By Carmen Hoober
Friday, June 14, 2019

Sometimes it seems like I interview people over videoconferencing platforms all-the-livelong-day. From Kenya to Ecuador to Canada to Spain to Germany, to the tiny island of Mauritius, and all over the good ol' US of A, I have Skyped, Zoomed, FaceTimed, and WhatsApp'd my way across the globe. So I like to think I've become a bit of an expert on the art of the video interview. Even though I'm interviewing for service and mission opportunities rather than traditional jobs, I ALWAYS appreciate when folks take their interview seriously and attempt to put their best foot forward.

I find that a lot of the time, though, people are a little uncertain as to how a video interview is going to work. I totally get it—this is still new to a lot of people. Technology is great, but it also creates one more opportunity for something to go wrong in what can be an already stressful situation. Sometimes things go so smoothly, you would almost believe you're sitting in the same room together. Other times, it can feel like you're in NASA headquarters trying to communicate with someone on the moon.

Look on the bright side! Video interviews have a lot of benefits. You don't need to worry about traffic! You don't have to be concerned about having bad breath or sweaty palms or how firm your handshake is! Wear all the perfume or cologne you want! As an added bonus, you might even get to have a good laugh if your interviewer's face freezes on the screen in a really unflattering way! Of course, there are some unique challenges, but keep reading and learn how to set yourself apart from the masses.


1. Location, location, location

Please, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, find a private, quiet location (with good Internet connection!) with a door you can shut. Places that will not work include a busy hallway, the middle of a coffee shop or library, or a stairwell (with people walking past). If I can see other people in the background, I am immediately distracted from the awesome things you will presumably be saying. Other no-no locations include:

  • A bathtub.

  • Anyplace outside.

  • In a moving car driving through the mountains. (Can you hear me now?)

  • Anywhere a cat will jump on your shoulder.

So please. Have mercy.

Try your very best to find a neutral backdrop. If you can find a fancy-styled bookshelf to sit in front of (displaying all the tomes of great literature you've read), neat. Otherwise, a clean, blank wall is your best bet.

Next is to experiment and do a trial run (preferably on the same platform you will be using). Turn on your webcam in your chosen location. Is there enough light? Is there a weird glare? Can you draw the shades if needed? Is there an outlet nearby in case your computer battery is running low? Better to figure this stuff out well ahead of time instead of scrambling around at the last moment. If you feel like I'm advising you to design a movie set, you're kind of right! Now, get ready for your close-up!

2. What you wear matters

Whether you like it or not, your clothing communicates for you. In fact, according to the theory of enclothed cognition, your choice of clothing not only sends a message to others, but it can also alter your perception of yourself and improve your performance! Learn how to harness this for your benefit.

Curiously, I find that when I interview people online, they tend to dress way more casually than they would for an in-person interview. I really can't figure out why that is. Maybe it's because they're in their own home? But, c'mon, it's still an interview. For my purposes, I don't expect people to show up in a three-piece suit, online OR in-person, but I still appreciate some effort. Of course, depending on your industry, you may well need to wear the suit and tie or a Hillary Rodham Clinton pantsuit. While conventional wisdom says that it's better to be over-dressed than under-dressed, I've personally had that work against me. The answer is to do your research! If all else fails, ask the HR person you're communicating with.

If "what to wear" has you stressing, it's worth noting that since you will be appearing on a screen, there are some differences. Depending on how much you care about appearing washed out, you might want to avoid wearing white. For example, good colors on camera are navy blue and grey. Stay away from busy, patterned prints or anything that might be construed as "revealing." Minimal jewelry, conservative makeup for women, and a fresh shave for men are also good decisions. And just because the interviewer will likely not see you from the waist down does NOT mean pants are optional! And, this should go without saying (yet I still need to say it), shoes are a MUST.

3. After you speak, pause

This is tricky. It's also hard to do if you're nervous. I notice that it's easier to talk over each other and interrupt someone in a virtual interview than IRL. Maybe because it's not as easy to catch those micro-expressions that send signals to our brains helping us to navigate conversations. Social cues are further confused when there's a lag between the audio and what you see on the screen.

I've learned to allow a few extra beats after I've spoken to give someone the chance to know when I'm expecting him or her to speak. I also wait a few beats longer than I would in normal conversation to allow space for someone to finish their thought before responding.

In my opinion, a good interviewer is a gracious interviewer. I've learned this stuff the hard way on my end of the webcam, and I don't hold it against folks who don't do this kind of thing every day. (And if they're not gracious? That's good data—remember that you're also interviewing them as well!)

Take note: An on-camera interview will often offer you the opportunity to display grace under fire. More than once I've made note of how someone is responding to unexpected technological issues. It's like a window into how they handle stress and working under pressure—something most interviewers would love to discover!

4. Maintain comfortable eye … er, camera contact

The best angle for a virtual interview is when your computer is on a desk or table and you are facing the camera head-on in a chair a comfortable distance away. Sit far enough back that you are filling the screen from the chest or shoulders up (please try not to move your computer or screen around a lot). I like to put the box with the other person's face just under the webcam to direct my eyes to the right place.

5. Have your stuff ready

Print off a copy of your resume and the job description so that you can talk intelligently without needing to mess around with finding a file on your computer (which you're using already). One tip is to put sticky notes around the edges of your computer screen with key phrases or questions you might like to keep in front of you.

Be ready early. Silence your phone. Don't speak negatively about past employers or how poorly you were treated. Be honest. Have good questions prepared. Do your research about the company. Send a thank-you e-mail afterward. Etc. Etc.

We've all seen the hilarious viral video of Professor Robert Kelly being interviewed on the BBC while his toddler and baby interrupt him on live TV. It didn't stop me from laughing, but I really did feel for that guy (and his wife!). Man, he was doing everything right, and then BAM! His moment to shine became a three-ring circus. It just goes to show that all we can do is prepare to the best of our abilities, and then try our best to handle what life throws at us. And sometimes … you've just gotta be able to laugh at yourself. 

The most helpful interview advice I've received is to be SO prepared that when the time comes, you can relax and be truly present with the interviewer. That applies no matter the setting in which your interview takes place. An interview on your computer screen is still an interview. If you pay attention to the small distinctions I've discussed above, you'll be able to forget about the techy distractions, allowing you to concentrate on the MOST IMPORTANT THING—showing up as the best version of yourself.


​Carmen Hoober is a personnel counselor for Mennonite Mission Network.



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