Networking

Video Job Interviews: Lights, Camera—But No Connection

Don’t let technology get in the way of what you’re trying to do, says Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison.

Nothing screams “personal” more than you on a 20-inch video monitor, beaming in from a remote location to people you’ve never met before. I’m joking, of course—and yet, that’s increasingly the reality for interviews these days. 

More interviews are conducted by Skype or video conference, particularly in the early rounds. There are even some companies that send out questions in advance and ask candidates to video record their replies within a few days. 

Suddenly, you’re not just thinking about what you’re going to say. You’re also an IT person, scriptwriter, lighting and sound engineer, wardrobe consultant, and camera operator. Plus, you’re trying to make that all-important human connection through the inhuman means of technology.

Even in this selfie-obsessed world, people get self-conscious when they know they’re “on camera.”

Don’t let the technology get in the way of what you’re trying to do—have a conversation! Whether you’re sitting in the same room as your interviewers or you’re five thousand miles away, you need to use your “ACT”—being authentic, making a connection, and giving others a taste of who you are.

All your best efforts, though, will be sabotaged if your internet connection is down, the electricity goes out, and there are no bars on your cellphone. That’s why you need to have a Plan B, preparing for what can (and probably will) go wrong on the technology side. Prepare for that, and you’ll do a better job on the human side, too.

Don’t be camera shy. 

Even in this selfie-obsessed world, people get self-conscious when they know they’re “on camera.” If you get nervous just seeing the red “record” button, you need to practice even more. Using your smartphone, record yourself as you practice for your interview. (Or better yet, practice with our interview app.) Speak in sound bites—20 to 30 seconds for each answer.  When you play back the recording, listen for every “um” and “you know” that you say unconsciously. Also pay attention to your nonverbal communication—posture, facial expression, how much you fidget, and so forth. (This will also help with your in-person interviews.) Don’t sit there like a statue, not moving a muscle. You need to appear relaxed and confident. And don’t forget to smile. 

No flying blind—know the “instruments.” 

If your interview is being conducted at a video-conference location, you must arrive early so you can learn about the equipment you will be using. Too many glitches on your end will raise doubts about your capabilities. Have a backup phone number and an email address to reach out to someone in case the equipment fails. Also be aware that some video-conference systems have a two- or three-second delay between the visual and audio. Allow a little time in the give-and take of the interview conversation, and it will feel more like an in-person interview. 

Help! What’s my password? 

You’re all set for that interview by Skype. You’ve straightened your desk, made sure there are no distractions in the room, the lighting is just right, and you’re dressed for the camera. Then, as you log into Skype your mind goes blank—you can’t remember your password. You won’t believe how common this is. Do a practice run with a friend several times before the interview. How is the connection? What is the video quality like? Do you look best if you’re sitting on a few pillows rather than slouching on a sofa?  Also, check out the lighting in the room and how to angle the webcam to present your best self. The more you practice, the better you’ll feel about using the technology.

What’s in that bottle? 

Don’t do an interview in your bedroom with the closet door open, or in the kitchen filled with dirty dishes. Make sure the background looks professional. Control the environment for potential noisy visitors (two- and four-legged) and check around for anything that could be distracting. I remember conducting a Skype interview with someone who had what looked like a fancy liquor bottle on their desk, which turned out to be iced tea. But it was such distraction!

No surprises in the room. 

If there are others with you, make sure they know exactly what’s going on—when, where, and how—so you avoid any embarrassing “appearances.” One candidate didn’t tell her spouse that her interview was being conducted by Skype, not phone. He walked by in the background—right out of the shower and without wearing a towel.

Don’t forget your shoes—or pants.

No matter where the interview takes place, you need to dress for it. Don’t think that you can dress halfway because only your head and shoulders will be seen. This is a big point on your plan B. What if you need to retrieve something from your briefcase or turn on a light? One interviewee was all Brooks Brothers from the waist up on camera. But when the dog nudged the door open and the candidate jumped up to close it, the truth was revealed: He was only wearing boxers.

Plan for the worst, hope for the best. 

Finally, know what you’ll do if there’s a power outage in your neighborhood, or the internet goes down across your town. What do you do if the street maintenance crew starts jackhammering outside as soon your interview starts? When you prepare for problems, it’s far more likely that everything will go smoothly.

Remember, the technology is just the means—you’re the message.

A version of this article appears on Forbes.com.

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