What employers look for in a video interview

While most companies like to meet potential employees face-to-face at some point, first round interviews or internship interviews often happen on-screen. You’re almost guaranteed to encounter a video interview at some point in your career, so it pays to learn all the tricks.

Lights, camera, action!

What is a video interview?

Most video interviews follow the same format as a regular interview, but are held over Skype (or a similar application). These are known as live video interviews. More rarely, you might be asked to upload a video of yourself answering interview questions. You can think of that as the equivalent of doing a paper exam.

Right now, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about – if it’s just an ordinary interview done over Skype, surely you should answer the questions to the best of your ability, like you normally would. And it’s true. You should. But as with any other interview, there’s a lot more to it than just answering the questions.

We all know that appearance and demeanour are vital to success. In video interviews, this goes even further. As well as dressing and acting the part, you need to present yourself well on the computer screen. It’s the role of a film technician – finding the perfect picture, sound and angles to show yourself off to best effect.

Here are 10 key rules for video interview success.

1. Use a professional screen name

If your usual Skype name is informal, change it or set up a new account. Nothing fancy – just use your first name or initials, last name, and (if necessary) a number.

If the call is via web-conferencing software, you’ll probably just need to type in your name or email address before you begin. Beware typos!

2. Project a confident tone and body language

You never really know how you come across on-screen until you record yourself talking and watch the results. Yes, it can be painful. (“Please tell me I don’t sound like that!”) But it gives you a chance to practise and reveals any unfortunate habits.

If there are questions you know to expect, practise them specifically. Deliver your answer directly to the camera, watch the result, and adjust as necessary for next time.

3. Dress professionally

Dress for a video interview just as you would for a regular interview. You can wear tracksuit bottoms under the desk if you like, but everything visible should be office-appropriate.

4. Choose the right location

Pick somewhere with a simple, clean backdrop – a blank wall, if possible. There shouldn’t be anything to distract the viewer. If you use your own home, don’t show anything personal, even if it’s just what kind of TV you own. 

5. No interruptions

Choose a quiet place and ask your family or housemates not to disturb you. Turn your phone to silent. Put a note on your doorbell. Lock your cat in the bathroom.

6. Show a clear image of your face 

Set your webcam up for a test run. How’s the lighting? Your face needs to be well lit, but if you have light skin a direct light could leave you looking ghostly. You may need to bring in a couple of lamps and light yourself from several angles. Keep experimenting until the webcam image is impeccable.

Oily skin can develop a shine on camera, so wash your face before the interview. If you wear makeup, keep it light and simple.

7. Get a well-balanced shot of your head and upper body

If possible, set things up so that you look like a newsreader. Your interviewer should see a little of your desk at the bottom of the shot. Your head should come almost to the top.

Yes, this means they can see your hands. You can’t instant message a friend for help with tricky questions, or obsessively check your notes – but you shouldn’t be doing those things anyway. It’s fine to have a pad in front of you and take notes.

8. Make eye contact

To achieve perfect eye contact via video, you need to look directly into your webcam. In practice, in a live video interview you have to look at your interviewer’s face on the screen so you can respond to them properly. For the best of both worlds, resize the window and move it as close to your webcam as possible.

For pre-recorded interview questions, you can look directly into the camera – but experiment first to see how well this comes across, so you don’t end up giving a creepy stare. If you just can’t help opening your eyes wide and looking wooden, set up a picture of a person just behind the webcam and talk to that instead.

9. Eliminate all technical hitches

“Sorry, I just can’t get the webcam working!” – the words an interviewer least wants to hear. Test your equipment in advance to avoid the kind of embarrassment that could throw you off balance. If possible, do a trial run with the exact application you’ll use in the interview; if it’s a Skype interview, set up a Skype call with a friend. This is less easy to do if the call comes via the company’s web conferencing software – you’ll just have to make sure your camera and mic work in other applications and keep your fingers crossed.

A decent internet connection is also vital. Organise a backup location at a friend’s place in case your broadband has a bad day.

10. Capture clear audio

If the microphone on your laptop doesn’t give good audio, it could be worth investing a separate one. Be aware, though, that you may have to spend upwards of £50 to make a real difference. And again, make sure to test the set-up before the interview, giving yourself enough time to change things if necessary.

And finally…

While this sounds like a lot of work, remember that you’re learning a very valuable skill. Videoconferencing will only increase in popularity as your career goes on. Ten years from now, you might make a critical presentation to your CEO via webcam – and you’ll be very glad you know how to set up the lighting.