By Karen Friedman
In today’s competitive job market, companies are looking for ways to save money when interviewing prospective job candidates. For many, that means being interviewed by satellite or video conference versus a trip to the home office. How can you shine? What do you need to know about making a good impression from miles away?
It’s all the rage especially if your company is doing a little belt tightening and you can score some points by saving a few bucks. Instead of paying for travel expenses and spending your free time whining and dining a lot of potential job candidates, what about speeding up the time consuming process by conducting the interview during a videoconference that is inexpensive by comparison? Companies can save time until they’ve narrowed the search and job seekers can try to impress without traveling to all corners of the globe. After all, universities offer videoconference lecture series and companies frequently use the technology to hold global meetings. In fact, a study on web conferencing quoted in HR Magazine shows the market jumping nearly 300 percent between 2005 and 2011, to $2.9 billion. So clearly, the technology is certainly gaining popularity. The question is: to whose advantage?
While there are clearly benefits, from where I sit as a communications coach, there are also a host of barriers that prevent job candidates from feeling at ease and making their best impression. How can you possibly connect with someone and make them feel who you really are if you can’t shake their hand and look them directly in the eye? It’s like buying a car without taking it for a test drive. Given that first impressions are critical, if the job applicant is unfamiliar with the technology, appears nervous or looks off, then decision makers may form incorrect impressions. Then there’s the lighting issue. If the lighting isn’t good, the applicant can look pasty or washed out. Additionally, there are often delays as video and audio are compressed and transmitted between locations. So, that means people unknowingly talk over each other or try to fill the silence without realizing that those on the other end of the connection are still listening to someone’s response. On the other side of the screen, interviewers often forget that they are also visible and need to make a good impression. That means no slouching, checking e-mail; leafing through magazines and making potential employees feel as if they’re boring you.
Like any interview or presentation, the key to success is for both sides to prepare in advance. The first step would be to set up a phone call and talk about videoconferencing etiquette.
PHONE PRIMERS – Before the interview, the company should schedule a phone call with the applicant to explain video protocol. For example, tell them how the room will be set up, who will be there, where to look, how wide the video image will be or what technical issues could arise. Can they interrupt? Who will hear them? Will there be feedback or delay time? What’s the format and how much time will they have? It’s up to the company to send a message that says they want the interview to be successful for the prospect.
THINK TV – Appearing for a video interview is a bit like being on TV. You have to connect with people you can’t see so it’s important to engage your audience quickly. In most cases, you want to look directly into the camera so you seem completely attentive to the people on the other side of the screen. The trick is to appear natural and not over focus on the camera which is very hard for an untrained person to do. Instead, pretend that camera is one person. As a former television reporter, I used to speak to more than one million people every evening. By pretending the camera was my Mom or a friend, it was easier to speak from the heart and focus on the information I wanted to convey. It’s also important to gesture and use your hands so you’re animated, but movements can be magnified on the screen so aim for smaller, smoother movements.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS – What looks good in your mirror doesn’t always translate to the big screen. The number one rule is to wear what makes you feel good as long as it doesn’t distract from your message. For women, that means leaving big earrings, frilly tops and clunky jewelry at home. But putting on some lipstick, eyeliner and a little blush will prevent you from looking washed out. Both sexes should avoid small patterns like checks and tweeds which can “bleed” on screen. As for colors, warm bright colors typically look great, but if that’s not your style, think contrast such as a white shirt with a navy blazer as opposed to just a white shirt. And men, a viewer’s eye will go straight to your tie, so make it a good one! Finally, find out what the background is. If you’re up against a green screen and you wear green, oops, you’ll disappear.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT – Set up a video camera and practice with a pal who can ask you questions and offer feedback. Play it back and check your body language, expressions and pace. Are you talking too fast? Are you speaking loud enough? Do you look friendly and approachable?
While videoconferencing should not replace face to face interviewing, as technology gets easier, so will video interviewing. And the job of tomorrow may very well come down to the person who seems at ease on camera.