Getting it Right: The Do's and Don'ts of Video Interviews

Love them or loathe them, meetings conducted using video conferencing tools are a vital part of doing businesses right now and it doesn't look like that will be changing any time soon.

Everything from a daily catch-up over coffee, through to negotiating that dream deal is now carried out without the parties ever being in the same room and the same is true of candidate interviews: for many companies, this means that they will now interview, negotiate with and onboard new team members without ever having met them in person.

Over the next few posts we'll take a look at some of the wider implications of the shift towards more flexible working (could you really work for a San Francisco tech giant without having to move to the US?) but today, we just want to take a moment to look at how you can ace your next interview.

Do this:

Make sure you've practiced using the software and equipment you have

Computers seem to have an innate ability to develop a malignant sentience and that means that every now and then, they do the most illogical things that make no sense at all. When the UK lockdown first started, I can clearly remember struggling with video meetings because my microphone was cutting out every few seconds. This situation persisted for weeks, until braving the darkest depths of hell that is the Windows 10 settings menu, I found one checkbox buried at the bottom of a page about three layers deep into the audio settings. The innocuous text next to it said "automatically adjust microphone volume." There was no explanation of what this did but taking a deep breath, I unchecked the box and just like that, the issue was resolved. I can only suspect that the computer was lowering the volume every time I moved my head or even breathed. It must have been reacting to even the tiniest bit of wind noise that was picked up by the boom microphone on my headset. All those meetings where I struggled to be heard, annoying countless contacts by having to repeat phrases, and it was one little setting causing it all.

You do not want to be caught out at the start of an interview and end up getting flustered or worse, seem disorganised to the interviewer. Make a practice call to a friend, family member or even a colleague, using the software that will be used during the interview and make sure your computer, phone or tablet is working as it should ahead of time. You'll be so much more comfortable and confident for it.

Take care to select the right space and prepare it

There is nothing worse than being on a video call with piles of dirty laundry or last night's takeaway containers piled up in the background but there are so many other hazards to be aware of too.

1: Close the door and make sure that pets are out of the room. Warn housemates, children and partners that the room is out of bounds because you definitely don't want someone wondering through your call at any time, least of all when they're only half dressed!

2: Don't position yourself in front of a bright window with blinds or curtains left open. You'll be a silhouette at best, even if the other party can make out your form using eyes that are melting under a blinding dazzle.

3: Make sure the camera is set up on a stable surface. A laptop with a camera built in is likely to be stable, especially when it is on a table. When you're using a phone or tablet, try not to hand hold it because you'll be amazed how much your hand moves. It will become a distraction during any interview, I guarantee you.

4: Make sure you can sit comfortably while still sitting in an upright position.

5: Definitely tidy the room and make sure that the camera is focused on a space that is clear of any mess.

6: Set any devices to silent mode and put them well out of the way unless they are being used for the interview itself.

Treat it like any other interview

An interview conducted by video is still an interview.

1: Connect 5 minutes early. You'll probably be placed into a lobby until the interviewer is ready to conduct the call but this is better than "arriving" after the interviewer and making them wait.

2: Do your homework and prepare any questions. It is probably better to have your answers and questions and then take any notes on paper because you do not want to be multi-tasking on the screen you're using for the interview or tapping away on the keyboard making noise. Answers and questions can be mounted above and behind the screen, which in my experience, works very well: taking notes on paper always looks professional during an interview.

3: Dress like you would for any other formal interview. First impressions count for even more when you're not there in person.

Be mindful of your head movements

I was shocked by just how much people tend to move when on a video call. It never affects me in a face to face meeting but I think it must be something to do with the perspective of a camera. Someone looking left to right or moving forwards and backwards seems to be exaggerated on screen and, for me at least, is not just a distraction but can also lead to motion sickness.

Send a thank you message afterwards

If you would normally send a thank you message to the interviewer (and you would) make sure you don't forget to do the same for a remote interview. This may be your last opportunity to make the difference. Thank them for their time and consideration as it may just make the difference if other candidates forget to do this.

Don't do this

Don't cut corners with your preparation

There are a lot of people looking for work right now and, going back to my comment about San Francisco, you aren't necessarily competing with people in a small and commutable geographic radius anymore. The pool of candidates available for each role is massive and employers will always pick from the best available talent. Within reason, location doesn't matter in the same way that it did even a few months ago and while UK companies still have to be mindful of immigration law, that isn't going to stop a London company hiring someone based in the Outer Hebrides who also happens to be the best candidate. Research the company, prepare answers for common questions and have your questions ready. You'll seem more polished, communicate better and ultimately, leave the best impression you can.

Don't try to multi-task and slide an interview under the radar

When you're working from home, it's easy to cook dinner while answering emails, take a phone call while doing the ironing or binge Netflix while still completing a task. Interviews aren't like that. Don't try to do your current job while also interviewing for another; it's better all round to book the time off and focus on acing that interview. Nothing has changed in that regard.

Don't use a background

Lastly, this is my personal opinion, take it or leave it.

Many of the video conferencing tools have a range of green screen style backgrounds to choose from and these may seem like a great alternative to a boring, cream wall behind you. In practice though, they're often worse. It's obvious when someone uses one because they often imperfectly differentiate between what needs to be shown (you) and what needs to be hidden. As I wrote above, better to tidy up and make sure the camera is pointing at a tidy, clear space and wall. That way distractions are minimised and the interviewer can focus on you and what you have to say. Isn't that the most important thing after all?

I hope that that these tips can help you with your interview technique. There's plenty of advice online and we're happy to discuss any concerns you may have if you are preparing for your first video interview.

Neil has a proven history within Science & Technology recruitment and has been a recruiter and then business manager for over ten years.

In 2017, Neil formed The Recruitment Geeks because he'd always felt that there was a better way to operate a recruitment company; he firmly believes that focusing on a client's needs is not mutually exclusive with providing a good candidate experience. 

Neil shares responsibility for leading the Science & Technology team with Mark Smallpage and has never lost his love for recruitment. He really enjoys the satisfaction of finding a candidate who is a great fit for even the most niche of roles.

Value wise, Neil firmly believes that recruitment is successful when it is carried out ethically, collaboratively and openly.

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