The Online Video Job Interview: Doing It Right!

Woman sitting at a desktop computer with webcam and two screens.You applied for a job and are anxiously waiting to hear back. So, what happens next? If you are fortunate enough to land an interview, odds are it might be in the form of an online video interview. Initially, online interviews were used by employers primarily for screening purposes. These sessions offered the company a chance to preview an applicant and decide whether to bring him or her in for a “real” face-to-face interview. Now, for a whole host of reasons, online videos are indeed real interviews. Today, many individuals go through the interview process completely online and are hired without ever having a traditional, in-person interview.

If you get the invitation, are you ready to participate in an online video interview? While communicating with friends and family via apps such as FaceTime may be no sweat, the thought of an online video job interview may be a bit intimidating. And, for good reason! After all, your career and potentially big dollars are on the line here!

Are Online Video Job Interviews Easier?

Sure seems like they should be. After all, you don’t have to deal with all the hassles usually associated with a physical interview such as traffic, parking, finding the right office, or maybe even flight schedules and hotels. But, in truth, you may have merely traded in those problems for potential new ones, perhaps of some which you may not have even thought about yet. Fortunately, we’ll be discussing those and help get you prepared.

However, before we discuss specifics regarding online interviews, it is important to note that everything you would normally do to prepare yourself for a traditional face-to-face interview also applies to online interviews.

You still need to:

  • Dress professionally and appropriately, just as if you were interviewing in person. However, a caveat regarding clothing will be discussed later.
  • Do your research so you have a basic knowledge of the company. This will help you develop intelligent questions.
  • Review the position description or posting again to gain a better understanding of the job and its duties. This may also lead to questions you will want to ask.
  • Try anticipating some of the questions you may be asked and develop responses.
  • Repeatedly practice your responses to expected questions or topics so the words will come more easily. However, try to sound natural and not overly rehearsed.
  • Have your resume, cover letter, references, etc. handy in case you need them.
  • Be prepared for a skills test either before, during, or after the interview. Read about skills tests on a Career Lantern post here and listen to my podcast here.

Having briefly reviewed those usual tasks, let’s now address some of the challenges specifically associated with online job interviews. These will be broken down into four broad categories:

  • Location
  • Technology
  • Photographic Considerations
  • On-Camera Conduct

Location

Here, we’re talking about your location; specifically, the physical space in which you will have the interview. Why is location important? Consider this. When you go to a physical interview, where is it usually held? Typically, the employer conducts the interview in a quiet and private conference room or office, free from noise, interruptions, and other distractions. Now, honestly, does your planned location (usually your home or apartment) meet those same criteria most of the time? If not, you will need to make some changes to ensure it does or else change location. 

Could This Happen to You?

A few years ago, a college professor was giving a live interview on CNN, speaking about the serious topic of North Korea. Suddenly, during the broadcast, two of his very young children burst into the room. Next, his wife entered as well in an effort to round up and remove the toddlers. Again, this all took place on live international television! If you haven’t seen the clip, check it out here. This may be funny for us to watch, but probably not so much for him! Imagine your embarrassment if something like that happened during your online job interview! Sure, your prospective employer may be polite and chuckle. But, it could also be taken as a sign you failed to properly plan for the interview and pay attention to detail. Maybe not so funny after all. 

Making the Location Optimal

When deciding on your online interview location, consider the following: 

  • Kids and pets must be supervised or removed so they will not unexpectedly join the interview. Barking dogs, loud chirping birds, or cats that suddenly jump on you won’t necessarily be viewed as cute.
  • Make sure anyone else in the home or apartment knows about the interview and will not disturb you. In fact, they can help by watching the kids, pets, or answering the doorbell, etc.
  • No music or TV playing in the background.
  • Does your location regularly have loud planes or trains passing by? Are there clearly audible traffic noises and sirens? If so, find somewhere else to do the interview.
  • Watch for other room noises you may have come to ignore, such as a squeaky ceiling fan or a loud appliance.
  • Silence any other phones or devices in the room which may ring or alarm. 

You certainly don’t want to have to repeatedly apologize for things interrupting the interview. Make sure you are a person who obviously plans and pays attention to detail. Above all, if something unexpected does happen (remember the guy on CNN?), keep your cool and don’t freak out, go with the flow, and make a good recovery. At least show the interviewers you can handle stressful situations with composure! 

Technology

Online interviews obviously require technology, which consists of both hardware and software. The hardware includes not just your device (laptop, tablet, phone, desktop), but possibly other equipment as well. This may include a separate camera, screen, microphone, modem, hotspot device, etc. Software refers to the specific application which will be used to conduct the online interview. Let’s look at each of these tech aspects. 

Hardware

What type of device will you be using: a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer? If possible, avoid using your phone. Use a device with a large screen to enable you to better see the interviewers. This is particularly helpful when multiple interviewers will be participating. You don’t want to be unconsciously squinting or putting your face right up to your screen in an effort to see the various individuals. A larger screen will be helpful in reading the faces and reactions of the interviewers while you are answering questions, something which may not be possible on a small device. 

Consider going into the settings for the device and, if possible, temporarily disable features such as call waiting and notifications for texts, emails, etc. It will be hard to focus during an interview if your screen is constantly being flooded with popup notifications. Plus, if that occurs, the interviewers will see you are obviously distracted. Worse yet, they may wrongly assume you are – gasp! – reading text messages during the job interview! 

This may sound obvious, but make sure you know how to expertly operate the device being used. You certainly don’t want to accidentally cut off the interviewers while attempting to adjust the volume or do something equally ridiculous. Also, make sure your camera and microphone are working properly.  

If your Wi-Fi connection is sometimes sketchy, consider going to a different location or even using a desktop computer with an Ethernet connection wired to your modem. Not only is a wired setup more stable, but it also offers better security protection from those who may try to hack in on your wireless connection. 

Software

The interview invitation you receive by email should provide clear instructions on how you are to proceed. The software used may be something as simple as FaceTime or Zoom, familiar apps that you may have already used many times. On the other hand, employers may also use commercial software with which you are totally unfamiliar. But, not to worry. Your email invitation to the interview will normally include specific instructions and a link. Clicking the link will either grant you direct access to the interview site or, in some cases, prompt you to first download a small piece of required software. 

Applications used by companies for online interviews typically come in two flavors: generic business meeting software and products designed specifically for job interviews. 

Business Meeting Software

Generic business meeting software may include commercial products such as Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, Adobe Connect, GoToMeeting, Skype for Business, or any of many other such applications. Although primarily intended for business meetings and conferences, these packages are also used by many companies for job interviews mainly because they already have the product and are familiar with its use. 

Job Interview Software

Alternatively, some companies may use software designed specifically for online job interviews. These may include applications such as Spark Hire, VidCruiter, HireVue, among many others. Often, packages like these may interface directly with the company’s human resources software, such as an applicant tracking system (ATS). If you are unfamiliar with what an ATS is or does, see a related Career Lantern post here. Interview-specific software may also include features such as skills testing (see related Career Lantern post here). Some are even designed to conduct a semi-automated “digital interview” where candidates are required to record video responses to a set of questions. The interviewers later watch the recordings at their convenience. Check out an article on The Muse which discusses these type of interviews in detail. 

Photographic Considerations

You want to look your best and make a great first impression! To help do this, let’s discuss a few basic things professional photographers routinely take into consideration. Specifically, we will look at: 

  • Background
  • Lighting
  • Camera angle
  • Camera-to-subject distance
  • Glare
  • Clothing

Background

Other than you, what else in the room is visible to the camera? I have seen video podcasters with piles of dirty laundry clearly visible on the washing machine behind them. Tacky. Is there any clutter that can be seen? What about posters or pictures on the wall which may not necessarily be appropriate for a job interview? 

Also, with apps such as Zoom, forget using those cheesy digital backgrounds. No one will be impressed if you have the Eiffel Tower in your background when they know you live in Kansas. Also, aside from possibly goofy content, those backgrounds often tend to place an unnatural outline or glow around your body which can look silly and be distracting. 

Make sure there are no bright lights in your background. Look particularly for windows or lamps which may be on.Image demonstrating how strong backlight makes your face too dark to be seen.

Photographers know that such strong “backlight” causes automatic cameras to underexpose the subject in an attempt to compensate for the overall brightness of the picture (see graphic at right). The end result is you appear way too dark to be seen clearly and the window or lamp is overly bright and very annoying. Sometimes, due to automatic adjustment by the camera, whatever is outside the window is properly exposed and clearly visible, but you are too dark, perhaps even completely silhouetted. The interviewer wants to see you! 

Lighting

In addition to avoiding problems due to backlight, make sure you are adequately and nicely lighted. The illumination needs to be soft and even, producing no harsh shadows either on your face or in the background. The light source should be from the front or slightly off to the side, but not positioned too high or too low relative to your head. Otherwise, horrible shadows will appear on your face, making you look like an escapee from a horror movie! Also, if the light is too bright, the result will not be flattering. Depending on your complexion or makeup, you may appear pasty-faced or shiny. Overly bright light will also reveal and emphasize any sweat on your face.

Examples of outdoor lighting: soft/indirect compared to harsh/direct.What about outdoor lighting? Generally, the outdoors may not be the best place for an interview due to many uncontrollable factors which could cause havoc. In addition to noise, the weather could create problems (wind, unexpected rain, etc.), bees and other insects or pests could interfere, Wi-Fi reception may be poor, etc.

However, if your patio, porch, or other such location is the only suitable spot, watch the lighting to make sure it is soft and indirect. Avoid harsh direct sunlight (see graphic at left).

Camera Angle

The camera angle is important as it can have a profound effect on your appearance! Many people make the mistake of placing the device camera too low relative to their face, causing it to look upward at them. The result? Since your chin is then closest to the camera, it may look unnaturally large. Even worse, the interviewer is looking right up your nostrils! 

Graphic illustrating the effects camera angles on appearance.

Placing the device or camera slightly above or more evenly with your face presents a more natural and flattering image.

Earlier, we discussed backgrounds. Having the camera pointing upward also opens the door for additional background problems. Got a ceiling fan? If you’re not careful, you could end up looking like Inspector Gadget with his helicopter hat! Or, the ceiling light could be the source of a strong, unwanted backlight.

Camera-to-Subject Distance

If you are too far away from the camera, you will appear tiny to the interviewers on their end. They will be unable to see your face well, which will detract from the interview. On the other hand, if you are too close, the camera will significantly distort and enlarge your face and nose. The degree to which this occurs depends on the particular lens in the camera. What to do? Experiment with your device ahead of time and find a distance that provides the best compromise of good image size (of you) while maintaining a flattering appearance. 

Glare

If you wear glasses, watch for reflections and glare from the device screen or windows. Do you wear glasses with photochromic lenses, such as Transitions™ which darken automatically? Watch that they do not darken so much so as to conceal your eyes, making it look like you wore sunglasses to the interview. Using FaceTime, Zoom, or some other familiar app, experiment ahead of time to determine if any glare or unwanted reflections are present. While you may not be able to eliminate glare completely, try moving yourself or the camera around to minimize it as much as possible. 

A Note about Clothing

Earlier, I mentioned dressing professionally as if you were going to an in-person interview. In general, this is true with a few exceptions when it comes to video. Have you ever seen a television anchor or person being interviewed on TV with clothing that produced a bizarre, moving, almost psychedelic image? This is known as a “moiré effect” and is produced when clothing with a fine pattern (such as herringbone) or a certain weave is viewed by a video camera. This technically-induced effect can occur with either clothing or neckties. Wear something solid or with a matte background, and avoid checkered or patterned clothes. Look at yourself on camera. Does your choice of clothing produce this very annoying and distracting effect? 

On-Camera Conduct

With an online interview, there are a few additional items to consider, especially related to your conduct while on-camera. 

Watch Those Unconscious Habits

Remember at ALL times that you are on camera and can be seen by the interviewers. When in the comfort of your own space it may be very easy to forget and do things you would likely never do during an in-person interview. This might include unconscious habits such as biting your nails, rolling your eyes at interviewer comments, repeatedly touching your nose or mouth, licking your lips, fidgeting with a pen or other item, and so forth. 

Eye Contact

Applicants are always encouraged to maintain good eye contact with the interviewers. How do you do that online? This can be somewhat difficult since, in order for it to appear as if you looking at the interviewers, you must look DIRECTLY into the camera lens. However, when you do that, you usually will not be able to see the screen and therefore unable to judge the reactions of the interviewers.

The best solution is to maintain a balance. For example, when beginning your response to a question, look directly into the camera. This gives the appearance on their end that you are looking at them. However, since you want to see their faces and read their reactions – and don’t want to appear as if you are staring – occasionally glance away from the camera and look at your screen. To make this easier and seem more natural, practice this technique with a friend in advance. 

Cheat-Cheats

One advantage of an online interview is you can have notes or other materials handy, so long as you keep them out of view of the camera. For example, if you can, quickly write down the names of the interviewers on a card or sheet of paper and place it where only you can see it. This way, you can refer to it as needed without having to rely solely on your memory. With a little practice, you can make this look natural. 

But… Don’t Overdo the Notes

While it is fine to have a few notes handy, don’t overdo it. Constantly having to look down at such materials will make it appear as if you don’t really know your stuff. After all, you should already know – from memory – the content of your resume and anything you entered on your application. You want to seem quick and sharp, not someone who has to refer to their notes about every little thing. 

Be on Time

Just as arriving on time for an in-person interview is a given, so is being on time for an online interview. In fact, check into the link a few minutes early. First, this demonstrates you are punctual. Second, if there are any unexpected or last-minute technology glitches you need to address, they can be resolved without appearing as if you are fumbling around. 

It’s Showtime

Perhaps one of the biggest and most important take-ways from all this information is that the best way to prepare for an online interview is to practice. Use one of your favorite video apps such as FaceTime or Zoom, and do a mock interview with a friend. Provide them with some questions to ask and practice responding on-camera. They can also offer useful feedback regarding room appearance, audible noises, your habits, camera angle, etc. 

OK, it’s time for the show! If you plan and practice in advance, keeping in mind and addressing the issues presented above, you should be well-prepared to go on camera and nail that online video job interview! 

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment and share your experience or thoughts!

Featured image courtesy of Christina Morillo from Pexels
Lighting and camera angle graphics model: Lisa Zacks

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