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Tips and Tricks to a Great Video Interview

Businesswoman in the office on videoconference with headset, Sky
Lionseye insights from AC Lion

Oh, and this interview will be done by video. You have a webcam, don’t you?

Does that statement bring visions of bad YouTube videos and Marco Rubio’s water glass flying in front of your eyes?

The use of video interviewing is growing rapidly. It’s a convenient and cost-effective choice for organizations looking to streamline the talent acquisition process. Great for HR, but how do you make it work for you?

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The video screen. Some companies are using standardized video interview services as an entry-round screening tool. In this approach, the exact same questions are asked to every candidate, whose answers are then scored and reviewed. The candidate generally has 30 seconds to review the question and a preset response time. Usually the questions are computer-delivered: in other words, you’re not talking to a live human being. I call this the video screen – think a one-sided screen test, not a conversation. Such tests are usually compiled into libraries for future reference.

The video interview. A true video interview will be just what the name implies – you and another person, having a Q&A/conversation. The only difference is that you are doing this by Skype or webcam, not face-to-face. Here you are having a real conversation, the more natural give-and-take. While the interviewer may have some preset questions (all good interviewers do), the response time will be more open. Getting real-time feedback from the interviewer in the form of verbal and visual cues can be invaluable.

The video resume. This is a way to present yourself. It augments (or in some cases, supersedes) a paper resume. You totally call the shots here – the content, the visuals, and the format. It’s like a visual elevator pitch. Think of a dating site video – this is your way to separate yourself from the pack. My company started using these way back in 2003 and 2004. For some people it really helped seal the deal.

Some pointers for making the best of your video interview:

  1. Make sure the technology works. Sounds obvious, but sometimes the little things come back to haunt you. It won’t help you if the other person is twiddling her thumbs as you fiddle with the mic, asking “Can you hear me now?” Be prepared, as there’s no tech department, no AV guy for you to call – you have to make it work.
  2. Set the scene, visually. Place the camera so it focuses just on you – ideally a tight head/shoulders/desk shot. Avoid things behind you that will distract the viewer (anything moving, traffic, bright lights, kids, and pets). And check out the lighting in advance – your face should be clearly visible and not in shadow.
  3. Choose your clothing wisely. No, a suit is not always the right answer. But for a video interview, where someone could be seeing you on a small smartphone screen or a large-screen TV, choose solid, conservative colors (except bright white). You seldom see small stripes or busy patterns, which may pixelate when you move. For good examples, check out what the news announcer is wearing – easy on the eyes.
  4. Make eye contact.That usually means looking at the camera, not down at the desk or table. And not awkwardly reaching for an off-camera water bottle. Using notes? Great preparation but don’t let it show, as it may cause you to look away from the camera. The top of your head is not the lasting image you want them to have of you.
  5. Monitor yourself. If you can, keep that picture-in-picture of yourself on the screen. Are you sitting very far forward in your chair? In a video format, that can sometimes seem too assertive. Is your body language showing interest? You’d be amazed at what you see.
  6. Monitor your interviewer. Like in an in-person interview, you get to see the other person’s non-verbal clues. Use them! A good trick to get their attention if it’s wandered – address them by name.
  7. Let’s go to the videotape! Do a dry run of the complete tech and visual setup a day or two in advance. Wait 24 hours and then watch it with open eyes. Have a friend or mentor offer feedback. Like a baseball player analyzing his swing, you’ll notice the little hitches that make a world of difference.

A video interview is a real interview. And like a “real” interview, blow a question, show up late, be unprepared, and your application will get tossed to the bottom of the barrel. And given that this video interview can be reviewed and rated and shared throughout the organization, endlessly, it can be even more important than your typical phone screen.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression – and that is even more important if your embarrassing first impression winds up on YouTube.