How to Shine in a Video Interview

Video interviews are more popular than ever with potential employers. Here's how to crush it if you're asked to do one.

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 7 million Americans out of work, and an unemployment rate of 4.3 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. Of 700 CEOs polled in 2015, 75 percent used real-time video platforms to interview leading candidates, according to an article for the Society for Human Resources Management. The survey showed that half used them to narrow the pool of candidates.

Odds are pretty good that your next interview will 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

Woman with laptop and webcam.Vladimir Mucibabic / Shutterstock.com

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 longtime television professional Stacy Johnson uses an external HD webcam that produces a much higher video quality. To help you decide which one is right for you, check out online reviews here, and here, then head to bargain sites to compare prices:

2. Check your speed

Time lapse of car lights at night.ssguy / Shutterstock.com

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 1.5 Mbps and a download speed of 1.5 Mbps 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

Girl with old fashioned camera and photography light set up.Angela Waye / Shutterstock.com

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

African American man in video call.Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock.com

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.

5. Practice

Young woman talking to a computer screen, gesturing.PR Image Factory / Shutterstock.com

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

Man in white shirt putting on a tie.bondvit / Shutterstock.com

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

Tidy desk with open laptop, glasses.Ditty_about_summer / Shutterstock.com

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

Man shouting through megaphone at computer.pikselstock / Shutterstock.com

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.

For a funny example of how your video interview can run amok, check out how this BBC correspondent’s kids photo-bombed his live broadcast:

9. Look at the camera

Young man in suit coat looking directly at camera.fizkes / Shutterstock.com

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

Smiling African American woman, head shot.Cheryl Savan / Shutterstock.com

Finally, 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

What are your experiences with video interviews or landing jobs? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Kari Huus contributed to this post.

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