Video interviews: tips from the battlefield

A video interview is always better for you than a voice call. You can use your body language, gestures and facial expressions to complement your words. Also you can adjust your message based on the reactions of your interviewer. But there are also pitfalls you need to avoid. I have done more than 1,000 video interviews. Here are some things to keep in mind to ensure a successful experience:

  • Use a headset or at least earphones, speakers are often unreliable and the other party will not understand you.
  • Sit facing a light source: don’t sit with a window behind you as the light will cast your face in shadows. You should have a light in front of you (not behind you) so your face is well-lit and visible. This could be a window, a regular lamp of even a ring light that some influencers use.
  • Look UP, not down! No one wants to be looked down upon so please do not look down on your counterpart (99% of people still do this so this is your chance to stand out!). This means you should NOT use the built-in camera in your laptop. Invest in a high quality external camera that sits at a better angle. If you must use your laptop camera, then increase the height of the laptop (e.g., put some books below it).  The camera should sit a little bit higher than your head. Looking (slightly) up makes your face appear more friendly.
  • Don’t sit too close: Sitting too close means your face is partially cut off. If only part of your face is visible, that’s not ideal. Move back a little. Ideally you should sit around 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) away from the camera.
  • Test extensively: use the test features of the video app, ideally call a friend. Just spend 10 minutes to test a day before the call so you can still fix any issues.
  • Using a laptop/ desktop is always better than using a mobile phone or tablet. The screen is much bigger and the camera position is stable and in a good angle. It is surprisingly difficult to put a phone in a stable position that shows your face in a good angle and with a clean background while still using a headset. That’s why I prefer Zoom as it runs on my laptop and the interviewee doesn’t need to sign up.
  • Find a stable place for your phone, don’t hold it in your hand during the interview. If the interviewer insists on a mobile platform like FaceTime, WhatsApp or WeChat or you simply don’t have a laptop available, allow extra time for the setup. Ideally use a tripod such as this tripod from UBeesize. If I don’t have my tripod with me, this is what I do: I put my mobile phone on the left side of my laptop, leaning against the screen. This still enables me to use a headset but I can’t charge the phone. So I need to make sure the battery is sufficiently charged before the interview starts.
  • Log in 5-10 minutes early (for conferencing platforms like Zoom) or let the interviewer initiate the call (for all others like Skype). Often there might be technical problems so you can fix these without using valuable interview time (and without getting nervous). For Skype, it’s a nice gesture if you add the interviewer in advance (if you know their ID), as especially on Skype it can be difficult to find the other person.
  • Look at the camera and turn off self-view. The self-view (e.g., on Zoom) will distract you. Make sure you are positioned well, then turn off the self-view. Also, don’t look at the interviewer but rather at the camera. Looking at the camera feels unnatural and needs practice but is necessary if you want to create the impression that you are looking in the interviewers eyes.
  • Take notes on paper, not on your laptop. Taking notes shows the interviewer that you are paying attention. But if you do it on your laptop, your face looks strange as you are not looking at the camera. Also, the noise from typing will be very annoying to your interviewer.
  • Close all other apps (especially ones that might pop up) on your laptop. Turn your phone off or put it on silent.
  • For Skype/ WeChat/ WhatsApp calls that you take on your phone (not recommended): turn on airplane mode and then activate WiFi (otherwise an incoming voice call might interrupt the video call as it usually overrides video call apps). Of course if you haven’t received a call within 5 minutes, turn on your phone and check your emails if the interviewer has tried to reach you. That’s why testing is so important.
  • Keep the background clean and make sure no one is walking into the room (unless you want your own BBC moment).
  • Use a wired connection or at least stable WiFi , don’t rely on 4G (too slow and volatile). Test the speed via, it should be at least 10 MB/s but better more.
  • Find a private space, don’t do the interview in a coffee shop, airport or taxi (all have happened to me). If necessary, go into a co-working space/ serviced office and rent a booth for one hour. But don’t do it in your bed (seriously, this has happened to me). Universities often have dedicated rooms available for video calls. Some people even have rented a room in a serviced office (e.g., WeWork) to have a quiet space.
  • Dress up just as you would for an in person interview.
  • Make sure your ID is professional (e.g., Skype ID or WeChat ID). Wildgirl or Crazydude might be fun with your friends, but are not appropriate in an interview. While you are at it, also make sure the photo is professional (just use your LinkedIn photo). Creating a new ID just for video interviews might be the faster option.
  • Ensure that you have given the right Video/ Skype ID to the interviewer. Surprisingly often candidates give me a video ID that is spelled incorrectly or is outdated. Skype is particularly tricky as it sometimes adds ‘Live:’ in front of the Skype-ID and the user is not aware of it. Many times there is one account with ‘live:’ and one without. Please triple check that you gave the interviewer the right ID to call. The easiest way is by adding the interviewer on Skype and also sending the Skype ID by email.

If you follow this checklist, you will be ahead of your competition and increase your odds of having a successful interview.

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