Lights, Camera …
More than ever before, candidates are meeting recruiters virtually rather than in person. Video interviews have created a raft of changes – some good for the candidate, others not so good.
Through the COVID pandemic, one sweeping change has affected nearly every aspect of working life for most office workers: remote working conditions becoming the rule rather than the exception. Many offices which had strict policies – or at least customs – of full-time office attendance asked their employees to work from home. This demonstrated that much of the work that used to be done while keeping an office chair warm could, in fact, be done just as well from home – a change that, in my view, was long overdue. Almost overnight, it also created a ubiquitous acceptance for online meetings. I would bet good money that if you used to commute to an office, you’ve been part of at least a few dozen video meetings over the past year. (Raise your hand if you’ve heard at least one person say, “I think you’re on mute …”)
On one hand, virtual interviews have the effect of narrowing the focus of the conversation mostly to experience, skills and qualifications. This can be a really helpful leveling of the playing field, particularly for job-seekers who are a bit shy, or aren’t entirely comfortable with small-talk, or who struggle with body language cues.
Virtual interviews also bring with them some unique hurdles for the candidate. You might think that everyone’s used to the changes by now, but they’re not. People are still doing video interviews poorly. Even if you think you’re an old pro, read on.
Setting the Stage
I’ve had my share of online meetings where we all share a laugh because someone’s dog started barking in the background, or a child toddled into the frame. That’s accepted and okay when you’re meeting with colleagues. It is absolutely not okay in a job interview. If you know you’re going to be participating in an online interview, you have to create a space where you are guaranteed privacy and quiet. Ideally it’ll be in your home, but if that’s not possible then find an alternative. A friend’s home, or perhaps even a co-working office space. If it’s a mission-critical interview, that might be worth the expense.
The next thing to consider is what the interviewer will see. Truth telling: we will look, and we will form judgements based on what we see. Your backdrop should be neat and tidy. A few pictures and personal effects are fine; this is your home, after all. But a messy, cluttered space, or one filled with things that aren’t professionally appropriate, doesn’t make a good impression. Here’s a simple shortcut: turn on the camera that you’ll be using and look critically at your background. If there’s something there that you wouldn’t have brought into your office, put it somewhere else. While you’ve got your camera on, look at yourself as well. Are you an appropriate distance from the camera? If not, adjust your spacing so your head and upper torso are in the frame. Is your face well-lit and clear? If you can accomplish this with a desk lamp, great. If not, consider investing in a ring light. They’re not expensive, and they will improve your appearance on camera (and, in doing so, the impression you’ll make in an interview).
Last, but by no means least, test your technology. Ideally, use a fixed webcam, like one on a laptop. If you have no choice but to use a mobile device, never handhold. Use a tripod. Whatever platform the recruiter plans to use, find a way to test it, and it’s important to do this on your system, the one you’ll use for the interview. Some services have a testing link made for this; if not ask a friend to help you by staging a test meeting. Make sure any software downloads are done before your meeting time, and also that your camera and microphone are working properly. It’s really off-putting as an interviewer to spend time at the beginning of a meeting waiting in silence, or troubleshooting a candidate’s technical issues.
Courting the Camera
It is an almost unavoidable temptation to look at the video on your screen when you’re in an online meeting. When an interviewer is speaking, you’ll naturally want to look at them. This is what humans do – we look at people when they’re speaking with us. It’s also really difficult not to look at yourself when you’re talking. Here’s the problem: that’s not where the interviewer is. They’re in the camera (so to speak), so when you’re looking at the computer screen, you’re not making eye contact. The further away from the camera the video feed is, the more pronounced the effect, and it can be unnerving. You have to train yourself to look at the camera instead, and here are two tips to help you do that. First, either hide the video feeds (yours and the interviewers), or position them in a small window as close as possible to your camera so that you can glance at the video but stay close to eye contact. Second, practice. Wrangle a friend or family member to have a video chat with you, using the same hardware setup you’ll be using for the interview. The conversation can be about anything, just work at keeping your eyes on the camera instead of on their face when you’re speaking.
I’ll be brief and to the point: when it comes time for your interview, dress just as you would if it was happening in an office. Business formal, business casual, or clean casual; whatever would be appropriate. You don’t get a pass on professional attire when you’re interviewing from home.
Exit Stage Left
This may seem like a small point, but it’s important because the last impression you leave is almost as important as the first. It’s uncomfortable to watch someone fumbling for the controls when a meeting is done, squinting and searching, and poking their fingers towards the camera. That’s not the way you want to be remembered. Get to know the platform you’ll be using and make sure you know where the ‘leave meeting’ control can be found. After you say your thanks and goodbyes, be ready to make a clean exit while smiling confidently – and of course still looking at the camera.
Feeling ready for prime time? Great. Break a leg!