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You know what they say about first impressions: You never get a second chance to make one. In fact, researchers at New York University found that it takes only seven seconds to make a first impression. In those initial seconds, we make 11 major decisions about one another.
Why is this so important? Well, if you’re looking for a new gig, first impressions count big. And they’re often no longer happening in person, but over video. With 8.3 million Americans out of work, and an unemployment rate of 5.3 percent, the market for job seekers is better than a few years back. But employers are still sifting through a huge number of applications. They’re looking for ways to find the right hire quickly and efficiently, which is why 60 percent of companies with 20 or more employees have started conducting video interviews, according to staffing agency OfficeTeam.
Odds are pretty good that your next interview might be via webcam. If you’re new to video, here are tips to make sure your tech-enabled interview allows you to shine:
1. Get the gear
Most modern laptops come with a built-in webcam. It’ll get you on camera, but the base models often produce grainy pictures and weak sound. Money Talks News founder and long-time television professional Stacy Johnson uses an external HD webcam that produces a much higher video quality. To find a good deal, check out some online reviews, then head to bargain sites like:
2. Check your speed
If you want good video, you’ll need a good Internet connection. If yours is spotty, you might freeze or disconnect in the middle of your interview. And if it’s too slow, your picture quality will suffer.
The popular video conferencing software Skype recommends an upload speed of 1.5Mbps and a download speed of 1.5Mbps for HD video chats. You can test your current speeds at a site like Speedtest.net. If your speed isn’t up to snuff, consider finding a location with a better connection.
3. Find the right lighting
Have you ever had your picture taken only to wonder why you looked so washed out? The lighting was probably to blame. Lighting can mean the difference between looking fresh and perky or lifeless and faded.
Many professionally filmed interviews are shot using the three-point lighting technique, which plays up your main light source and accentuates the film subject. If you’re interested in going for a professionally filmed look, MonkeySee has a good video that explains how to set it up. But if you just want to make sure you don’t look bad, try different lights in your house until you find a look you like: A lamp you can dim will give you plenty of options.
4. Check the background
No matter where you set your webcam, your potential boss will be able to see at least part of the room. Position your webcam and look at the screen. Remove anything that doesn’t look professional and add things that do. For example, if you’ve won any awards, hang them on the wall behind you. Subtly showing off never hurts.
The first video conference I did was with a group of potential clients I really wanted to impress. But because I had never been on a webcam before, I made mistakes like talking over other people and making sudden movements that made the camera lose focus. Result? My attempt at displaying my awesome skills turned into a 10-minute, one-woman comedy act.
Don’t go in blind. A few days before your interview, use a video chatting service like Skype or Google Hangouts and hold mock interviews with a buddy. You’ll get a feel for where and how to sit, when to talk, and where to look.
6. Dress for success
The other day a friend sent me a joke about not wearing pants during a video conference. It was funny, but not great advice. Not only should you wear pants, you should dress like you would for any interview — professionally from head to toe. Plan your outfit in advance and give yourself plenty of time before the interview to fix your hair, put on makeup, shave or do any other necessary prep.
Some outfits that look great in public might not on camera. TV people know that wearing narrow stripes can cause a flicker effect, called strobing. A white shirt can make you look washed out. Best bet? Do a video chat with a friend and show them some options.
7. Prep early
Set the stage an hour or so before your interview starts. Clean off your desk, turn on the lights, and make sure your laptop and webcam are working properly.
And if you’re using devices that require batteries, like a laptop, don’t forget to keep them plugged in during your interview. It may sound obvious, but I once forgot to charge my laptop, and it died in the middle of a conference call. Another embarrassing moment.
8. Control the noise level
Stacy Johnson likes to tell a story about doing a national radio interview from his home. All was going well until his dog spotted another dog in the front yard and started freaking out. Result? The dog got a lot of national media exposure, and Stacy is still waiting for a call-back.
A few minutes before your interview starts, turn off the radio and the TV, prop the kids in front of a book or a video game to keep them occupied, and put any pets as far away as possible. Webcams pick up any noise in the room (or even nearby rooms) and you don’t want to spend part of your interview apologizing because of ambient sound.
9. Look at the camera
Once your interview starts, remember to look at the camera and not straight ahead at the screen. While it’s more natural to watch your interviewer onscreen, he’ll only see the top of your head if you don’t focus on the camera lens.
10. Be yourself
As Stacy said in the video above, don’t forget to be yourself. Everyone is nervous during an interview (and even more so on a video interview), but you have the best chance of being hired if you let your personality shine through. Just remember to smile, answer the questions the best you can and be your awesome self.
If you have thoughts to share about video interviews or landing jobs, share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.
Kari Huus contributed to this post.