8 tips for acing a video interview (or a video date!)

(this article is a version of the one that first appeared in Cynopsis Classified Advantage)

If your vid-call experience is limited to talking to your BFF at 2 am then you might need some new polish before you face a video job interview.

A video interview is just your normal pulse-quickening, career-defining, potentially-life-changing event – but this time with added levels of difficulty. It is a production, and its success is dependent, as with all successful productions, on careful pre-production.

You may not have to fly across country, or get stuck on the subway or get lost on the highway – but the way you are perceived on the little screen is just as important as when you show up in the flesh.

1.  Test the system and your equipment.

Some interviewers use Skype, some use browser-based systems like MegaMeeting, they could use GoToMeeting; are there any interviews yet on Google Hangouts? Be sure you know which set up they will be using. Do this at least a day in advance so you can get signed up if necessary and solve any tech issues. Is your Internet connection up? Is your display name professional (eg not fratboy18)? Is your camera working? (If you are using a Mac you can open PhotoBooth to see what your camera sees.) Does a separate mike sound better than the built-in?  Are your speakers working? Be sure – test it all – because on the day you don’t want to be fretting about technical nonsense.

2. Dress the set
Recruiters say they like to see you in front of an uncluttered white wall, but taken too literally that can result in you looking as if you are sitting weirdly in a vacuum. According to Deirdre Mars, a partner in Idealicity, a start up consulting & business processing outsourcing partnership, you are working a delicate balance: you can use some props to set the tone, but they should not be a distraction and draw attention to themselves. So no team flags, Bieber posters, coffee cups or half eaten donuts.  You can have a glass of water nearby for before the call, but don’t drink while you’re on the call. Now see how the whole things looks to your camera and tweak as necessary.

3. Light the scene.
Check the natural light 24 hours in advance. Window light from the side or three quarters front should give your best look. Avoid heavy shadows that will make you look old and tired. Strong light behind you will cast your face into darkness like an anonymous witness, front light will flatten your features and overhead light is ugly.  If it’s dark, bounce light from a desk lamp or two.

4. Close apps and noisemakers
In advance of your call, make sure that other applications and phones are shut off, and that your spouse, baby and dog know not to disturb you.

5. Get dressed up
Don’t just dress your top half – a smart interviewer will sense those bunny slippers! Some collars can look messy, patterns or bright colors can distract. Deirdre Mars suggests that if you normally wear make-up, you might try a little extra to strengthen your features as the camera will tend to soften them; apply it in a mirror, but then check it out on camera.

6. Practice looking into the camera.
The big trick here according to Tim McDonald (who is Community Manager at HuffPost Live – so he knows what is what), is to look straight into the camera and not down at the image on your screen, this way you’ll be addressing the interviewer and not your desk.  If you’re using a laptop, try placing it on a pile of books so the camera is at eye level. And move the application image up to the top of the screen so when you’re listening to the questions you are still not looking too far down.  You could even print a picture of the interviewer and tape it so their eyes are very close to the camera – then talk to the picture. This is hard – practice it.

7. Do a full dress rehearsal
A day ahead, do a full run-through. Have a friend call you and record it. Sit back a little for a wider shot, don’t slump on the desk. Be very aware of whose turn it is to speak as voice overlaps are problematic.  Review how you come across and if necessary do another rehearsal.

8.  Going live on air
On the day, with production well under control, you still have to do all the things you’d do in an in-person interview: know what they are looking for and tell your success stories with enthusiasm. You’ll have to be a little more animated than usual to come across well on a video call.  Be passionate and curious, listen well and don’t ramble.

Thorough preparation will have you looking good and let your strengths shine through.  And what is more, Deirdre tells me that these techniques are not only good for job interviews, but she uses them when Skyping with her overseas boyfriend.

So now, are you ready for your close-up?