Few things in life are more stressful than job interviews and the prospects of the new lives that could start – or be stalled – because of them. Most job interviews are still conducted in person at a the hiring company’s offices, but today more and more job interviews are being conducted over Skype or similar video-chatting programs. Skype is a great way to meet with HR or a hiring manager without having to drive or fly to where that company is located, but it can also add its own levels of stress to the job interview.
Don’t worry, though. With the right preparation, a Skype interview can be easier than an in-person interview – and possibly even more effective. Here are some tips from experts and others who have gone through the process to help you ace your next Skype interview.
Before the Interview
Skype allows us to hit a button and instantly connect with someone, but instant isn’t always best. Experts say you still have to spend some time preparing ahead of time for a Skype interview.
The first challenge is to think about where you will conduct your interview. It should be a nice, quiet spot where you won’t be interrupted or bothered when HR calls. “If a candidate constantly has to speak to their children or yell at pets or others, it is not a good indication of someone who’s focused and manages their time well,” says Shilonda Downing, owner of Virtual Work Team LLC. If your house has the potential to be noisy, make sure that people know you need a good hour of quiet and privacy.
Take a few minutes to make sure the room has good lighting and lacks visual distractions. You don’t want the person on the other end of the Skype call to struggle to see your face if it is shrouded in darkness. Similarly, you don’t want them to have to see your dirty laundry or other oddities piled up around you. “I have interviewed people who have chosen their kids’ bedroom for the interview,” says Ian Jackson, managing partner of Enshored, an outsourcing and consulting company. “It does not help with that first impression if the interviewer can see Mickey Mouse behind you.” Bare walls or an office-like setting are best, say many experts. But if that isn’t possible, there are other solutions: “If nothing else, buy a screen and put it behind you,” suggests Elizabeth Lions, author of Recession Proof Yourself and other career books.
Next, think about how you’re actually going to set up your device. Whether you’re calling from a desktop computer, laptop or other mobile device, you want to make sure that your camera is set up at eye level. This ensures that the video feed is captured at a natural angle (not pointing up your nose) and mimics the same visuals you would experience in a real-world interview. In addition to looking professional, this also keeps your neck safe – there’s nothing worse than staring down at your device and getting a crick in your neck 45 minutes into a one-hour interview.
Also, make sure the camera isn’t too close to you or too far away from where you’ll be sitting. You don’t want the interviewer to be able to count your eyebrow hairs or, from the other extreme, to see your entire body. You should sit no more than an arm’s length away from the webcam, says Bob Myhal, CEO of the recruiting company NextHire, and then be centered on the screen.
Give proper consideration to the audio, too. Do you want to just use the microphone and speakers built into your device, or do you want to wear a headset? You want to make sure that the interviewer can hear you and you can hear them. You also need to be conscious of your comfort: the wrong headset can get annoyingly hot or tight on your ears after a while.
Of course, all technology is fallible, so test everything out well before you begin your interview. “The biggest challenge I see over and over is candidates do not test their microphones before connecting,” says software engineer Sid Savara. “It is a huge, huge professional mistake in my opinion. If I have a 30-minute slot for your interview and you waste 15 minutes trying to figure out how to connect your microphone so I can hear you, guess what? That is 15 minutes less we have now to discuss your qualifications – and that is going to hurt you in your interview.”
Savara suggests “showing up” 30 minutes early for the interview and trying a few test calls with a family member or friend to make sure that everything is working properly. This helps to make sure that your broadband connection is working well enough to handle the video. It also gives you a chance to make sure that the audio sounds crisp and clear and that you didn’t miss anything hiding in the background behind you. (We all go a little “blind” when we’re looking at something we see every day, so an outside set of eyes might see something that has become invisible to you.)
If you’re not a frequent Skype user, it might take more than 30 minutes of practice. Make sure you know how the chat, screen-sharing and other features work. You don’t want to be stumbling around during the interview. If you can use Skype with confidence, you’ll be more confident in your interview and be better able to showcase your skills. “Skillful use of Skype – sharing documents, pointing to web addresses, etc. – gives you a great chance to show your technical prowess,” says Denise Kalm, author of Career Savvy: Keeping and Transforming Your Job.
Also, prepare for your Skype interview the same way you would a real, in-person interview. Study the company in question and prepare several questions in advance. Know your own story and be ready to talk about your experience. Get your head in the game and make sure you have the right mindset before you connect. (One advantage here is that the interviewer may not be able to see your desk. I like to spread out any documents that I may need ahead of time so I can quickly refer to them. You can’t always do that in an in-person interview.)
Finally, even though you’re calling from home, the experts say you should go ahead and dress for success. Wear a suit, if appropriate. Make sure you look professional. Put your best face forward. (And since you’re going to ask, the video will be from the waist up, so yes, pants are optional.)
During the Interview
You’ve already spent some time making sure your video and audio work, so now you need to make sure you look good on camera. “Sit up straight, and don’t treat it like a regular, chilled-out Skype call with friends,” says voice acting coach Steven Lowell.
Figuring out exactly when and where to look at the camera can be difficult. In an in-person interview, it’s easy to make eye contact. That’s impossible on a Skype interview. Spend a good portion of your time looking directly at the camera, since that is “the best way to simulate the type of eye contact that happens in a live interview,” says Myhal. On the other hand, “don’t stare at the camera, because that will make you look weird,” suggests Bill Rosenthal, CEO of Communispond, a communications-skills training company.
Posture and body language matter. “Sit forward in your chair so your energy is in your body,” says Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of The 11 Laws of Likability. “Keep your feet planted on the ground to enable gesturing.” Gestures are important because they help bring you to life on the screen. “The animation will be projected into your voice and show your energy and enthusiasm,” she says.
Even though you have practiced, understand the limits of the technology. “You need to take artificially long pauses on Skype interviews,” says Jackson. “There is always a little more lag than you think.”
Be prepared for hiring managers to test you during the call. “I had a short conversation using the text messaging part of Skype to see how the candidates could deal with written English,” says business coach Liz Scully. “It’s easy to write well when given time, but texting quickly means you can see both their speed of reply, their accuracy and how they deal with misspellings.”
Technology professionals should also expect to show off their skills during the call. “If you’re a software engineer, your interview might consist of sharing your screen so the interviewer can see you writing code in your favorite editor,” says Todd Rhoad, managing director of BT Consulting, a career-consulting firm. “This provides them with the ability to see you work real time. After all, this is what companies are really looking for: to see how you work.”
Finally, make sure that you aren’t distracted by the fact that you’re on your computer. “Please don’t multitask,” says Annkur P. Agarwal, co-founder of PriceBaba. “If you are doing emails or Facebook or there are notifications on your phone, we can see when you are distracted. Take it professionally, please.”
After the Interview
As with any interview, the process isn’t over once the video call ends. “While this might go without saying, follow-up is a must,” says Myhal. Send email thank-you notes and follow up with questions or documentation of anything that came up during the interview. Show that you’re interested in the job. “This may seem like an unnecessary formality, but employees and hiring managers put a great deal of stock into this type of professionalism.”
If the Skype interview goes well, you may well be asked in for a second, in-person interview. That’s a great opportunity to build on that relationship you established the first time and, hopefully, close the deal to land your new dream job. Of course, there’s one important thing to remember before going in for that second interview: unlike Skype, pants are no longer optional.