Tips for Acing Video Chat Interviews

Learn how to impress a hiring manager even if they’re not in the same room

5 May 2015

A version of this article originally appeared in July 2014 on IEEE-USA InSight.

Few things in life can be more stressful than a job interview. While most are still conducted in person, many now take place over Skype or other video chat programs. Although a video chat makes it possible to meet a hiring manager without having to travel, it can also add stresses of its own. With preparation, however, a video chat interview can be an effective way to learn about a potential employer and get you in the door.

If you want to ace your next video chat interview, here’s what hiring managers and recruiters say to keep in mind.

GET PREPPED

Before the interview, give yourself enough time to get set up and become familiar with your equipment. Then find a quiet spot where you won't be interrupted. If your house is noisy, make sure those at home know you need a good hour of quiet and privacy. Also, make sure the room has good lighting and no visual distractions. You don’t want to appear as if you’re sitting in darkness or that you’re messy or unprofessional.

“I have interviewed people who have chosen their children’s bedrooms for the interviews,” says Ian Jackson, managing partner of Enshored, an outsourcing and consulting company, in Long Beach, Calif. “It does not help with a first impression if the interviewer can see Mickey Mouse behind you.” Bare walls or an office-like setting are best.

Next, think about how to set up the device you’ll be using. Whether you're calling from a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet, or another mobile device, make sure its camera is at eye level. This captures the video feed at a natural angle (as opposed to looking up your nose) and mimics the visuals seen in a real-world setting. Make sure the webcam is not too close or too far from where you’re sitting. Sit no more than an arm’s length away and center yourself on the screen, says Bob Myhal, CEO of recruiting company NextHire, in Troy, Mich.

And consider the audio, he adds. Should you use the microphone and speakers built into your device, or do you want to wear a headset? Make sure the interviewer can hear you clearly.

Another good idea is to “show up” 30 minutes early for the interview. This will give you time to try a few test calls with a family member or friend to make sure everything is working right, including the broadband connection so that the video won’t freeze.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Prepare your questions the same way you would for an in-person interview. Study the company, come up with several questions in advance, and be ready to talk about your work experience. The interviewer may not be able to see your desktop, so you can have documents nearby to refer to. And even if you’re calling from home, still dress for success. Wear a suit, if appropriate for the job you’re applying for. Make sure you look professional.

During the interview, exactly when and where to look at the camera can be a problem. Making eye contact is much easier in person than during a video chat. Looking directly at the camera is the best way to simulate eye contact. But Bill Rosenthal, CEO of Communispond, a communications-skills training company, in East Hampton, N.Y., says you shouldn’t “only stare at the camera because that will make you look weird.”

Instead, be natural and pay attention to posture and body language, while looking at the screen. “Sit forward in your chair so your energy is in your body, and keep your feet planted on the ground to enable gesturing,” says Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of The 11 Laws of Likability, a book on forming relationships through networking. Gestures are important—they help bring you to life on the screen. You might also need to take artificially longer pauses during a video chat because there is always a little more lag time than you think, adds Jackson.       

And long before you even begin, learn the ins and outs of the chat tool you’ll be using. In particular, learn how the chat and screen-sharing features work so that you’ll be more confident during the interview. “Sharing documents, pointing to Web addresses, and so forth on Web chat gives you a great opportunity to show your technical prowess,” says Denise Kalm, author of Career Savvy: Keeping and Transforming Your Job.

Technology professionals, in particular, should be prepared to show off their skills during the call. For example, be ready to share your screen so the interviewer can see projects you’ve worked on, says Todd Rhoad, managing director of BT Consulting, a career consulting firm, in Lititz, Pa.

Finally, make sure you’re not distracted by the fact that you’re on your computer. “Please don’t multitask,” says Annkur P. Agarwal, cofounder of PriceBaba, a mobile e-commerce website, in Mumbai. “If you’re looking at your emails or are on Facebook, or there are notifications on your phone, we can see when you’re distracted. Take the interview professionally, please.”

FOLLOW UP

While this might go without saying, following up is a must, even for a video chat interview, says Myhal. Send email thank-you notes and follow up with questions or documentation for anything that came up during the interview. Show that you’re interested in the job.

If the video interview goes well, you may be asked to come in for an in-person interview, which means you likely followed the tips presented here.

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