We do a lot of applicant interviews via Skype, Google+, and other video conferencing technologies. I’ve noticed a few small but important things that many otherwise excellent candidates often overlook, and it diminishes the positive impact of their interview.
Here are a few tips for video interviews:
1) Get the camera angle right
It may seem like a small thing, but so many interviewees have a laptop or tablet sitting on a desk well below eye level. This results in a weird camera angle, where they seem to be peering down their nose at the interviewer. This is the selfie generation, and we all know the first rule of selfies is that you want the camera at or above eye level for best effect.
Something about a candidate looking down just doesn’t feel right and often casts weird shadows over the eyes and face, making it harder to connect with the person. I stack some large books on my desk to raise the level of my webcam and get a better angle that appears more natural, like it would in a face to face conversation. It’s subtle, but the position of your camera can have a big impact on your overall impression.
I once heard a successful CEO who said he only hires people with “forward tilt”, which he said was his shortcut for identifying people who were truly passionate about the mission and willing to work hard. What is forward tilt? Leaning forward on the interview table, rather than sitting back in your chair. To him, after 30+ years of hiring, this simple body position during interviews became a handy shortcut. It matters.
2) Mind the background
If you have red lights or disco balls in your apartment, keep them out of the frame. Same goes for anything that’s supposed to be straight but is crooked, like broken blinds, shelves, or closet doors. This is not because your interviewer wants you to appear to live in a posh apartment or because it’s unprofessional to only own stuff from Goodwill. The only reason it matters is because it’s visually distracting, and just like with public speaking, if someone isn’t looking at you, they’re probably not listening to you.
Don’t let the background steal the show from you. Your One Direction poster may be awesome, but they don’t need the attention.
3) Mind the noise
It can be hard to find a quiet place to interview, especially if you have roommates or have to interview when you’re away from home. Wear headphones whenever possible to minimize feedback and ensure you can hear. Assuming the interview was scheduled in advanced, do whatever it takes to ask or bribe your roommates to stay out until you’re done. Refrigerators opening and glass bottles clinking in the background are a big distraction. They also signal a lack of planning on your part, and could reduce the interviewers confidence in your time management and organizational skills. If you can’t even find a quiet place to interview, how will you handle a complex workload?
And dogs. Dogs are not just part of the background. They’re very distracting. You think your Fluffy is quiet and calm, he’s probably not. Even when the interviewer doesn’t hear your pet, you do. And if you love your pet, hearing them will take your mind away from the task at hand. Make arrangements ahead of time (that don’t include shutting the dog in another room so it can bark and scratch the door the whole time). Definitely don’t get up during the interview, leave the screen, and bring the dog over to sit on your lap. (Yes, it’s happened. More than once
4) Mind your manners
Just because it’s virtual and in the comfort of your own home, doesn’t mean it’s not as serious. Don’t do things you wouldn’t do in person. This doesn’t mean you have to fake it and put on a tux and use formal language that’s not natural for you. It’s just the little things. A lot of remote interviewees appear unshaven, or like they just rolled out of bed.
Yes, it’s nice that you don’t have to drive somewhere, but don’t treat the virtual interview like it’s just part of your waking up routine. Don’t be sniffling and wiping your noise, rubbing your eyes, or otherwise appearing unprepared for the day.
5) Don’t be afraid to be really expressive
If you’ve ever been a stage actor, or talked to one, you discover a surprising fact: it’s almost impossible to be too expressive with your face and vocal inflection. Unlike acting for the camera, where close ups, multiple angles, and audio editing can bring out nuanced expressions, stage acting requires conveying emotion to a large audience often very far in the back of the theater, or at less than optimal angles.
The video interview needn’t be as over the top as a stage play, but the same basic truth applies. Audio and visual fidelity are never what face to face can give. You always sound look more flat than you really are. Push yourself to let your interest and excitement come through in your voice and face more than you would in person. Whatever level of expression you’re typically comfortable with, go a little beyond it. Don’t be fake, just make sure the interest comes through.
Isaac Morehouse is president of Praxis.