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Best Video Interview Tips

The pandemic has greatly accelerated what was already a growing trend with job interviews: the video interview. This brings with it several pros and cons.

On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about making a trial run to the interview location. Even more, you don’t have the hassles of travel if the interview is out of state. This is particularly a plus in a pandemic when you should avoid air travel anyway.

On the minus side, you have the technology to deal with, which can be twitchy at best. Also, body language cues are greatly reduced on both ends. This makes it harder for you and the interviewers to see those cues. Just one more area of stress to contend with.

Phone interviews are also gaining in popularity due to the pandemic. While the video interview has the large advantage of being able to see your interviewers, you also lose a couple of the advantages of a phone interview.

First, you won’t be able to refer to written notes during the interview. Since you can’t be seen on a phone interview, it’s the ideal opportunity to use your notes when needed.

Second, since you are on camera, you can’t get up and move around. The ability to do this during a phone interview allows you to burn off some nervousness and make your voice sound more resonant.

Because of the unique aspects of a video interview, your preparation and other considerations are different than with an in-person or a phone interview. The following advice applies regardless of the video call application being used (Zoom, Skype, Facetime, or any number of other video conference applications).

Preparation

By preparation, I’m not referring to the preparation you need to do before any interview, such as company research, practicing answers, etc. These are things you should do regardless of the type of interview and are covered in great detail in other posts.

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What I’m talking about here is the technology involved in your video interview. Let’s start with the camera you will be using.

Many people have laptops and will use the built-in camera and that’s okay. But just okay. Many of them don’t have the best picture quality and can present unflattering angles with the camera lens is looking up at you.

If you want to present the best picture of yourself, you should buy an external webcam. In a Consumer Reports review, even an inexpensive $40 webcam had better video quality than many high-end Windows and Apple laptops. If you’re interviewing for an IT position, I would say an external webcam is a must. You don’t want your technical chops to be questioned because you have a low-quality video camera.

Ideally, you’ll have an external webcam that can be mounted on a desktop tripod. This allows you to position the camera in the way most flattering to you, which is either at eye level or slightly above and tilted down.

For lighting, the best choice is natural sunshine coming in from a window facing you. Of course, that’s not possible if it’s dark or very cloudy outside. In that case, you can use a bright lamp against a wall that can reflect it softly. Two other alternatives are computer screen clip-on lights or an inexpensive ring light.

In addition to your camera, you should also check that your Wi-Fi signal is as strong as possible. I find it distracting when conducting a video interview and the candidate’s video or audio fades out or freezes. You may even have to move your equipment to the part of your home that has the strongest signal.

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If you’re using a laptop, make sure it’s fully charged or plugged into an outlet. One of the worst things that can happen during your video interview is for your computer to shut down.

Be sure to close all other applications on your computer so you don’t get distracted by pop-ups, particularly for pop-up videos that are auto-play. This will be embarrassing as well as distracting!

Keep your cellphone by your side (silenced, of course), along with the phone number for your interviewer. This way, you can still communicate in the event you have a technical problem.

Finally, once you’re all set up, make a video call to a friend to check on video quality, lighting, audio, and your angle to the camera.

Plan Your Background

Since your home wasn’t built to be a recording studio, you’ll have to make do with the best background you can arrange. Don’t stress too much over this. Just pick a clean, uncluttered space, preferably with a blank wall behind you, or at least one that isn’t too busy with pictures. As a Hiring Manager, I do understand that this is a home, not a business.

That said, you do have to be sensitive to what the person on the other end of the call is seeing. You don’t want to make the mistakes of one candidate in a recent video interview of mine.

This person’s computer was obviously in his bedroom because we saw the bed and nightstand in the background. Even worse, the bed was unmade. Oops – looks like someone didn’t prepare in advance.

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On top of that, the alarm clock on the nightstand went off in the middle of the interview and he had to get up and turn it off. We certainly remembered this candidate, but for the wrong reasons.

There are now a wide variety of virtual backgrounds you can download and use. However, it’s usually quite obvious that it’s an artificial background and people may wonder what you’re hiding. Use your natural background at home. It’s real and we all on the interview team understand that it may not be perfect.

Dress Properly for the Camera

Just as you would with an in-person interview, dress appropriately and conservatively.  And there are some additional things to consider due to being on camera.

First, pay attention to how the colors in your clothes will come across to the camera. Avoid all white shirts or blouses, as white tends to wash out on camera. The colors that show best are solid, dark, and conservative. Avoid wearing stripes and patterns because they can be difficult for the camera to resolve clearly and can look blurry as a result.

And folks, it goes without saying that just because only the top half of you will be visible, that doesn’t mean you can wear whatever you want on your lower half. Dress completely as if you were interviewing in person. This will help keep you in the right mindset.

Here’s what can happen if you don’t.

We were doing a video interview recently and the candidate was doing well. He was wearing a conservative dress shirt and tie and seemed comfortable and in control. That is until he went to take a sip of the glass of water by his side (nothing at all wrong with that, by the way).

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When he went to place the glass back on the table, he hit the edge and spilled the entire contents on his lap. The natural reaction to this is to jump up, which he did. This gave us a good look at the worn-out shorts he was wearing.

As you can imagine, this was difficult to recover from and we had to reschedule the interview. He ended up withdrawing his application and to this day we refer to him as Water Boy. Don’t let this happen to you!

Avoid Distractions

One thing to remember about microphones is they can be sensitive to noises such as pencil tapping or paper shuffling. These types of noises fade into the background with in-person interviews and are ignored. they will be loud and clear when heard through a microphone and can be distracting to the interviewers.

Be sure to turn off, not just silence, your cell phone. Even when silenced your cellphone may still vibrate if someone calls or texts you. It’s better to not have to worry about this at all. If there is a landline phone in the room, unplug it.

Finally, be sure to shut the door to the room in which you’re interviewing. The last thing you want is for one of your children, or your dog, to wander in wondering what you’re doing.  Check out the video below for a classic example of how this can go wrong.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mh4f9AYRCZY

Be Sensitive to the Camera

Because what the interview panel will see is your head and upper body, they will be more focused on your face and your facial expressions than would be the case with an in-person interview. This makes it even more important to keep a professional demeanor. But do remember to smile occasionally so you don’t appear too robotic.

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A tip that newscasters use is to sit on the edge of your seat. This helps you to sit up straight. Pull your shoulders back a bit to project confidence.

Lastly, be sure to look at the camera, not your computer screen. This way you’re making eye contact. If you look at your computer screen, it appears to the interviewers that you’re looking away from them.

The odds are high in today’s pandemic world that you’ll have a video interview, so follow these tips and you may put yourself just a bit ahead of the competition.

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