You probably remember the hilarity and chaos that ensued when a professor being interviewed live by the BBC was interrupted by his kids.
While that situation was extreme, it’s a good reminder that the best-laid plans for video conversations can sometimes go hilariously awry. Here are five tips to help you ace your video interview – and avoid becoming a meme in the process.
Many employers conduct initial or second interviews by video both to save time and expense and gather more information than they can through a phone interview alone. Some also conduct only video interviews for positions that are remote or when circumstances require.
The most important thing for a remote interview is to test the technology and make sure everything is working well in the space where you intended to do the interview. Consider it from the employer’s perspective: If a candidate is not able to make Skype for Business, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Free Conference Call, etc. work, it immediately sends a signal that they are not prepared, are high maintenance, and are not resourceful.
That’s why it’s important to test the technology in the actual space where you will be interviewed to be sure you know how to use it and that it works with that space’s internet connection and background noise. I was recently in Starbucks sitting next to someone doing an interview on Skype. The background noise was so loud that the interviewer asked the candidate to go outside. There’s no way that doing an interview on the sidewalk outside Starbucks in downtown Chicago could have made the best first impression, and if she had tested it out with a friend earlier in the day, she would have known that and could have found a quieter space. Also keep in mind that you might be on speakerphone, so background noise that’s not noticeable if the interview is using a headset will sound much louder if she or he has you on speaker.
Bonus: Be careful about when you are testing the technology. If you are being interviewed on Free Conference Call, for example, it’s entirely possible to enter someone else’s interview if you log on early. Better to clarify with the interviewer when they will be using the system or to test it outside business hours. That will also give you more time to correct any issues you encounter.
Second, be sure to pay attention to how you look on camera. You want a background that is not a plain white wall, but is also not cluttered with trinkets. (Be careful about glare off of framed items hanging behind you and adjust as necessary.) You probably also want to elevate your computer so the camera is at a good angle, and move the image of the interviewer up as close as possible to the top of your screen so when you’re looking at him or her, you’re looking into the camera on your laptop rather than looking down. Depending on the lighting in the room, you may want to consider using additional lighting, whether a selfie ring light sold for phones, or just moving in an additional lamp.
Third, have a back up plan. I was part of a committee interviewing a candidate a few years ago, and the candidate had the perfect set up — nice background, laptop elevated so it was at a good angle, etc. Then he started having problems with his internet, and decided to move to another part of his house where he said the signal would be better. Rather than saying he would log back on in 5 minutes, he proceeded to carry his laptop through his house. We had a view straight up his nose as he walked through his house, which was not a flattering look. It got worse when he stopped and resumed the interview standing underneath a ceiling fan so it looked as though he was wearing a giant propeller on his head. Even worse, it turned out he had an incredibly messy house. He was flustered, we were embarrassed for him, and it did not make a good first impression.
Fourth, while there are many considerations that make a video interview different than an-person interview (camera angle, etc.), don’t think you can “get away” with anything you can’t in an in-person interview. For example, many candidates put their resume on the keyboard or next to their computer, which means that the interviewer can hear and sometimes see the candidate flipping through pages. Others have their resume open on the screen, but that can backfire if you are switching back and forth between seeing the interviewer and seeing your documents. Basically, you should just act as though it’s an in-person interview. You wouldn’t come in to an in-person interview expecting to refer to notes or to type notes during the interview, so you should do the same for a remote interview.
Fifth, be sure to maintain the appropriate level of formality. Even though you might be in your living room, prepare for it as you would any other interview. Sometimes, for example, I’ve seen candidates get too relaxed and talk too long. Especially with initial interviews, it’s very likely that the interviewer has another candidate right after you and needs to keep to a schedule. And just as you would for an in-person interview, wear something appropriate for an interview both on top and on the bottom, because you never know when you might have to stand up to get something, or you could forget to turn off the camera when you stand up at the end of the interview. All your preparation and professionalism in the interview will go right out the window if the interviewer sees that you were wearing pajama pants with your suit jacket.
Finally, keep in mind the limitations of the video interview – you won’t have the opportunity to make small talk walking to and from the interview room, or to get as much of a feel for the place as you do in an in-person interview. But like a phone interview, you can still get an initial sense of a potential employer during a video interview. And, if all goes well, you’ll be invited for an in-person interview where you can learn more about the employer and whether they and the position are a good fit for you.
Amy M. Gardner is a certified professional coach with Apochromatik specializing in career and career transition coaching. Amy is a former Big Law associate, partner at a mid-size law firm, and dean of students at a top 5 law school. Today she works with lawyers and other high-achieving professionals to build the career and life they want. Contact Amy directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.