Read our COVID-19 research and news.

woman at her laptop drinking coffee
Credit: video1 / iStockphoto

Ace your video interview

As I sat trying to concentrate on my laptop, I became increasingly aware that there was something I didn’t like about Fred. While he was likely a talented and intelligent candidate, his strengths weren’t coming across the video feed. Just 10 minutes into the call and I was feeling aggravated. Sure enough, our Skype interview came to a close within 35 minutes, for a meeting that had been scheduled for 1 hour.

I’ll tell you more about that interview experience of mine later in this article. But first, did you know that Skype, FaceTime, and other video services have become an important part of the hiring process? In this month’s Tooling Up column, I’ll provide you with tips and techniques that will ensure that you have a great video interview.

Whether it’s on Skype, FaceTime, Join.Me, Snapchat, or any other app, you’re bound to have a video interview in the future.

Video interviewing tips are important because today’s Skype interview is just the tip of the iceberg for the wholesale change that will likely occur when nearly 100% of employers use these services at one point or another of the hiring process, not just the approximately 60% who use them sporadically today.

Why employers use video screening interviews

When Skype became commercially acceptable—when it moved from buggy and erratic to only partially buggy and erratic—it was seen as a pre-interview screening solution for long-distance candidates. A company could take a list of 15 or 20 prospects from all over the country or world and pare it down to the very few it would like to interview face to face.

Video has proved to be a real cost saver to employers. (Besides travel costs, lost productivity turns out to be a far greater expense. Pulling together eight busy people for an interviewing team isn’t easy or inexpensive.) So it’s natural that cost-sensitive executives have gravitated to video.

Will the hiring process ever move exclusively to video interviewing, with job offers extended sight unseen? I doubt it. Although managers benefit from these new tools, they generally agree that they need to see you on site before any job offers are mailed.

Three keys to a successful video interview: environment, appearance, and performance

Let me go back to the beginning of this column and tell you how Fred blew his chances in my screening interview. I’m sure you’ve seen those old, scary movies where the director lit the subject from below, casting shadows over the villain’s face in the most unpleasant manner. Well, that’s how Fred looked from moment one. It was an evening video chat, and he was using his desk light to supplement the light from his computer screen.

On top of that, Fred was wearing those giant headphones that you see sports broadcasters using in noisy environments—complete with the little microphone that was too far from his mouth. It was “gaming gear.” Not only did he look strange with this contraption on his head, but the microphone transmitted a very annoying tinny sound that didn’t do him justice.

But the deal killer was a distraction in Fred’s bedroom. On the bed behind him was a large house cat enjoying a toy. For some reason, perhaps my natural predilection for cat videos, his pet was of more interest to me than Fred was, with his funny headphones and Dracula lighting. At the end, I decided his answers to my questions were OK—not brilliant but acceptable. He would have stayed in the process with a more professional screening interview.

To avoid Fred’s fate, here are my tips for staging the environment for your video interview:

  • Use natural light coming at you from the front. Don’t sit directly in front of or to the side of a bright window.
  • Put a box or a pile of books under your laptop, or ensure in some way that the camera is at eye level or slightly above. You don’t want to be looking down at the webcam. In fact, practice with a friend to find the best positioning, as this element is critical. The viewer should feel you are giving her the eye contact she deserves.
  • Pay close attention to the “scene” you are painting behind you. On the one hand, unmade beds, clutter, pets, or people walking around are distractions. On the other hand, a bare room has a tinny sound, so it’s best to have plenty of furnishings. You can achieve freedom from distractions and capture top-quality audio only when you stage your scene in advance—perhaps with books, plants, and attractive walls behind you.

For your personal appearance, take it up a notch as opposed to wearing the same old T-shirt. No one ever got into trouble in a video interview by treating it seriously. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure that from your waist up, at least, you are in interview attire.
  • Set your Skype control to “Do Not Disturb” so that you are not pestered with noisy interruptions during the interview.
  • Write down a few important reminders on an index card and place it next to the webcam. You don’t want to be looking down at a notepad in your lap, but it doesn’t hurt to see comments such as “Smile,” “Be succinct,” or “Use examples” while you are looking in the direction of the camera.
  • Forget the big “cans” for your headphones. If your computer has poor speakers, try the earbuds that came with your phone. They’ll work better and be far less obnoxious than those large earmuffs.

And last, remember all the interview guidelines you’ve picked up from previous Tooling Up articles. Some of the most important reminders for a video interview include:

  • Before the interview begins, ensure that you’ve provided an alternative means of contact to your interviewer. There are so many Skype interviews that go sour due to the Internet connection or some kind of audio or visual technical issue. If the employer has your FaceTime address and a cellphone number, you can at least move on with a second option.
  • Assume that the interview will be recorded. Employers do this to protect themselves from legal troubles over discrimination lawsuits. Consider recording it yourself so that you can see how you looked and acted, in order to improve your performance the next time. There are a variety of inexpensive third-party Skype recorders.
  • In no other medium is nonverbal communication so important. All the interviewer has to go on (besides your great answers) is your voice and your facial gestures. Avoid the “deer in the headlight” stare, and try not to grimace at every tough question!
  • Focus on answering the interviewer’s questions with examples, in as succinct a manner as possible. Always show your problem-solver side, and ensure you are focusing on their needs.

Prepare now, because you will be interviewed by video!

Whether it’s on Skype, FaceTime, Join.Me, Snapchat, or any other app, you’re bound to have a video interview in the future. In addition to the common Skype interview I describe above, some interesting twists are now seen in the marketplace. There are now “one way” video interviews, where a software program asks you questions and records a video response for later viewing by screeners. Another twist is the multiperson conference call video, where you are actually being interviewed by a panel, and all of the panelists are on the call with you.

Focus on my tips above for environment, appearance, and performance, and you’ll pass with flying colors. You can also check out this useful YouTube video. Good luck!

Follow Science Careers

Search Jobs

Enter keywords, locations or job types to start searching for your new science career.

Top articles in Careers