Before you get the chance to talk to a hiring manager face-to-face, they may screen you in a video interview. In a 2012 survey of human resources professionals at U.S. companies, more than six in 10 said they used video interviews to hire candidates.
But selling your career story through a screen comes with unique challenges. Career experts weighed in on some of the seemingly harmless mistakes that are magnified on video.
1. You’re in a distracting environment.
What your interviewer sees or hears behind you on-screen can be just as important as what they learn about you.
“You’re more responsible for the environment than you would be in a face-to-face interview, because typically face-to-face you’re going to somebody’s office or some site,” said Phyllis Hartman, founder of the human resources company PGHR Consulting.
Solution: Anticipate interruptions and eliminate the distractions you can control. Choose a quiet space to chat. You don’t want your interviewer to strain to hear what you’re saying over a loud coffee shop. “You want to make sure no one is going to come through the door, or make a lot of noise,” Hartman said.
If you have other people sharing your workspace, let them know ahead of time when you are interviewing, or make sure they’re out of the way.
2. You’re acting too casually.
Some job candidates make the mistake of thinking a video interview is more casual than an in-person meeting because the hiring manager is not in the same room.
“I interviewed an HR director candidate once and she sat criss-cross on her unmade bed for a video interview wearing sweatclothes,” said Amy Polefrone, tCEO of HR Strategy Group. “And I’m like why isn’t she taking this interview seriously, just as seriously as she would going and meeting in person. And her kids and animals kept interrupting her during the interview. And that was a senior position.”
Remember to present yourself as if you are sitting physically across from your interviewer.
“A couple times as a hiring manager, I remember interviewing people who were leaned back, sitting on their couch with their laptop on their lap, and they were wearing a T-shirt,” said Josh Doody, a salary negotiation coach and former hiring manager. “And it was like, man, it doesn’t feel like you’re really amped about this interview. It feels like, maybe I’m inconveniencing you as the interviewer.”
Solution: Signal professionalism with your dress and posture. Test how you look on a video with a friend, Polefrone said.
Do your research on how the company dresses and ask questions. “Approach it the same way you would a face-to-face interview. Or ask the interviewer what’s the dress code, and then dress that way,” Hartman said.
3. You didn’t test your Wi-Fi connection.
Your interview can get derailed before it even begins if you learn too late that your web browser cannot support a video call. Keep in mind that web browsing takes up less network bandwidth than a video call.
“You’re all set up on Skype, and then you hit accept on the call, and then immediately they start breaking up on the call. And then, oh boy, now we’re not interviewing, we’re trying to troubleshoot [the] internet connection,” said Doody. “Even though most people understand that happens, it’s not going to make a great impression.”
Solution: Test your bandwidth beforehand. Try video chatting a friend to see if your connection is fast enough. Or you can test it yourself through Speedtest, which measures the speed of the connection between your device and a test server. Skype said it takes a minimum upload speed of 1.2 mbps for an HD video call to work, and Google Hangouts said an inbound call between two people ideally takes 2.6 mbps.
4. You have bad lighting.
The advantage of video over a phone interview is getting to see facial expressions, and you don’t want to lose that with a poorly lit environment. “There have been situations ― and I’ve experienced this ― where I couldn’t really see the person’s face,” Hartman said.
Doody said bad lighting makes interviewers “work harder to get that visual feedback that I normally get in conversation.”
Solution: Face natural light or move a light behind your laptop. Try putting a light behind your computer that is facing you, and practice calling with a friend to see how you look, Hartman suggested.
If the available lighting in your home isn’t ideal for your video setup, “see if you can face yourself toward the window and let the sunlight do the lighting for you,” Doody said. “That can get too bright sometimes, you have to be careful, but usually it’s a pretty good thing if you don’t have some kind of diffused light.”
5. You don’t maintain enough eye contact.
It can be too easy to forget to look at the camera and at the interviewer in a video chat. But regular eye contact is how we signal that we are connecting with our audience.
Polefrone recalled one candidate who struggled to maintain eye contact: “I could tell that they were not looking at any notes. They were just looking up in the sky to answer questions, and I’m like, ‘I’m here.’ That is a more dangerous mistake.“
Solution: Create reminders to look at the camera. “The best way to simulate eye contact is to try and put [the interviewer’s] video feed as close as you can to the video camera that you’re working with,” Doody said. That way, it looks more like a natural conversation.
If you are looking down occasionally to take notes, that’s okay. It signals that you are engaged and care. You can prepare your interviewer for this by letting them know with, “Hey, if you see me look down, I’m looking down to take notes,” Doody said.
You can also practice arranging your equipment so that it’s not hard to look at the camera directly. Good eye-level positioning can help a candidate “come across as best you can as a real person” to an interviewer, said Christine Allen, a workplace psychologist. “I want to feel like I’m right there with you,” she said.
Set up your laptop so it mostly frames head and shoulders, and you will not look “distant or far away,” Allen suggested.