Reach for the Skype: tackling a job interview on webcam

In the past few weeks, at least two of my jobhunting friends have had interviews on Skype, from the comfort of their own homes. 

The Internet made video conferences and web chats possible across all geographical and time zones at the click of a button, so why not hire people that way too? An interview on Skype saves travel time and cost, and it fits in nicely with the Internet-centric, borderless world we live in.

But are there pitfalls we should be aware of?

Anita Isalska, who has just started a new career as a freelance writer/editor, guest blogs below about her recent experience of a Skype interview and shares some tips. 

Excited as I am about my decision to go freelance, I recently saw an advert for a full-time job I couldn’t ignore. An exciting company, a sterling copywriter role, and way out of my league. Applying for the role felt as wistful and hopeless as faxing a love letter to Angelina Jolie, so I was delighted to be offered an interview a couple of weeks ago.

My surprise was matched by dismay when I learned the interview would be conducted on Skype.

Job interviews by Skype, where a face-to-face meeting is replaced by a webcam beaming into your bedroom, are becoming more common in an increasingly global culture. In my case, the company was overseas, looking to start a new UK office and recruit local staff in advance, but many aspirational jobseekers are also looking for their dream jobs in sunnier (or perhaps snowier) climes.

The jobseeker and interviewer could be thousands of miles apart, but Skype trumps an impersonal phone interview by allowing the candidate to demonstrate their personability and professionalism over the webcam. I had never experienced an interview in this form before, but it made the world feel a little smaller: what’s to stop me from looking beyond London’s grey skyline for jobs in Paris, New York, Melbourne?

Dream destinations aside, if Skype interviews become common practice, jobseekers looking for employment further than their hometown (as the government recommends) won’t have to choose between train tickets they can barely afford, and a potential telling-off at the Job Centre if they try to claim transport allowance.

But even the most seasoned interviewee faces new challenges when interviewing by Skype, as you’re not only showcasing yourself and your skills. Assuming you’re interviewing from your home computer (as I did), you’re also putting your interview success at the mercy of your internet connection, as well as giving the interviewer a window into your interior decoration tastes. For me, preparing for a Skype interview was much more than dusting down the sofa and replacing my horror movie collection with a shelf of Tolstoy.

Here’s how I avoided the pitfalls of the remote interview.

1. Warn your family and flatmates.

Simply mentioning that I had an interview was not enough: I pinned a notice on my door, nagged my housemates to tiptoe, and begged them not to imperil the internet connection by downloading Family Guy during my interview hour. A Skype interview can be interrupted by anything from the loud thrum of a washing machine to a well-meaning housemate looking for his shoes. Temporary internet glitches, or your hubby in his bathrobe accidentally wandering within view, may not be fatal to the interview but it will leave you flustered and ensure you’re remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Spare yourself the palpitations by giving your loved ones plenty of warning.

2. Dress as if you’re attending in person.

An interview by Skype is not an excuse to wear your slippers. Granted, the interviewer will only see the view you’ve chosen for your webcam, usually just your face and shoulders. But my posture radiated confidence when I discarded my jeans and smartened up.

3. Groom as if you’re going to a photoshoot.

Webcams have a diabolical way of turning healthy glowing skin into distracting shine (and for the gents, a five o’clock shadow into a grubby-looking beard). Don’t just check the mirror, check how you look on the webcam. If neutralising those shadows or toning down the shine mean extra make-up, a different hairstyle, or adjusting the lights, don’t hesitate: because you’re worth it.

Experiment with the lighting in your room too: I found the window behind me created glare, and the position of the lamp gave me an unwanted halo. A desk lamp pointing towards my face produced a much better result, making me appear brighter (and whitewashing my many imperfections, as an added bonus).

4. Tidy the entire room.

Don’t just clear the area behind you — if the interviewer asks you to adjust the webcam because of the lighting, you don’t want to be fretting that the pile of pizza boxes you swept away has now come into view.

Be aware that aspects of your personality are on display, which could make your job application somewhat ironic. “Would you say you work well with people?” they might ask, spotting your collection of Jack the Ripper biographies. “I’d definitely describe myself as the sociable type,” you nod earnestly, as the framed photo of you dirty dancing with a man in a toga at a university party comes into view.

5. Be time-zone aware.

An early-morning interview with an Australian company may leave you struggling to stay awake, but the interviewer is in the middle of his or her working afternoon, and will expect you to be similarly alert. Wake up at least an hour before the interview, to shower, breakfast, and knock back a coffee. It will be painfully obvious if you’ve just crawled out of bed, so resist the urge to cut corners for an extra few minutes’ sleep. You may not be tempted by a pre-interview 5am scrub-down with Original Source Mint shower gel, the lathery equivalent of an electric shock, but it did give me a vigorous wake-up call.

6. Imagine you’re a newscaster.

My only experience with Skype before the interview was chatting to my boyfriend when one of us was out of the country. Most of these exchanges involved energetic waving, and hesitation over whether to look at the screen or the webcam lens. Have a practice run where you channel Natasha Kaplinsky: focus on the camera, to give the impression of eye contact, while glancing back to the screen quickly every few seconds to check how your interviewer is reacting.

A practice run is invaluable to get this balance right, as you’ll be tempted to fixate on your pores, that weird thing you do with your mouth, and the angles that make you look slimmer. Iron these out in your practice run so you can concentrate on the interviewer, not your appearance.

7. Take advantage of crib notes.

Unlike a face-to-face interview where shuffling through notes would be a disastrous faux pas, artfully taping a Post-it note to the edge of your monitor can be a saving grace for the Skype interviewee. If there’s a question that makes your memory go blank, jot a considered answer onto a Post-it. (I wanted to prepare for the dreaded “what are your biggest weaknesses” question, which luckily they didn’t ask.)

This can be particularly helpful if there’s something you need to phrase with care, such as a gap in employment, a very short time spent at your last job, or a dramatic career-change. A quick look at the Post-it will seem like a thoughtful sidelong glance to the interviewer, while allowing you a quick reminder of your rehearsed answer. But don’t crowd your screen with notes as constant, distracted sideward looks will give the game away.

So did it work for me? After a tense couple of weeks of silence (during which I assumed I had failed and tried to erase the memories), I have now been called for another interview, this time in person. Mood lighting and Post-it notes won’t save me this time, but at least I won’t have to worry about men in pyjamas making a cameo appearance.

Anita Isalska is a freelancer who edits and writes on food and speciality diets, travel, finance and corporate law. She also writes a travel blog at http://wanderingfordistraction.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter at www.twitter.com/lunarsynthesis.

Have you also experienced a Skype interview? What worked for you and what didn’t? Add your own anecdote or tip in the comments below.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Reach for the Skype: tackling a job interview on webcam

  1. Pingback: Reach for the Skype: tackling a job interview on webcam | On the … | Free Job Search Info

  2. I recently had two interviews over Skype, necessary because the CEO and another high-ranking executive were overseas. I’d already had one face-to-face interview in the UK.

    I was a little nerve-wracked beforehand as I’d never used Skype before in this way. I also hadn’t plugged my webcam in for at least 8 years. Then I realised the battery in my Skype phone was dead too. Not good. Time was running out when I realised that, actually, I could do the interview on my iPad as I’d already installed the Skype app.

    I practised with a trusted friend several hours before – she gave me good feedback on camera angles and eye contact. I then found a couple of empty cardboard boxes (the sort book orders arrive in), which I used to raise the iPad so it was high enough up at eye level to do the interview, leaving my hands free instead of having to hold the iPad and risk messing up the angles.

    Before the call, I put a smart dress on and full make-up, plus a little discreet jewellery, just as if I was attending in person.

    The interview was a breeze, proving that preparation for Skypeing is as important as a face-to-face meeting. I did well enough to be asked to attend the second Skype interview. This time I knew what to expect and was a lot more relaxed. All I had to do prior to the call was to set up my empty boxes again for the iPad.

    If you’re wondering, I was offered the job but didn’t take it. But I’d have no qualms about being interviewed over Skype again.

    Like

  3. Pingback: Effective Interview Skills | Interview Techniques and Tips

  4. Pingback: How to handle a skype or webcam job interview – media training presentation training | Interview Techniques and Tips

  5. Pingback: Skype job interview pitfalls: Jeebboo investigates what could go awry! | Jeebboo News

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