The Virtual Interview

The Virtual Interview

Prospective employers constantly look for ways to save time and money in the recruitment process while ensuring they hire the best possible candidate; hence, the popularity of telephone and videoconference interviews, especially at the screening stage. Skype and other online chat services offer another option for reducing recruitment costs. Law firm and corporate recruiters may wish to first connect with prospective candidates via technology, investing in personal interviews only for the top contenders.

The “virtual” or internet telechat interview combines many aspects of telephone and videoconference interviews, with a few wrinkles all its own.  In today’s ultra-connected society, most of us are somewhat comfortable with technology.  The first pitfall of a Skype (or any other internet calling service) interview is to fall into your usual informal tech-habits, and not take it seriously enough.  Remember, a screening interview is a make-or-break situation regardless of its format.  You must prepare for it as carefully and conduct yourself in as businesslike manner as you would for any in-person interview.

Beforehand

When arranging a virtual interview, confirm the date and time (including time zone), and who will call whom.  In addition to exchanging necessary contact information, get a phone number and/or email address in case there are technical difficulties and you need to connect offline.  If you haven’t already done so, download the Skype (or other teleconference) software, set up your profile with a businesslike photo and username (some version of your first and last name).  Take care of any necessary details such as accepting the interviewer as a “contact” and vice versa.

Unlike a videoconference interview, where the candidate usually travels to one of the prospective employer’s locations to “meet” personnel from another location, with a teleconference interview, you are inviting the employer into your space.  In addition, you are responsible for the tech aspects of the interview including connection, sound quality, lighting, and camera angle.  As you would with a phone interview, choose a quiet location where you will be undisturbed.  Usually home is best so that you can control your environment and minimize concerns regarding the confidentiality of your search.

Set up and test your setting and equipment well ahead of time.  You might find that a plug-in headset and wired computer setup is clearer than Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.  If relying on battery-powered equipment, make sure you are fully charged.  Practice sharing links and files via the service’s IM functions.  Get comfortable with the mute and hold functions, as well, in case you need to use them during your interview session.

Your backdrop should be simple, neat, and professional, with nothing in view that reflects poorly on you, such as an inappropriate or controversial artwork.  Avoid stark white walls, or brightly colored and too busy backgrounds.  Check the lighting so that you are not in shadow or highlighted against a bright lamp or window; rather, sit opposite your main lighting source.  While daylight is the most flattering, experiment with additional light sources for the best effect.  Avoid overhead lighting and add lamps to cut shadows on your face.

Place the camera at eye level or slightly above.  During the interview, lean slightly forward and look into the camera, not at the screen, to give the illusion of eye contact. Move the Skype or other telechat service window on your screen as close to your webcam as possible, so you can check out your interviewer somewhat unobtrusively.  In addition, if you have a picture-within-a-picture capability, you can see how you look, as well.  Just don’t spend too much time focusing away from the camera.

Remember that there may be some audio delay, so pause a few beats to be sure the questioner has finished speaking before responding.  Use your hands as naturally as possible as you talk and glance at the screen briefly from time to time, to gauge your interviewer’s body language, in return.

Dress professionally, as with any interview, but with an eye towards what looks good on camera.  Avoid busy patterns, black, white, or bright colors.  Don’t be tempted to go casual from the waist down, thinking it won’t show on camera.  You might stand up or reach for something while on camera, and expose your unprofessional attire.  Your usual make-up may need adjustment so as not to look overdone or washed out.  Both genders should consider translucent face powder to control shine.

Arrange at least one full dress rehearsal with friends or family well beforehand, and again close to the interview time just to make sure you’re comfortable with any technology updates.  Set your background and lighting; don your interviewing suit and “stage make-up”; test audio, video, speech delivery, and practice pausing while others speak; ask for honest feedback, and adjust accordingly.

The interview

Connect to your virtual interview session about five minutes ahead of schedule so you have time to take care of any last minute technical details.  Minimize distractions by turning off pop-ups or audio message alarms before you start.  Be prepared with all materials you may need for the interview, such as links to your resume, transcript, writing samples, or list of references.  Unless you are very comfortable with the telechat technology, refrain from taking notes on the keyboard; instead, use good old-fashioned pen and paper.  You don’t want to inadvertently disconnect or otherwise interfere with your session.

After all of your preparation, don’t blow your chances at the last second.  Remember that turning off the camera and disconnecting from the telechat session are two different actions.  Make sure you have completed both before you let your guard down.  You don’t want to get up and walk away or be caught making a face, heaving a big sigh, or saying anything inappropriate.

By treating the virtual interview just as seriously as any in-person meeting, and taking the time for a little extra preparation, you can move one step closer to landing your ideal job.

Valerie Fontaine

Valerie A. Fontaine earned her JD from UC Hastings College of Law and her BA, Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, from UCLA. She was on the Editorial Board of COMM/ENT, a Journal of Communications and Entertainment Law. Valerie practiced law with a prominent Los Angeles law firm and entered the legal search profession in 1981. Valerie is a member the Board of Directors of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC) and serves on its Ethics Committee.
Valerie Fontaine

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