Interviewing By Skype? How To Prepare

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Grayscale image of a Microsoft LifeCam VX-3000...Image via Wikipedia

How to prepare for a video conference interview.

I have to admit that the first time I heard about a job interview using a video conferencing site like Skype,I thought that it was a joke. Or, at the least, a one time fluke. I thought that it was so odd, in fact, that I decided to do a little bit of research to find out how prevalent this sort of thing is.

Much to my surprise, I discovered that many companies have begun using services like Skype, Gtalk, and even Google + to do webcam interviews. It seems that many hiring managers are looking at it as a way to conduct preliminary interviews before going to the expense and trouble of bringing someone into the office. Unlike a phone interview, a webcam interview allows the parties to actually see each other, which gives more information and a better idea of a candidate's suitability for the job.

Since this sort of interview is used primarily as a way to rule out applicants, it's really important to make sure that you make the best impression possible. Here are some tips to help make it a little bit easier:

  • Do a trial run - Or several. If you don't do much video conferencing, this is the time to test it out and get comfortable. You don't want to be fumbling around with your equipment during the interview. Webcam with your friends and family using whatever program the employer prefers and find out how your equipment works in a real time setting. Ask the person you are video chatting with about your video quality, sound quality and lighting. Sometimes, if your internet is slow or you have limited bandwidth, the other party may only see halting video and static. Again, during the interview isn't the time to find this out.
  • Get familiar with the options and settings - Depending on the program you use and your comfort level with it, it's a good idea to try out all of the different settings and options. For example, Skype allows you to either broadcast your webcam feed or share what is on your computer screen. You should play around with the video options to make sure that you have the best brightness and and video quality settings for your equipment. Depending on your setup, you may need to position your computer or webcam at a different angle to ensure that you are being recorded at the most flattering angle. You don't want to have the interviewer looking up your nose the whole time.
  • Select a professional location - Typically when I am using my laptop, I am lounging on the couch or sitting in my bed. Neither of these are appropriate locations for a video conference interview. You'll want to set up a place, like maybe at a desk or table, where the lighting is bright but not too harsh. Make sure that the area around you is tidy and clean. I like to position myself so that my back is near a wall so that the other person doesn't have to see the rest of the room. The wall should look like something you would see in an office. For example, you can hang a few framed degrees or professional awards on the wall behind you. The goal is to make it really easy for the interviewer to imagine you in the office, working at the job. After you have your location set up, use your webcam to take some photos so that you can be sure that you will be viewed at your best.
  • Practice looking at the screen - This one is sort of hard if you aren't used to using a webcam. One of the problems is that you naturally will want to look at your screen to see what the other person is doing and saying, but when you do, you aren't looking at the camera. It can make it seems as though you are looking down at something else rather than paying attention. Remember, we are social creatures and even though it's through a webcam, we want to feel like we're making eye contact. An easy way to minimize this problem is move the window of the other persons video feed as close to your webcam as possible.
  • Wear professional clothes - This is still an interview and you should look the same as if you were going into the office for the interview. This probably means a shirt and tie for men or a nice business outfit for women. If you think it's acceptable for a traditional interview, it's probably good for this as well. One tip - Don't wear a jacket. It's understood that you are at home, so there is no reason to wear a jacket, doing so would only look like you are trying too hard. Also, it's good to stick with solid, dark or neutral colors because stripes, patterns or bright colors can look different on the interviewers screen. Some busy patterns and vibrant colors can get "digital noise" on the receiver's end, especially when you move and it is really distracting.
  • Clean your desktop - If you plan to share a presentation with the interviewer (or just to be on the safe side) clean off your computer's desktop and make sure you have a copy of the resume and cover letter you sent somewhere that you can get to quickly. A folder on your desktop that only has those files is the best idea. Especially if you are sharing a view of your computer screen, you don't want to have to browse for it and inadvertently show the contents of your downloads or document files. You never can be sure what's in there and sometimes the file names might look questionable. It's better to avoid it altogether. Also, change your desktop wallpaper to something plain and professional. The interviewer might not be impressed with your Jessica Alba or Hello Kitty wallpaper.
  • Consider that you might have to get up during the interview - You can't know ahead of time if you are going to need to get up at some point during the interview. This means that you want to make sure that your area looks professional, even if you aren't sitting behind the computer. Also, be sure to wear pants. I know this sounds silly, but there are plenty of people who can tell you horror stories about telecommuting or video conferencing while not wearing pants. They assume that because the camera is only recording them from mid-chest up, that the bottoms don't matter. It would be embarassing and unprofessional if you had to get up and the interviewer got a glimpse of your underwear or pajama bottoms. For a touch of added class, you could hang the jacket I told you not to wear on the back of your chair.
  • Eliminate distractions - During the interview you don't want to have to excuse yourself to take phone calls or deal with your family members. Turn your phone off and if you have children, get someone to watch them or take them out of the house during the interview time. Make sure that the room is quiet and don't have a television or radio on. Even soft ambient noise can be distracting or cause your microphone to have trouble picking up your voice.
Hopefully these tips will help you out the next time you get asked to a Skype interview. Video conferencing feels almost exactly like talking to someone in person, but it can feel awkward if you aren't used to it. Practice with a friend and you should be well prepared.

Have you ever had an interview via video chat? Are there any other tips you can think of? I would love to hear your suggestions in the comment section.

By Melissa Kennedy- Melissa is a 9 year blog veteran and a freelance writer for PhillyJobsBlog, along with helping others find the job of their dreams, she enjoys computer geekery, raising a teenager, supporting her local library, writing about herself in the third person and working on her next novel.
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