“Congratulations; you got the job interview! Meet me next Tuesday in your living room.”
Just a few years ago, hearing this would have meant you’d taken some very wrong turns in life. Now, it’s par for the course, because job interviews by video chat are on the rise. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that 10% of companies included video chats as part of their interview processes last year; this year, that figure jumped to 42% for both management and entry-level jobs. We decided to talk to people who have gone through the process to get their insights and advice – and their horror stories. (Hint: Don’t use video chat to interview for a new job while you’re at work.)
Video interviews can take many forms. Some employers for recorded sessions in which a computer screen prompts the interviewee through a series of predetermined questions. That let’s the timing of the interview stay somewhat flexible, and in some cases candidates can review and rerecord their own answers – oh, for the ability to do that during in-person interviews!
Still, “traditional” two-way chatting – the kind you do with your grandma in Florida – is the most common form of video interviewing. Though many people are getting accustomed to this relatively new technology, that doesn’t mean it comes without hiccups.
Ian Aronovich, the CEO and president of a website that provides information about government auctions, recently conducted a Skype interview of a potential intern. The candidate opted to conduct his side of the interview in public, where noise overwhelmed both sides of the conversation. Though Aronovich says he was well qualified, he lost out on the internship.
There are worse locations that public parks to conduct your half of the interview, however. James Sinclair, who works as a consultant for restaurants and hotels all over the country, often uses Skype to interview people on behalf of his clients. He recently set up an interview with a potential hotel general manger that was going well – until it wasn’t. “The guy was fantastic, everything perfect, it was a done deal,” Sinclair said, “until someone came in the background and started listening, then asked him what he was doing. When he said ‘exploring an opportunity,’ we realized it was his boss.”
Some Skype-ers say the slight lag in connection can make for a stilted or awkward conversation. But others can turn that to their advantage. Zele Avradopoulos, a professional organizer, once interviewed for an administrative job via Skype. “The line wasn’t very good,” she said, “so I could easily say, ‘Could you repeat that? I lost some of the end of your question,’ giving me more time to think through my answer.”
Despite the potential hiccups, most people who interview using video chatting say the experience is wholly positive as long as you know some basic rules. Here are some of their best tips:
- Situate yourself against a plain background. “You don’t want a prospective employer seeing your dirty pile of laundry sitting behind you,” advises Jill Veved, PR rep for Vivalta, a recruiting firm for finance and accounting professionals. “A blank wall is best, but if this isn’t possible, make sure you have minimal distractions behind you.”
- Make sure it’s quiet. A crying baby or barking dog wouldn’t interrupt an interview conducted at your future (knock on wood) office. Take precautions to make sure they don’t intrude on your home-based interview, either. You don’t want to risk having to pause your meeting “to silence the sound of your beloved beagle’s vocal siren,” says Tyson Spring, a partner in the human resources consultancy Élever Professional.
- Dress professionally. “I wore a suit and did my hair and make up just as I would if the interview had been in person,” says Heather Taylor, who snagged her job as social media manager of MyCorporation via video chat. Even though you can get away with wearing gym shorts beneath your office-worthy top, putting on a fully professional ensemble with help keep your head in the game.
- Experiment with lighting. Most computers are in areas with light from above or behind,” notes Mark Herschberg, an executive with a financial information service. “It’s great for working, but gives you bad shadows on camera.” He recommends picking an area that’s well lit but not so bright that it makes you squint.
- Set up in advance. Nothing causes more anxiety during a Skype interview than realizing that your internet connection or other technical details are out of whack. “I recommend using a wired internet connection where possible and your best hardware,” says Tyson Spring. “Don’t pull the 2002 Dell Dimensions out of the closet and hope for it to perform with 2011 Software applications.” Test your equipment and software together well in advance of the interview.
- Remember that the camera is the “eye.” This is the trickiest thing about Skype: When you feel like you’re making eye contact by looking at the other person’s face, you’re actually not looking directly into your computer’s camera, which serves as the “eye.” For a real eye-contact effect, look into the camera, even if it feels weird. As with everything else here: Practice ‘til you nail it.