After more than two decades in the Executive Search
business, I have learned a lot about what goes into a
successful hire. I try to impart my knowledge to both hiring
managers and candidates. Nevertheless, at many job
interviews I find myself listening to questions that make me
cringe and answers that make me want to cry.
Now it's my turn to talk.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Smile but not too much; Laugh, but not too much.

I am prepping for a Skype interview later today (Note to my interviewee: this is not about you.).  I am not a big fan of Skype for interviews as the technology is still not where it needs to be for an accurate evaluation of a candidate.  Variables are injected that should not be part of the evaluation process, such as equipment quality, internet connections, and thunderstorms.
But for an initial one-hour interview, Skype is a great alternative to a cross-country flight, providing time and expense savings for the candidate, the client and me.  It provides that “face-to-face” contact many clients and candidates want, without the accompanying bill. Reading facial expressions during an interview is a critical component.  A poorly structured question will be immediately apparent when the candidate silently expresses “what the heck” with a facial expression.  And it works in the candidate’s favor when an answer is off the mark.  A simple phone call does not provide this instant feedback.
So, how do we make the best of a Skype interview?  A few key elements come to mind.
Hardware problems are the number one issue when it comes to a smooth meeting.  In advance of an upcoming meeting, verify that you are properly registered with a video conferencing service and that your account is active.  Skype is used in our office but there are several other options.  Test your camera and the microphone by calling a friend.  In testing the equipment, make sure the camera is in focus.  You do not want the angle of the sun to transform you into a celestial creature.
Take a look at your own background in your video feed.  If you are interviewing from home and have posters of rock stars or football players on the wall behind you, think about taking them down or relocating your computer.  The background should not in any way attract the attention of the interviewer.  Keep it neutral and, if possible, professional.
Turn all phones off so you are not tempted to answer an incoming call or a text.
Your appearance may be slightly more casual in a video interview as it would be in an office meeting.  My usual suggestion is to wear a suit for personal interviews.  On a video call, wearing a collared shirt with a tie should be sufficient.  For women, any type of blouse/sweater that would be appropriate in an office environment will work.  The good news is that you only have to concern yourself with the upper half of your body.  (If you decide to wear jeans, remember NOT to stand up during the interview.)
 Be prepared to work the camera.  Just like a TV reporter must focus on the camera when speaking, you must also.  When you are talking, look directly into the camera at the top of your monitor, not at the picture on your monitor.  To look at the monitor is the equivalent of looking off into space when you are directly addressing the interviewer.  Eye contact with the interviewer in this case means eye contact with the camera.
It is critical to be yourself, but a controlled version of yourself.  Excessive looking around, fidgeting with your hair, nervous smiling or outbursts of laughter will be extremely noticeable on your “computer face” and may be perceived negatively.  Once you have begun the video interview, the normal rules of interviewing engagement are in play.  Focus on the task on hand and not the toys on your desk.
In some cases, the internet gods intervene and destroy the connection.  Don’t panic as this never reflects on the candidate.  Everyone knows the technology is imperfect.
If you cannot understand the interviewer because of poor sound quality, mention it immediately so the problem can be rectified if possible, before important misunderstandings occur.  If the picture is not clear enough to easily see facial expression, it is not worth being tied to the camera.  Simply tell the interviewer of the issue.  At this point, arrange a phone call and make the best of the forced alternative.
A video interview is a convenient, but less than ideal alternative to a personal meeting when pursuing an opportunity.  In the case of a geographically distant candidate, it may be the only avenue into a process that might normally not be afforded. 
And now I am off to have my make-up retouched for my video session.

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