Making a good on-camera impression

By now most of us have seen the clip of a BBC news guest being interrupted by his children during a live television interview. This scenario is relatable to so many people for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that as bad as an unexpected interruption can be in the middle of a phone call, it’s downright mortifying when the person on the other end of the line can also see the mayhem during a video chat.

A recent survey from staffing firm Robert Half highlights embarrassing situations in front of the camera, in this case during video job interviews, including:

  • A job seeker and his wife arguing during a job interview;
  • A job seeker taking his girlfriend’s phone call during the interview;
  • A candidate playing video games in the background during the interview;
  • The job seeker getting dressed; and
  • A candidate eating breakfast during the interview, among others.

With an increasingly dispersed workforce, more companies are turning to video to interview remote workers as well as keep teams connected, and professionals need to put their best foot forward.

Kyle Kraus, director of permanent placement services for Robert Half Finance & Accounting in Madison, says when choosing a location to set up for an on-camera meeting or interview, pick a quiet, well-lit space with a simple background, ideally with natural light. “Shoulders and face should be framed in the screen, so provide ample room for both. Make sure pets and family members don’t interrupt the flow of the interview. If possible, interview from a secluded room where the door can be locked. Set your phone to silent, and disable any on-screen notifications.”

Kraus also says it's important to make sure there are no strange noises or anything visual that could be a distraction. “You don’t want anything that could make you uneasy — your location shouldn’t cause any jitters; you should be completely comfortable. Also, make sure there’s nothing in the background that could be perceived as unprofessional.”

Robert Half provided several more tips for job seekers for a successful video interview:

Test your technology. Download the video platform being used for your interview well in advance. Test your webcam, microphone, and speaker to ensure they are working properly. And don't forget to make sure your batteries are charged, recommends Kraus. “The last thing you want is to seem unprepared because your battery died.”

Do a trial run. Ask a friend to conduct a mock video interview and provide you with an honest critique. You may find you need to practice pausing momentarily before responding to ensure the interviewer is done speaking. This can be especially important if the connection is slow.

Dress professionally. “Dress the same as you would for an in-person interview,” advises Kraus. “Choose an outfit that projects confidence. Pick something that will stand out against the background, but avoid patterns that could be distracting on camera. Look your professional best from head to toe, not just from the waist up.

Look lively. Directing eye contact to the camera when speaking, nodding noticeably, smiling, maintaining good posture, and making appropriate hand gestures a bit more than you typically would can help you appear more engaged on screen.

Send a thank-you. Extend the same politeness you would after an in-person interview. Before the discussion concludes, ask for the office mailing address or email address of the hiring manager and follow up with a thank-you note.

Quick recovery

Even with all the preparation in the world, video interview mishaps may still happen. However, they don’t have to bring your meeting to a screeching halt.

“If you accidently slip up during the interview, don’t dwell on it,” notes Kraus. “Apologize and continue talking, as an awkward silence could make things worse. Additionally, if your pet or child starts to make noise in the background, acknowledge what’s happening. Address the issue, apologize sincerely, and move on to correcting the situation calmly and quickly. Close the door or change locations so you can continue with the interview.”



Managerial advice

If you’re an employer or manager looking for advice on video interviewing, Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half, suggests that you follow many of the same tips as job applicants. “Hiring managers can help the candidate feel at ease and show their company is a desirable place to work by conducting the interview from an uncluttered, noise-free setting, such as a conference room,” he says. “And, just as with candidates, they should make sure they’re comfortable with the technology.”

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