Making a good impression at a Skype interview

by Dr Amy Bohren

In recent weeks, I’ve been asked several times by clients, colleagues and friends about how to prepare for online interviews. Job interviews via platforms such as Skype and ZoomMeeting are becoming commonplace, with professionals moving interstate for new opportunities, academics being globally mobile, and frequent travel meaning we can’t always be available in person. I’ve certainly had my fair share of online interviews, with the most memorable involving a Skype video call from my hotel room, on holidays in Rouen, France, wearing a wooly jumper (I was told it would be a voice call), with my partner hiding in the bathroom for over an hour! Whilst there’s a lot to consider when preparing for an interview in general, the following tips relate primarily to the aspects of online interviews that differ from in-person interviews.

Preparing the room

Just as you’d seek to make a good first impression at an in-person interview, you’ll want to prepare a space in your home or at your university that will make you look professional and feel prepared. Be sure to do this at least a day or two before the interview, in case you need to purchase or borrow any additional equipment. The first step is to remove any clutter the interview panel might be able to see in the frame. Rather than just tidying up your papers into neat piles, move them to another room entirely. At this stage, be sure to dust all surfaces that will be in shot, as once you add lighting, you’d be surprised what can be seen, especially if you have a high-quality camera. Secondly, think about how you can make the room look professional and appealing to the panel. Do you have an artwork, a colourful lamp or a bookshelf that you can position behind you? Third, you’ll want to make it easy for your interviewers to see and hear you, so turn on a light or lamp that (comfortably) shines on you; put some books or a box under your laptop so nobody can see up your nose; and check that your headphones are working and nearby, just in case you have an issue with sound on the day. Finally, ensure that any software you will need is installed on your computer, and test your appearance and sound by using Skype’s test call service. You may need to do this several times, as you move things in and out of view, and adjust the configuration of your camera. Shortly before your interview, get yourself a fresh glass of water (not a bottle). Taking a sip of water is always a good delaying technique in case you need a few extra seconds to think of an answer!

Preparing your outfit

You’ve probably heard all sorts of stories about people doing online interviews wearing their pyjama bottoms, with professional attire on the top half of their body. My advice is, DON’T DO IT! What happens if you need to stand up to get a document or to reposition your camera if it falls off your computer? Dress professionally, as if you’re going to an in-person interview. Think about what colour background you have, and be sure not to wear that colour. For example, if you have a white wall and wear a white shirt, you’ll blend in, at a time when you’re seeking to stand out. If you’re wearing a jacket, remember to unbutton it before you begin, so it sits properly on your body. A bunched-up jacket can be very off-putting online, because everything is magnified in the shot, just like a newsreader on TV. For this reason, also make sure your jewellery and any embellishments such as scarves and ties are understated, so they don’t distract the panel from what you have to say.

Preparing your documents

If you plan to provide any documents to the panel, you’ll need to be organised a couple of days beforehand. For example, if you’d like your interviewers to be able to refer to a proposal you’ve prepared, or have an updated list of your referees, be sure to forward them to the HR person who arranged your interview, asking them to forward the documents to the chair of the panel. You may also wish to have a printed copy of your application handy, in case you’re asked any specific questions about it, and it’s a good idea to have a list of questions beside you, to ask of your interviewers. Some people also like to have a pen and paper available, to note down any required follow-up. As you’re unlikely to be packing a briefcase to attend the interview, it can be easy to forget these things.

Preparing to communicate in an online format

You wouldn’t believe how often online interviews are derailed by seemingly minor issues. For example, a client recently told me that although he’d successfully requested a Skype interview for an interstate position, the chair of the panel simply forgot on the day, and when he called to ask what had happened, she pretended she knew nothing about it, likely not wanting to appear inept in front of her colleagues. He was then disadvantaged because they proceeded to interview him over the phone, giving him only 20 of the allocated 30 minutes. This sort of issue can be ameliorated by ensuring you have the appropriate ZoomMeeting link/ Skype name ahead of time, and the phone number of the chair or HR contact in case something goes wrong. If you don’t hear from them within five minutes of the scheduled start time, make contact in a way that won’t disturb in case the panel is still interviewing the previous candidate (e.g. text message the chair or call HR to say you’re standing by).

On the day

When the day of your interview arrives, go through your usual preparation techniques to calm your nerves (e.g. going for a walk, meditation), and be sitting at your computer 10 minutes prior. If you’re using ZoomMeeting, you can log into the meeting at this time, and wait for the panel to join you on the other end. Just as I would tell you in the case of an in-person interview, the most important thing is to SMILE and look as though you’re excited to be there! This will keep the energy level up and make your interviewers feel as though you’re an engaging candidate.

When the interview begins, after exchanging an initial greeting, it’s important to ask the panel members if they can see and hear you clearly. If not, make adjustments and try again. In most cases, you won’t be able to see the facial expressions of your interviewers, so you’ll need to tell them this is the case, and explain that for this reason, you might need to ask for guidance from time to time (e.g. “would you like me to provide any more information?”; “does that answer your question?”). At the same time, your interviewers will likely be able to see your expressions very well, as yours will be the only face on their (likely gigantic) screen! Remember, therefore, that just like a news reader, you’ll need to keep your gestures small and simple.

Although you can’t shake hands at the conclusion of your interview, don’t forget to thank the panel for the opportunity, and be sure to wish them a nice day, or some other pleasantry, so they can see that you’re the sort of person they’d like to work with. After all, your aim is to make it as human an experience as you can.

All the best with your interview, and let me know how it goes! I’m always keen to learn from your experiences, so feel welcome to post on the Red Careers Facebook page.

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