know you have a framed Neil Diamond poster (not judging). The best option is a plain white wall or a window with a white or neutral colored curtain.
3. Practice—film yourself with a webcam, and review the footage. Then practice and review again. If possible, have a friend do a practice interview with you via Skype or other online meeting platform to figure out the best angle to set up the computer—do you need to put a couple books under it; figure out if you are looking at the camera and giving good eye contact like you would in person, or if you are looking around to the point that it is distracting; catch yourself if you fidget with your hands, which can be good or bad, but can also be distracting; do you find yourself looking at other objects in the room, such as your phone or a spot on the wall you forgot to clean; and any other quirks you probably never knew you had.
Plus, if you find that you look washed out with the background, you can also experiment with lighting, camera angles, interview attire and interview makeup. (We’ve talked before about how you may want to consider HD makeup if you have a lot of video interviews! (affiliate link)) Consider practicing during the same time of day as your interview to see what the lighting will be like on camera. For instance, are there blinds that will allow sun into the room? Do you want to have natural light if it’s during the day or artificial light because it is easier to control? Also consider that online interviews may be filmed to be reviewed or shared with those who aren’t at the initial interview, all the more reason to have as much control as possible over your surroundings within that camera frame.
4. If you needed to download new software for the interview, do a couple test runs to make sure it will open. For some, you might not be able to do anything until a meeting has started. However, a helpful HR person might be willing to do a test run with you a day or two ahead, just to make sure it is working. It never hurts to ask and will show that you want to be prepared. If it’s a software you’ve used before, make sure you have the latest version installed and do a test run of the latest version. Remember when you had to do this for exams? It was always a good idea to install a day or two ahead, test it, and then call IT if needed. It’s the same concept.
5. Wear a suit and do your hair, makeup, and accessories similar to how you would if you were meeting in person. If possible, try this in your practice video as well. For instance, if you normally wear a scarf or statement jewelry, you might want to see whether you need to tone up or down your appearance for the camera. It’s also just a good idea to get into your interview “uniform” because it will put you into the right mindset for it. Plus, if you happen to need to stand up to get something, it will show you are wearing a suit or interview-appropriate attire and not a blazer and miscellaneous bottoms. A friend once interviewed in a tutu, but he knew the interview was just a formality at that point. Unless you are interviewing for a job at a tutu store or a comedy club, this is not recommended.
6. Prepare the space around you. Have within reach what you would normally bring to an in-person interview. A notepad, pen, questions for the interviewer(s), and resume should be sufficient. This way you can take notes and easily follow up if you decide to send a thank you note or if there is anything the interviewer(s) ask you to send to them after the interview. Don’t have a phone or other electronic devices that might steal your attention away from the interview. If you do have a phone in the room, make sure it is on silent or off. You might want to have it handy in case the video feed cuts off and you need to call or the interviewer needs to call you to continue, but do not look at it during the video chat. You might also want to have a glass or bottle of water just out of sight in case you need a quick sip, but not anywhere you might spill it.
7. Just about all of the other rules of interviewing apply to an online job interview: Don’t chew gum or suck on candy or throat drops; be prepared with answers to some of the most common interview questions, such as where do you see yourself in five years, share an experience where you overcame adversity, why are you looking to move from public sector to private practice, etc.; research the potential employer ahead of time on their website and social media; have a couple questions prepared for the interviewer; use the bathroom ahead of time; stay focused and take good notes; try not to relax but don’t ramble too much in your answers – another good reason to practice; follow up with a thank you card – or don’t, depending on what advice you choose to follow.
8. Embrace the chaos. Even if you prepare ahead of time, have all of your questions ready, and you are ready for your close-up, there is always a chance something unexpected could happen. Maybe you don’t have a room with a door you can close and your beloved pet decides it’s a good time to “help.” Maybe someone will ring the doorbell. Maybe you’ll forget to turn off the ringer on your phone and your best friend has breaking news. Maybe your current boss will send you an email that pops up on screen with a notification “ding.” Maybe your two small children and wife will make an appearance. If anything unexpected does happen, try to think of the man in the BBC interview and just keep going. Apologize quickly, don’t freak out about it, and if needed, ask for a second to compose yourself. But most importantly, move on.
What other advice would you have based on online interviews you’ve done? Does it matter if the interview is with a panel or an individual? Do you have any relaxation techniques for before and during a video chat that have helped? Any funny stories of interruptions – and did you still get the job? If you’ve conducted the interview, any advice to candidates?
Pictured: Deposit Photos / © dimmushka.