How to be sharp in video job interviews

Marketplace Staff Jan 8, 2010
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How to be sharp in video job interviews

Marketplace Staff Jan 8, 2010
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TESS VIGELAND: Another 85,000 jobs went down the tubes last month — worse than what most economists were expecting. And it means more people will be hitting the copy center for new resumes. If you’re lucky enough to get a job interview, suffice it to say it probably won’t be like the ones of old — no fancy meals, maybe not even a hotel stay. In fact, it might involve nothing more than flipping the switch on your home office computer, for a video interview. It saves the employer time and money, but also offers an opportunity for job seekers to bomb miserably.

From the Marketplace Entrepreneurship Desk at Oregon Public Broadcasting, Mitchell Hartman takes a test drive.


Mitchell Hartman: I landed my first reporting job 20 years ago by barging into the newsroom of a small New England paper and wheedling an on-the-spot interview with the editor. She liked my chutzpah, and I got the job.

Today, that first interview might go something like this:

Skype dialing and ringing sounds

Peter Frerichs: Pole to Pole Consulting, Peter Frerichs speaking.

Hartman: Hi, it’s Mitchell Hartman here.

Frerichs: I should be able to see you…

Welcome to the virtual interview, where two people converse via the Internet. If both have webcams on their computers, they can see each other while they talk.

More and more employers are using Skype, iChat and other video-conferencing technologies to screen applicants for jobs like restaurant manager and sales associate. Only finalists get to be interviewed in-person. In fields like technology and accounting, even that final interview might be done on-screen. Often, candidates are asked to record a video presentation as well.

Now, in my case, I’m not up for a job. I’m Skyping with Peter Frerichs. He’s a business consultant in Santiago, Chile — far enough away to give the technology a good test-run.

Hartman: If you were assessing me for a job — let’s say you wanted to hire me to be in your consultancy — what would you think just looking into the room?

Frerichs: It looks like one of these kidnapping videos from the Middle East — not probably ideal for interviewing a candidate.

The video is a bit herky-jerky. And the fluorescent lights make it look like I’m coming down with something. But however it looks to the interviewer, the experience can be decidedly unnerving for the interviewee.

Peter Reynolds: They asked me to go to a Kinko’s.

Peter Reynolds did one of these a few years back. He was in his late 50s and up for a dean’s job at a big east coast university. He now works for the Army as a senior scientist.

Reynolds: It felt almost like talking to a wall. The degree of eye contact and the degree of feeling presence and being able to gauge reactions, the one-on-one experience. Maybe it was ’cause it was new and something I hadn’t ever done before, but it just felt bizarre.

You might think this is about age and familiarity with the technology. Well, Paul Snitker is 28. He’s getting an MBA at Washington University in St. Louis. Virtual encounters are no big deal for him. He uses Skype to video-chat with friends and family all the time.

Paul Snitker: I would still personally rather do face-to-face interviews. I find that you can get a better feel for the interviewer, for the culture at the company.

But Snitker may not have that option this spring when he applies for jobs. And so his university career office provides coaching on how to conduct yourself on screen, especially if you do this at home.

Snitker: I would have to make sure I have a note up to the doorbell to tell nobody to ring the doorbell for the next half hour, that I’m in a meeting. And maybe even more so, you want to look at what’s behind you. You’re going to give the interviewer, where you guys would have normally been in a neutral location, they can see a lot more about you as a person from what’s behind you on the screen.

So here’s some advice on backdrops: bookcases, a classic art print, maybe a plant — all good. Desk clutter, beer-fest poster, bright lights behind your head — all bad. Better yet, reduce your risk: do this in a video-conference or career center, if one’s available.

Businessman Bobby Fitzgerald has just published an online guide to video interviewing. He runs a chain of upscale Italian restaurants out of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Bobby Fitzgerald: Put yourself in the mind set that you are walking into the corporate office of the company you are applying with. So the faux pas are little, but they add up. Dressing professionally, recognizing that one should dress as they would be walking into a professional environment, not as they are in their own home.

And, dress completely, says Judy Clark. She runs a human resources firm in Portland.

Judy Clark: Make sure that you dress from head to toe, because frequently people are asked to step to a white board and to write something out, for the very purpose of being able to see whether or not they wore jeans underneath that suit coat.

Clark says the video interview can be difficult. especially for older workers who may find it informal and impersonal. She says, resist that at all costs.

Clark: I’d say, “Yeah, I want to be able to demonstrate to you I can do it this way. Because otherwise I may be labeled ‘not as technologically forward, not as flexible, not as adaptable, not as suited for today’s work environment.'”

One final piece of advice: practice, practice, practice. Download the video software, get a friend on-screen, answer mock questions, try on different outfits, change the backdrop and then see what looks best. After all, you now get to choose the setting for your next “big chance” in this Brave New Webcam World.

I’m Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace Money.

Vigeland: And for those who are curious about the details involved in this interview preparation, we’ve got a Web-only interview on how to feng shui your background at our Web site, Marketplace.org. Did I actually just say the phrase “Feng shui your background”?

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