3 ways to succeed at video job interviews

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Jun 06

As a job candidate, you can work in a lot of different places in this information age. You could be based in your home city, but travel to a city in a different state to do work. Or, you could work in your home city, but your manager is in a different state. All of this happens all the time.

When, say, your hiring manager lives in a different state, how do you do the face-to-face interview? Or, instead of that cold, impersonal phone interview where there is less communication because you can’t see the other person, what do you do when you get the request to do a video interview?

Video is coming. If you don’t believe me, just check out FaceTime and see how video will change phone conversations to video conversations. The technology is there; it’s just time before video is commonplace. And time, my friends, is something you can use to prepare for this way of doing job interviews. Here are three suggestions to get you going:

1. If there is just the camera, focus on the camera and nowhere else

If the interview is between you on one side of the camera and another person on the other side of the camera, focus on the camera. If you notice all of those television talking heads, when the news gets read, there are only two places they look: into the camera or at their notes. They don’t look off to the side, they don’t look up in the air, they don’t glance sideways; no, they look into the camera or at their notes.

Now, for visual people (such as myself), looking at one place is hard. Visual people, when they think, usually look up and to the right or left — anywhere but at the subject of the question which, in this case, is the question coming from the person on the other side of the camera. I’ve done interviews for television and I can tell you that staring at that camera is hard work.

But look at it you must. If you don’t, the person on the other end automagically wants to look in the same direction you do and communication breaks. Ever see a bunch of people looking up into the sky? You look up too, don’t you? Same thing with a camera.

2. If there is a person and a camera, focus on the person, not the camera

On the other hand, you could have a person in the room with you and a person on the far end both doing the interview. In this case, if the person in the room is asking the question, answer the question to the person in the room by looking at that person. If the person on the far end asks the question, answer the question by looking into the camera. In no instance should you look at anything other than the camera or the person in the room with you for the same reasons as above.

Again, if you think of those television personalities, they will transition to a different person on the news team by looking into the camera and then turning to the person they are handing off to and looking at them. And what does the person with the handoff now do? They look at the person they are receiving the handoff from and then turn to face the camera to start their segment.

They don’t look someplace else in the studio, nor across the hall or at people walking by in the background — they look at the camera or the person.

3. Practice, practice, practice

Getting the camera right isn’t a slam-dunk the first time you do it. You need practice. This video stuff is new but will rapidly catch on as a way of replacing the phone interview. If you use Apple gear, try the calls with FaceTime or iChat. Skype is another example used for video calls. Many Instant Messaging services come with a video option. Start talking to other people using video until you are comfortable with the minimal technology to learn, facing the camera, and seeing how the video all works.

Now, you still need to show your interviewer how you are right for the job. Just don’t let that camera get in the way of your message. Your day will come when the video interview replaces the phone interview. You’ll be ready.

Have you ever done a video interview? What did you think of it?

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.

  • […] you have the basics down and are looking for more advanced tricks. The Internet offers a few. Blog Cube Rules, for instance, has a great post on the surprisingly tricky issue of eye contact. Where should you look when you’re giving your answers? If there is just the camera, focus on the […]

  • […] you have the basics down and are looking for more advanced tricks. The Internet offers a few. Blog Cube Rules, for instance, has a great post on the surprisingly tricky issue of eye contact. Where should you look when you’re giving your answers? If there is just the camera, focus on the […]

  • And for the sake of your sanity, if it’s going to be a Skype interview, realize you need to think about background sooner than 15 minutes before the interview!

    I had a Skype interview at home during last year’s job search. Where my computer sits there is a light right behind me. I started moving around the house and ended up in the dining room finding a spot for just the right angle to not have too many distractions. Which was when I realized I needed to raise my laptop up on books so the webcam was at an appropriate angle for a professional appearance.

    I was ready in time and everything went well, although another candidate ended up being a better fit for the job. It was nice to see the people I was talking to. I did have to remember to not talk with my hands too much, though, since it made an odd distracting blur.

    • Scot Herrick says:

      Beth — thanks for sharing your experience! Background free of distraction is a great point. Lots of video out there now has a completely white background — but their reason for doing so is that it is then easier to insert text points as part of a presentation. But avoiding distraction in the background is helpful.

      You also bring up a great point on the angle of the camera. The camera on my laptop has me higher than the camera — adding stuff underneath it to get it level with your eyes is a great suggestion.

      Now, all I have to do is knock down the monitor on the desktop to lower that camera so I don’t have to always look up into it…

  • Quality read Scot, thank you for driving home the point that
    video communications are indeed becoming more common place. 

    To add to Point 1. 

    Creating a positive connection though good eye-contact with the camera, is
    essential to come across well during the video interview. Often people struggle
    with this – I`ve seen confident people become overly self-conscious while under
    the intense stare of the video lens. People who are not used to looking at or
    presenting/talking to a camera, often unconsciously mirror back the unblinking stare
    of the camera lens.  This can come across as slightly aggressive and can be
    off-putting to the receiver. First impressions are formed within
    one-twentieth of a second and our words carry less than 20% of our
    communication it would pay to master the way you appear on camera.  

    Some things you can do are: playback your footage with the sound off, watch your eyes for
    any tension i.e. staring/eyeballing  or facial tension which can produce a
    ‘fake smile’ all of which are unconsciously detected by the viewer. Remember, nuances
    will be magnified by the camera.

    • Scot Herrick says:

      Good comment, Bianca. Interestingly, I was in Minneapolis last weekend for a convention and one of the seminars was how to work with the camera for video. The key takeaways were that to think of the camera lens as a person, even to the point of putting a picture just by the lens, ensuring that the camera lens is directly level with your eyes (so as to not be looking down or up into the camera), and to dramatically limit your movements including gestures (because your hands or arms will “pop” into the screen) and a host of other tips.

      The cool thing was the presenter showed this using the camera and by us watching the screen on the other side of the room.

      And the advice for computer cameras for interviews? Even more important to follow those rules because the cameras on the computers are not as good. Very enlightening.

      • Hi Scot, I just spotted your reply – thank you.

        Re: hand gestures “popping in and out of screen” in that instance we would use what we call in the industry “cheating-to-camera” techniques. One technique is where the presenter/actor/spokesperson etc would play their action above the cut of point of the cameras framing. It will feel strange at first, but rest assured it will look quite natural on-screen.

        I’ve written about various cheating-to-camera techniques over at STEBIAN.com http://stebian.com/2012/07/common-cheating-techniques-to-look-good-on-video/

        My clients regularly use them in their own video presentations / demos etc.

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