What’s your worst Zoom experience? Mine was with an interstate colleague who decided it was a good idea to place her camera at the side of her PC. She spent most of the meeting looking straight ahead at her screen, not the camera, which meant that my deep and meaningful conversations were with her right ear.
My take on it is that we’ve all been forced to jump on the bandwagon of video meetings with very little training about how to present well. It’s bad enough having a dreadful Microsoft Teams experience but what happens if the video interaction is actually a job interview? Your level of skill in managing to sell yourself on this new medium can be the difference between job and no job.
The Hunger Games
Even apart from Covid 19, video interviewing has become much more common. It’s almost always used for remote candidates and another not so new hiring technique is pre-recorded or ‘oneway’ video interviews, where hiring managers send questions to candidates to record answers.
The most challenging presentation I can think of is the video selfie. Back in 2015 KPMG Australia asked 10,000 grads to submit a four minute video selfie to win a role there. Now that’s a VERY long time to hold someone’s attention. Talk about stressful!
So, beyond our current Corona Virus reality where most employers conduct at least the first interview using Zoom, online interviews are not going away any time soon. To survive, you’ll need to upskill yourself.
There are two distinct areas to focus on: technical and mental readiness. Let’s start with getting your mindset right.
I’ve always viewed interviews as a performance. In my Career Choices manual, this chapter is called ‘Putting on the Interview Hat’. When the interview is over, you take off the hat and go back to being a normal human being.
In a video interview, the performance aspect becomes more important AND more difficult. More important because the employer misses out on lots of clues you would normally give during a face to face encounter and your performance needs to be strong enough to overcome this deficit.
It’s more difficult because you also miss out on feedback from the interviewer and it can take a great deal of resolve to communicate well in this vacuum.
For both reasons, your behaviour needs to be a performance in the true sense of the word.
Tip #1: Prepare
Do you think an actor just turns up on the night of a performance and wings it?
They don’t. A good actor has thought deeply about the character, learned the lines and experimented endlessly with different delivery. Take inspiration from the stage and complete the following steps, in chronological order:
- Write out your script. Think of everything they could possibly ask you and prepare a compelling answer. Write in bullet points, not full prose.
- Practise, practise, practise. You won’t end up sounding over-rehearsed during the actual interview. The questions will not be exactly the same as those you prepared for and you will naturally adjust your answers.
- Film yourself. You will notice so much – awkward pauses, repetitive gestures, lack of animation.
- Find someone who will drill you and critique you.
As soon as you are even thinking about applying for a role, start your preparation. Ask yourself how much you want that job and then do the necessary work.
Tip #2: Perform
I am an animated, extroverted communicator. Yet, even I feel terribly false and quite uncomfortable talking to someone on a video link. I’m lost without those cues from my listener and can end up talking in a very flat tone.
However, I’ve come to terms with the need to communicate properly regardless of how I feel. If you think about it, a stage actor has to perform without any immediate feedback from the audience. Video interactions are no different.
Like an actor, learn to trust your performance, based on all the preparation you’ve done. (As an aside, there is no reliable link in a job interview between the employer’s response to you and whether they actually hire you. Some interviewers smile and nod; others play a straight bat and reveal nothing. So, their response doesn’t necessarily mean anything.)
One of your key decisions will be how much to use gestures, especially if you are sitting close to the camera as per the Golden Triangle, described below.
I’ve found a strong correlation between candidates whose arms remain stationary and those who use stilted, stiff language. Our hands naturally follow our voice when our emotions or enthusiasm are engaged, so it’s a bad sign if they aren’t moving as you talk in the interview.
It may feel weird and fake but…use your voice as an instrument, back up your words with flowing hand movements and PERFORM.
Tip #3: Look at the camera lens not the screen
It’s hard to like someone who never looks you in the eye.
In order to maintain eye contact with someone on a video call, you need to look at the camera lens, NOT at the other person’s face on the screen.
Proper eye contact is a critical element of Body Language which, in turn, is a KEY element of interview success.
Be careful that you maintain this eye contact throughout the interview. I’ve been having Italian lessons via Skype for several years now and I still hate having to look at that dratted lens, so I can understand the challenge.
Here’s one solution, though I’m not sure I’d go this far. Put a cut out paper face around the camera lens to ensure you don’t lose sight of this oh-so-important issue. (No pun intended).
Key Technical Hacks
This is the boring-but-important part. There’s a fair bit of technical change for you to make. The good news is that it’s both cheap and easy.
Tip #4: Prepare the background
Remember my interstate colleague with the weird camera placement? She also had an open wardrobe behind her and I spent a lot of time analysing her clothes style and general tidiness.
What do you want your prospective employer to think about you? Use this information to decide your video interview setting.
- Place your camera at eye level, slightly angled down. An added bonus of this placement is that it feels more natural to look at the lens, not the screen.
- Some experts advise that you buy a photographic backdrop such as the savage seamless backdrop paper so that there is no background at all. They argue that it makes you look top notch in terms of professionalism. In Australia, it makes you look like you’re trying too hard. Plus, here in Oz we like to get a feel for what a person is like outside the workplace, so you won’t damage yourself by showing a bit of your home in the background – untidy wardrobes aside of course. Make sure that the room is visually appealing but not distracting.
- Ensure that your face and shoulders are in full view, taking up most of the screen (like an inverted triangle). Incorporate the Golden Triangle in your placement before the camera so that YOU become the centre of attention.
- Your background also includes noise. We may have all got used to barking dogs and noisy teenagers during work meetings but this is damaging in a job interview.
Tip #5: Prepare the IT, gizmos and sound
Set your IT up with plenty of time and use the following as a checklist:
- Buy an HD webcam camera. It won’t cost much but will make a huge difference to your appearance.
- If you wish to use your laptop camera, make sure it’s perpendicular to your body. Otherwise, depending on the angle, you either appear to lean away from the interviewer or else loom into their space.
- Don’t use headphones – it’s just not a good look for interviews.
- Get yourself a good chair. I’ve always thought I obeyed the rules of body language pretty well but I found myself swivelling on my chair during a recent Teams meeting. Remove all temptation by selecting a fixed chair.
- Close any big programs which could be affecting your connection, especially for live video interviews that take more bandwidth.
- Don’t use a tablet or mobile phone as they tend to be more unreliable and the mobile, especially, is inflexible in regards to layout.
- Turn your phone to silent and close down your email software.
Tip #6: Prepare the lighting
You need to get the right amount of light in a room so the employer is able to see your face. Bad overhead lighting casts dark shadows, making you look quite grim.
You may need to park your scepticism before reading this next checklist. The recommendations are probably startling but they’re NOT over the top:
- Buy professional lights. You just need three clamp lights, some cheap CFL daylight / full-spectrum bulbs, and a couple of light-stands (or something else to clip your lights to.)
- Have two of the lights about one metre on either side of you at least the same height as the webcam or a little higher.
- The third light is placed behind you at the same height as the other lights, but on a 45 degree angle so that it’s not showing in the video. Its purpose is to provide definition and subtle highlights.
- Check for glare on jewellery and on glasses.
- Powder your face lightly, even if you wouldn’t do so normally.
Remember, those on the other side of the lens have no idea that you have made this effort. They will just find it more enjoyable to look at you..
Tip #7: Prepare yourself
It’s time to consign the ugg boots and pyjama bottoms to the wardrobe. What you wear is just as important as in a face to face interview, but there are a few more constraints:
- Dress in solid colours and avoid patterns. Note that bright red doesn’t look good on video.
- Don’t wear either white or black – the camera doesn’t handle them well.
- Check your hair. Untidiness seems to show up much more, especially wispiness.
- Dress in light colours against a darker background or dark colours against a light background.
Drink plenty of water beforehand so that your vocal cords are plump and lubricated. Take a teaspoon of honey to soothe your voice and have a glass of water nearby, just in case.
Finally, don’t ignore the bottom half of your body. It just adds to your anxiety if you have to remember not to stand up during the interview. Dress professionally from head to toe.
Tip #8: Prepare with a trial run
Be sure to test everything lots. Test your microphone volume, webcam, screen resolution, appearance and settings. Set up a meeting with a friend on Zoom and check how you appear. Remember that Boy Scout motto.
A Star is Born
I sing at two different Aged Care facilities. They are a very tolerant audience but I don’t rely on that. I practise. I record myself singing and then I listen to it. It takes literally double the time and it’s quite tedious. But it’s the only way I can discover my errors and improve to the necessary level.
Your audience is not likely to be so forgiving. Do the work.
My mantra is that people will buy from people they: know…like…and…trust. So, above all, make sure that you come across as someone normal and sensible who knows their stuff and who would be enjoyable to work with.
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