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Nailing the Video Interview

If you apply for a job in another city and are among the finalists for the position, don’t be surprised if the employer asks you to take part in a video-conference interview rather than the traditional face-to-face session. Time Magazine this week offers tips to job-hunters who get face time with prospective employers over a video link.  

Travel budgets, both corporate and personal, cover fewer job interviews these days, and more home systems now have the equipment and software to support a video interview. But double-check to make sure your video camera and broadband network are up to the task. Like face-to-face interviews, video sessions take plenty of preparation, and maybe even more.

Former TV news anchor Bill McGowan tells Time that background noises and images need to be controlled. You obviously want to conduct the session out of range of a baby or a barking dog. Avoid having a bright light, even a large window, behind you, since that will cause shadows to darken your face. But sitting directly in front of a plain white wall, McGowan says, makes it look like you’re in a police line-up. And, he recommends, “It’s best to put away the Mad Men bar” in the background.

You can take steps to frame your appearance so that it portrays a professional image on the interviewer’s screen. McGowan suggests sitting with your knees aimed at the corner of your computer screen — assuming the camera is attached on top and in the mid-point of the screen’s width — with your head turned slightly to look at the camera.  Sit tall in the chair, but not too close to the camera. Priscilla Shanks, who coaches broadcast journalists, suggests that the first three shirt buttons should be visible to the viewer. Otherwise, the image on the other end resembles a tight close-up of a floating head on the screen.

As in the face-to-face interview, you want to make eye-contact with the interviewers. But in the video interview, the “eyes” are the camera lens, not the image on your screen. It may take some practice to replace eye contact with camera contact. Dress for the interview as if it were a face-to-face session. But avoid a plain white shirt, often considered part of the uniform for an in-person session. White shirts reflect too much light into the camera lens causing spots on the interviewer’s screen. Muted colors, such as pastels, may work better.

And of course, be prepared to answer the same kind of questions as in any job interview.

Try to schedule the session with enough time to do a dry-run with friends. Check color balance and audio levels in advance, as well as your on-screen persona. Remember, real friends will tell you if you’re not making a good impression.