Why a video job interview is more difficult than a face to face interview

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Jun 11

One of the reasons video job interviews are compelling is because you can see each other on the screen even though you aren’t in the same room. After all, a video interview is just like a face to face interview, right?

Ummmm...not really. There are significant differences. Differences that can cause you to lose the job.

Let’s take a look.


Problem 1: Your home is full of distractions

Many, if not most, video interviews are done by you in your home. Depending on where you do your work from home, you could have a fabulous setup or a corner somewhere where you do your work.


Think about all those calls you've been on where the person on the call is working at home and all the different things you see and hear -- babies, dogs, cats, kids -- all normal things in a household and, I would say, mostly forgivable when working from home. 


For an interview? Not so good. The people you've worked with quite a while are usually forgiving. But an interview is a one-time shot with people you have not spoken with before. First impressions really do matter.


Even if you have none of the living distractions, what the camera sees that you've long ago ignored becomes a distraction for the people interviewing you. I've interviewed candidates who's camera revealed a large, mostly white living room -- walls couches, chairs, carpet. Was it distracting? No, but I'm sure I made some unconscious assumptions about that person and those impact the interview. You can't help it. The camera sees it.

The Solution:

Obviously, you need to minimize all the possible interruptions you could get during the interview. Close doors. Get the kids out of the house if you can.


Also take a hard look at what the camera sees besides you. Do you have a cactus growing out of your head because of the picture behind you? Are all of your kids (or dogs!) toys laying on the floor behind you? Have you dropped a bunch of clothes on top of the chair that shows up on the screen. I wouldn't want anyone to see the top of my desk right now...would you?


You may not have a choice as to where you take your interview call -- but minimize interruptions and make sure your camera background helps your cause.

Problem 2: Your lighting is poor

Another difference in a video interview is the lighting -- especially the lighting on your face. 


I did a video interview last week where the lighting was essentially grey. So it was dark. Then, compounding this, the candidate was from India and between the grey lighting and the dark skin, it was difficult to see his facial movement. Humans are wired for faces and when you can't tell what is happening with someone's face, you lose the benefit of the sudo face-to-face interview.


This can also happen when you have a bright background and the camera dims your face into a shadow, doing the same thing. 

The Solution:

See what the camera sees. And make adjustments.


I have lamps that swing and where I can adjust the angle of the light. Depending on the time of day and cloudy/sunny weather, I can move the lamps and change the angle of the light to have the camera see my face. 

Problem 3: You disrespect the camera

When you're in a conference room doing a face-to-face interview, there is just you. You don't have to be worried about the space you use with yourself, your gestures, or your movements.


But in a video interview, there is a frame around that picture of you with boundaries that need respect. 


You have hands that jump in and out of the picture. That's called "jazz hands."


If your head moves around a lot, there are cameras that will follow your movement -- making your background sway back and forth across the screen at the other end.


And when you are not looking into that small light that represents the camera, people on the other end wonder what you are looking at over there. Visual people tend to look up and to one direction; in a camera frame it is like you are seeing something up there that the people interviewing you cannot see. 

The Solution: Fall in love with the camera

Become one with the camera. And keep your hands to yourself.


This is not easy. If you think about a reporter, the reporter is always looking at the person being interviewed and that person is looking at the reporter. They are not looking at the camera being held by someone else.


But television anchors are. All the time. The difference? They have a teleprompter going and they are reading from a script.


You really have to practice looking at the camera. Do you need to look at the camera all the time? No, but 90% of the time would be a good guideline. And a 100% of the time when the people interviewing you are talking. 

Problem 4: Your audio is poor

The interview is about your words and your non-verbal queues. The lighting and loving the camera make the biggest impacts on the non-verbal communications, but your audio makes the difference with your words. 


Audio that isn't sharp, has a bunch of echo in it, has your breathing go into the mic, and is too quiet -- or too loud -- all make it difficult to get your point across. 

The Solution: Test your audio for best response

The first thing is if there is a decent amount of echo in our interview place, it's usually because of empty walls. Think of an empty conference room. You can't necessarily hang blankets outside of camera range, but temporarily doing something like that would help a lot. You need something to break up the sound to reduce the echo.


For your microphone, you must record your voice to see how it sounds. Expensive headsets and microphones are not necessarily the answer, either. 


I've had $200 headsets that were crap on audio. What's worked best for me? Headsets designed for Skype. Surprisingly, Apple's AirPods. If you have a Mac, Rode's SmartLav+ is a rock star.


The key is to try what you have and record yourself so you can hear what sounds best. That has to be done before the interview, obviously. You can't be testing headsets a half hour before going live...

Face-to-face interviews are a shared experience. If the interview is in a crappy room with a lot of echo and poor lighting, you are all sharing in the same experience.

But video interviews mean you are not sharing the same experience. There are technology, distractions, and picture frames that need respect. All of those things can derail your interview impact. And cost you the job.

How about you? Have you done video job interviews? What went well with them? What were the problems you saw? Leave a comment and let us know.

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