How to ace a virtual job interview and get the job

How to ace a virtual job interview and get the job

The video job interview was not going well.

I was baffled. I had felt totally prepared when we began. My polished resume, cover letter and talking points were beside my laptop ready to go. I was even wearing my best business attire.

Despite my preparations, though, I couldn’t seem to connect with the interview team. They kept asking me to repeat myself. They even seemed to pull back as I leaned forward to emphasize key points.

As the video interview concluded with stiff “thank yous” and vague promises, I was left wondering what I could have done differently.

I understand now that virtual job interviews are not phone interviews with pictures. Neither are they live interviews without a handshake. With video interviews, technology really shapes the interview for good and bad.

Here are five steps that will have you ready to bring your best game to the video job interview on Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting or another platform:

  1. Prepare the technology for the video job interview

    We use video chat apps such as Skype on smartphones and laptops almost every day. So it is easy to take them for granted. Don’t. Instead, try to recreate a high-end video conference experience to the extent budget and time allow.

    • Point-of-contact – When you agree to a video interview, ask for a point-of-contact to ensure your computer can connect using the preferred video conferencing platform. Ask for feedback on microphone quality, too.
    • Headset – A headset may improve sound quality, but make sure you don’t look like a DJ spinning records in a nice suit.
    • Internet connection – Ensure your internet connection is robust. Even if the other side knows that pauses and jerkiness are just a connection problem, a spotty connection will make you appear hesitant and uncertain.
  2. Prepare your video camera to meet you at eye level

    During my job search, I had the opportunity to participate in an in-person interview in the same room where I had earlier been interviewed over video. After sitting down at the conference room table, I glanced behind me and noticed a large monitor on the wall.

    Looking up at the screen from the perspective of an interviewer, I realized with some shock how I must have appeared during my earlier video interview. It looked like my face would have covered more than three feet of video screen! This problem had not occurred to me during the video interview.

    It is an easy mistake to make. Most companies have access to commercial video conferencing systems designed to facilitate group meetings. With professional equipment, your interviewers will appear to be sitting around a conference room table about five to ten feet away from you.

    On the other hand, if you are using a laptop at tabletop level, you will appear to loom over the team with a bulging jaw, a receding forehead and hands prepared to engulf them. Impressions of Big Brother will come to mind.

    • Webcam – If you can afford it, use an external camera placed at eye level.
    • Without a webcam – Alternatively, place the laptop on a laptop stand or on a cardboard box so that the computer’s built-in camera is parallel to your eye level. If you normally work at a standing desk, you may want to conduct the interview standing. Otherwise, sitting down is fine.
    • Distance from camera – There is a still the problem of your face dominating the interview team’s screen, however. To overcome this problem, get as far from the camera as possible while still being able to be seen and heard clearly. If you are using a computer’s built-in camera, start the conference with the camera turned off. Once you establish a connection, move the computer a long arm’s length (about two-to-three feet) from your face and turn the video back on. You won’t be able to type, but you shouldn’t need to type during an interview. This small increase in distance will help minimize the Big Brother effect. Of course, you need to test your audio quality at this distance before the interview.
  3. Prepare your eyes to meet the camera’s eye

    Even with your computer’s video camera at eye level, maintaining eye contact is a challenge during virtual job interviews. This is because your interviewers will be watching you through your camera positioned above their faces on your screen. Consequently, if you look at them on the screen (your normal instinct in making eye contact), your interviewers will see you staring at the floor.

    Also, if your video conferencing program inserts a “picture-in-picture” image, glancing at the image to check your appearance will cause your eyes to dart across the bottom of the screen as if you were watching mice.

    To eliminate eye contact problems, cover the screen with a piece of paper. You can slide the paper below the computer’s eye once the interview starts. Your interviewers won’t see it. To keep things personal, draw a happy face on the paper with eyes near the camera eye. It seems crazy, but small adjustments can make a difference. Or, if you have a more practical bent, put key talking points on the paper to remind yourself of your theme and messages.

    At a minimum, if you don’t want to cover your entire screen, drag the video app near the computer’s camera eye and cover the picture-in-picture image.

  4. Prepare the location for the virtual job interview

    Prepare your surroundings to enhance the video interview.

    • Furnishings – In terms of furnishings, less is more. A plain wall is best. The small scope of a typical computer video camera will cause normal furnishings to appear distorted. Also, bright overhead lights will cast ugly shadows and shine in your interviewers’ eyes.
    • Lighting – A sunny window will cause the video conferencing program to automatically darken everything else in the room, leaving you sitting in a virtual cave on screen. Floor lamps with warm light placed behind the computer monitor are best. Test the lighting with your contact at the company.
    • Unwanted guests & noises – Outside the room, shield your interview from unexpected guests. Some interviewers may have a sense of humor about unplanned intruders, but don’t count on it. Be especially careful with pets. Remember barking dogs and crying children can be a distraction even if they don’t join you on screen.
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    Enhance your personal presence

    Making an extra effort to let your personality shine through is critical because video job interviews rob participants of the human connection of a handshake and reduce them to flat images. At a subconscious level, this is unsettling because it happens just as the parties really want to get a sense of each other.

    To compensate, use names frequently, keep answers short and punchy, pause often, and smile broadly. Use personal stories to illustrate key accomplishments and let your personality shine through the electronic wall.

    Although much of virtual job interview preparation involves avoiding problems, video interviewing also provides unique opportunities to enhance your presence because you are not “on stage” until you make the connection. For example, just moments before the interview, you can take five minutes to meditate.

    Similarly, because all the interview team will see is what is before your camera, you can position images that inspire you behind the computer screen – a picture of a favorite nature scene or urban landscape, a picture of a loved one smiling or a poster with your key talking points. You can even wear comfortable shoes if that will help you feel more focused and confident.

We ignore the limits of video technology at our peril, but virtual job interviews also multiply our opportunities to make a connection with more potential employers. Take care and run with it.


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