5 tips for better Video Interviews


Increasingly, given our busy schedules, travel, environmental and cost concerns, the world is relying on alternative methods to the ‘face to face’ interview.

Trying to get all the required participants in the same room at the same time, travelling across a busy Metropolis and other delays, makes a physical meeting more and more difficult. Here at Systematix, we have seen a dramatic increase in the use of video conferencing as an effective method to handling resource interviews, internally and externally.

Regrettably, we also have seen more than our fair share of horrible video interviews.

In any business, and as we’ve mentioned in the past, the first impression counts.  For evidence, think about how much planning and effort for the background goes into your favourite news or talk show to get an idea of how a few small noticeable changes or poorly placed microphone can affect the way you are perceived.

Here’s 5 things we’ve identified in our video meetings, which you should consider to look (and sound) your best:

Sounds: What did you say?

Interviewers will be listening intently at what and how you respond. If they are having trouble hearing you, everyone fails.

Try not to sit in an empty room, as it will create an annoying echo and make it difficult to hear what you are saying, but the reverse is also true.  Don’t sit next to an open window while someone outside is using a jackhammer, or a dog is barking crazily.

Try to make sure your room has some echo cancelling materiel in it, like a carpet, curtains or a bookshelf (yes, with books on it). These items will stop sound from bouncing around, because your computer uses an omnidirectional microphone, and stray noises and echoes are the enemy.

Try recording yourself using a recording app, or with another computer in your home/office, to see how you sound, and what you should be aware of that you may miss normally… like the sound of the train going by.  Listen to the recording and make the obvious adjustments.

It’s always best to first test what you will sound like by recording yourself (with the same computer, and room you will be using during interviews) or connecting to a friend via skype and ask them to critique what you sound like, and maybe even send you a “screen shot” so you can see what they see. Background noises can also distract the interviewer, so close the door and let anyone else in the area know that you will be conducting an important business meeting, and you need a quiet environment. A room with carpet, curtains and/book shelves (with books) can help stop sound from bouncing around and creating distractions. This works for phone interviews also.

Backgrounds: What is that?

Take a close look at what is going to be behind you. You don’t want anything distracting the interviewers while doing a live interview.

Let people in your home or office know: you’re about to get on a video call; and shut the door if you can.  We once had an unfortunate incident where a consultant of ours was on a video interview, and his unsuspecting partner walked past the open door behind him – right after getting out of the shower.  A plain empty wall is not the most effective background either; as it bounces the sound of the call all over the place.

You also shouldn’t forget that you want to create a good business impression. So it’s a good idea to stage the area behind you in advance. Book shelves with industry and related books, and/or your accreditations and certificates framed neatly is another good idea, or even some artwork (non-controversial).

Similarly to the sound check suggested above, try taking a photo of your background before your video interview or meeting, and inspect it carefully so you can see what the other person(s) will see. You want the background to look neat and professional (no baskets of laundry or messy tables etc.).  You get the point.

Appearance: The Nose Inspection.

Most technology professionals own a notebook with a webcam, and will probably use this for the interview. Think about how the notebook is positioned. Is it flat on the desk or table? It if is, then you have probably angled the screen looking up at you. What the interviewer will see is the ceiling and probably a good view up your nose (we call these nose inspections).

Not the most appealing view of a person at the best of times.

Place the notebook on a box or books so that the camera is at eye level, and look into the camera, not at your keyboard. You want the appearance of making eye contact. (If there’s something distracting off screen that you keep looking at, viewers might think there is someone else in the room (coaching you?) or worse, that your lying*.

Also, try to place the camera so that you’re not just a “head shot”. You will want your camera at roughly an arm’s length away so there will be some background and upper part of your body in the frame, your eyes should be about two thirds up the screen (use that background!). Note: you may like working in your pajamas, but full business attire is required here.

Lighting: The Strobe Effect.

Again, this may be the only meeting the interviewer will have to base their impression of you., and first impressions are important if you want to move to the next stage. You don’t want a lot of back lighting which will make your face dark and hard to see.

You’ll want some lighting somewhere behind your camera, just enough to make sure your face is not shadowed, and not too bright either. Again take a picture with your web cam and see what the interviewer will see.

Try not to use overhead lighting, it is not flattering. The worst is the ceiling fan light, because every time those blades go spinning by, they dip the light and you’ll look like you are in a discotheque. Note: don’t light from below, unless you are pitching ghost stories for a living.

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

It goes without saying, but we’ll say it here anyways; prepare in advance.

You don’t want to be frantically looking for documents on the same computer your interviewing on, and you don’t want to be standing up and leaving the camera to dig in filling cabinets, drawers or boxes for documents.

Print out the relevant documents in advance and have them at hand. You want the conversation to go smoothly, and show that you are confident, professional, and prepared.

We can’t tell you how many video calls we’ve had where the participant looks like they just crawled out of bed, faces have pillow creases all over, or they are eating while in the spotlight.

If you follow this quick checklist, which is the same level of preparation that we always suggest prior to a face to face interview, things will go just fine; and the time NOT spent in traffic will have saved a little of the environment too.

Good luck, and prepare for your closeup!