Reuters: Discussing your qualifications for a new job via a video interview sounds easy enough and even appealing. No worrying if your palms are clammy when you shake hands, since you won’t be shaking hands. You don’t have to travel farther than your own home. As long as you look presentable from the waist up, you could even skip a shower and interview in sweatpants.
But interviewing over video and doing it well can take more preparation than an in-person meeting. After all, if you are not looking at the camera properly, you may come off as distracted or unhinged. If the video set-up is poor, you appear technically incompetent. Your smudged walls or home office clutter may suggest things you do not wish to convey about your work habits.
Odds are, there is a video job interview in your future. A 2012 survey from the staffing service Office Team, which asked more than 500 human resources managers about their use of video interviews, showed that 66.7 percent were using them “very often.”
So if you are in job-interview mode, or think you will be, here are some tips to consider:
You will need a webcam and voice-over-IP software, the most popular and well-known being Skype, which is free to download. You can find Web cameras on the Internet for as low as a few bucks, but you will pay closer to the $70 to $100 range if you want a trouble-free technology experience during the interview.
“Your webcam should be (high-definition)-quality, have the capability to zoom – to compensate for camera set-up distance – and include a good built-in microphone,” says Nick Balletta, chief executive officer of Talkpoint.com, a webcasting technology company in New York City. After you check the sound quality, if you don’t feel your voice comes through loud and clear, you may want an independent microphone.
Perform a “mini-test run” to work out kinks. Ideally, practice talking to someone else with a computer’s webcam, so you can see how you look and sound.
“People tend to be more nervous on camera than in real life, because as infrequently as we may do job interviews, most of us have conversations on camera even less often,” says Christine Allen, a Syracuse, New York-based psychologist, consultant and executive coach.
Just don’t come off as too rehearsed, says Stephanie Kinkaid, the program coordinator for the career and leadership center at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. “Be yourself,” she says.
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
Skipping a shower and interviewing in sweatpants is something you can do only in theory. No self-respecting career coach actually recommends this.
“You want your brain to believe that you are functioning at your best. Dressing the part from head to toe, even though the interviewer will only see the top half of you, will help you get there,” says Karen Elizaga, a New York-based executive coach who works with everyone from first-time job seekers to Fortune 500 executives.
Natural lighting is optimal, Kinkaid says. Avoid having a light right above or behind you. She offers another helpful tip: If there is information you fear you will forget during the interview, you can keep notes on your computer screen in front of you. Think of them as cue cards.
This isn’t a Hollywood production. You want to look your best, but there is no need to hire a professional to do your makeup and hair styling, says Elizaga. Naturally, she adds, you should be well-groomed. If you wear makeup, make sure it is “polished – you can put on a bit more, to give your look a little more pop,” Elizaga says.
If you have kids or pets, herd them out of earshot during the interview. Be sure to unplug or silence your landline, and shut down your cell phone.
If the video equipment is making you nervous, Allen suggests being up-front about that: “It may help break the ice.” Obviously, your experience, work ethic and the discussion itself are the most important facets of the interview. But it is difficult to be taken seriously if you look odd to the interviewer.
Look at the camera eye, both when listening and talking. It is tempting to watch the interviewer’s image, but if you do, you will make very little perceived “eye contact” from the interviewer’s perspective. “It will seem like you’re looking at the floor,” Elizaga says.
Don’t look yourself on your computer screen, or it will appear that you are not making eye contact, says Michael Joseph, 24, an account executive at a public relations firm in Burlington, Vermont. Joseph did two video interviews two years ago, when he landed his first job after graduating from West Virginia University.
Make the image of yourself on your computer screen thumbnail-sized, and position it on your screen so that it is directly under the Web camera. “If you check it, you won’t look like you’re looking away,” Joseph says.
It seems obvious, but be sure to thank the interviewer for his or her time. And while conducting a video interview can seem daunting, once you have everything down, “think of this like a phone call,” Elizaga says. “This is no different – it’s just that now, people can see you.”
(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)