Smile, You’re on Camera

Ashley Brady and D’Anne Duncan offer tips for video interviews.

March 12, 2018
 
 
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If you are planning to interview for a job, chances are you are going to be asked to participate in a video interview at some point in the process. In fact, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2016 Recruiting Benchmarks Survey, there was a nearly 24 percent increase in the use of video interviewing from 2015 to 2016, with 55 percent of employers reporting the use of this practice. Colleges and universities are getting in on this trend as well, so it is best to be prepared ahead of time.

As if preparing for an interview isn’t hard enough, a video interview poses additional challenges -- and opportunities -- to make the best impression possible. The key to success is to plan ahead and practice. With that, you should be more than ready for your big day.

So what’s the big deal about a video interview?

Most of us have had very little practice with video interviewing. While you have been interacting with people in person and answering questions all your life, you may not have perfected your on-camera persona in the same way. Some people are cameraphobic and appear nervous or awkward. Conversely, others may seem too comfortable and therefore unprofessional. Other challenges may arise because body language is conveyed and perceived differently on camera, or technological issues may occur.

All video interviews are not equal. There are two main types of video interviews that you may encounter during your job search -- live video interview or asynchronous video, also known as video assessment.

Live video interviews can take place with one person or a panel -- usually the hiring manager and/or the team members who work with the role for which you are interviewing. In these interviews, you are interacting with the other person(s) in real time. There are a variety of software programs and platforms that can be used for conducting a video interview, such as Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangout.

Asynchronous video or video assessment is a one-way video interview in which you will be talking to the computer screen in the absence of an actual human. This type of interview is used by human resources to prescreen candidates. You will be given a link to the platform where you will record answers to a series of questions that are revealed as you progress through the process. You will have a limited amount of time for each response; you may be allowed to rerecord your answer a set number of times. Common programs used for these interviews are SparkHire, HireVue and Interview Stream.

How to Prepare

One of us, D’Anne Duncan, recently went through this process with the other, Ashley Brady, by her side, and below we share the experience and our tips for success. For D’Anne’s current academic administration position at the University of California, San Francisco, one of the interview rounds was a panel Skype interview. Having never experienced a video interview, she had a lot to learn in order to prepare. Here are some of the key points:

1. Skype profile: One of the first things you want to do is make sure to set up a professional profile for Skype, or whichever program you will be using. This should include a recent professional photo and your name or some other identifying title that isn’t your nickname from elementary school.

2. Environment: In advance of your interview, set up a mock interview with someone who has used video interviewing to screen prospective applicants -- and ask for feedback about the background and camera angle.

  • Adjust your backdrop. Decorate if needed to make it look clean, decluttered and professional.
  • Check for sound quality. Is the room too empty? Make sure there is enough stuff in the room to absorb sound and that you aren’t picking up background noise from the room next door or the street below.
  • Consider borrowing or purchasing a good external microphone.
  • Bring in extra light as needed to look natural; make sure there aren’t any weird shadows and that you aren’t backlit.
  • Elevate your computer and camera to head height. You want to make sure your camera is set to the proper height so that you can speak and look into the camera for as long as one hour -- your comfort is critical.
  • Turn off phones, email and any notifications on your computer, and prevent any other distractions. We all remember the BBC News interview with Robert Kelly last year when his children came into his office. While he handled the situation well, surely he would have preferred not to have had that distraction!

3. Appearance: When you are participating in a live video interview, appearance is about more than just making sure your suit fits well and your shoes are clean. While making eye contact, maintaining good posture and not fidgeting are all important in any interview, these details are more difficult to achieve in a video interview, and any gaffes are far more pronounced to your interviewer.

  • Maintain eye contact throughout the interview. This is both important and tricky! We naturally want to look at the person who is speaking, both out of respect and in order to gain valuable body language cues. A tip we learned is to minimize and move the video window to be as close to the camera as possible. This allows you to fully see the reactions of the interviewer, but still appear to be looking them in the eye.
  • Adopt good posture and practice holding it for a long time. You don’t want to appear stiff or hunched.
  • Smile. One valuable piece of advice I received in preparation for my Skype interview was to smile naturally, as if you were having an everyday dialogue with a co-worker.
  • Minimize fidgeting. Some of the feedback I received from practice interviews with friends was to reduce fidgeting between my responses to questions. I instantly realized that my fidgeting was due to being nervous and uncomfortable in front of the camera. The best way to mitigate this was through practice.
  • Dress as you would for an in-person interview. Be sure to be comfortable and to keep it clean and simple. You don’t want large, distracting jewelry. You may find that wearing glasses can help mask deviations from eye contact. Confirm that the color you are wearing looks good on screen, and it is probably best to avoid patterns.
  • If you wear makeup, verify how it appears on screen by recording yourself ahead of time.

4. Performance: In addition to preparing as you would for any interview, there are a few extra items to take into consideration for a video interview.

  • Take a second before answering questions, in case there is a delay.
  • Focus on being relaxed and natural.
  • Minimize arm and hand movements that otherwise might feel quite normal in conversation, and don’t rock back and forth.
  • Keep a bottle of water within easy reach.
  • Have a pen and paper nearby, but avoid taking a lot of notes, so as to not lose eye contact with the camera.
  • If you need any reminders, jot them down on a Post-it note and stick it at camera level on the wall behind your computer so you can review it without looking away from the camera.

Prepare for Glitches

No matter how much you think you’ve got this, you are relying heavily on technology, so be prepared for problems and have a plan if anything goes wrong.

  • Test all equipment prior to the interview and be familiar with how the software works. Test your internet connection, camera, lighting, sound and video program.
  • Have a backup plan. Prior to the interview, exchange phone numbers with your interviewer. Consider having a FaceTime or other similar account available to you (and be sure you know how to use it).
  • The best way to handle a technical problem is to acknowledge the issue, apologize and move on. If there are sound issues, don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer to repeat a question. Know how to mute your microphone, if needed.

The bottom line to a successful video interview is practice, practice, practice, especially with someone who has previously participated in a video interview -- either as an interviewer or the interviewee -- and who will give you valuable critical feedback. Given the high likelihood of being asked to do a video interview, you may want to start preparing for this scenario before you actually have an interview scheduled, as much of this could be done ahead of time. Practice will help you minimize any discomfort with being in front of the camera and will instead allow you to focus on the actual interview.

Bio

Ashley Brady is director of career engagement and strategic partnerships and assistant professor of medical education and administration at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. D’Anne Duncan is director of diversity and outreach in the Graduate Division at the University of California, San Francisco. They are both members of the Graduate Career Consortium.

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