By: Erin Dand
So you’re in the middle of a hiring process, and a pandemic hits. Having wrestled some of the more theoretical and existential questions to ground, you now need to focus on the practical.
Specifically, how will you, as the hiring manager, meet and interview candidates? And how will you, as the candidate, stand out while sitting in front of a computer screen?
Luckily with the advent of video technology, it is absolutely possible (not to mention absolutely advisable) to meet and interview via video, rather than in person. As a veteran video interviewer, here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years on how to put your best face forward in a video interview.
First, the actual video part. Yes, it is essential that you meet via video rather than conference call, phone call or any other non-visual means. They say that up to 93% of communication is non-verbal, and in my professional experience, you just can’t get to know someone without being able to look that person in the eye.
I’ve had experience using a variety of video platforms. Skype and Facetime are old stand-bys, being free options that have been around forever. Or at least my forever. Most people are familiar with these platforms, although they are not without their downfalls/occasional glitches.
My personal favourite during this pandemic has been Zoom Video, primarily for its ease of use and video/sound quality. To date, I’ve not had a single person not be able to use Zoom, whether it be the millennial lawyer I’m interviewing for a private practice role, or the septuagenarian from my church who leads our community group.
Other platforms that are popular (with varying price points) include Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Google Hangouts Meet, Blue Jeans, GoToMeeting and WebEx. They are all variations of the same general idea. For hiring managers, you may need to run your desired platform by your organization, for certain of these technologies don’t calm the nerves of corporate IT departments equally.
The best and most natural-looking video interviews are done via computers, with the computer camera positioned at eye level, or slightly higher. If you’re using a laptop, rather than a desktop computer, you’ll likely need to position it higher, on a stack of books or, more likely, puzzle boxes. Phones and tablets can work as well, but often result in awkward angles and positioning (and possibly a really sore arm, if someone tries to hold up their phone for the entire interview).
Since you are trying to simulate a face-to-face meeting, both candidates and hiring managers should be positioned so that you can see each other from the waist up (think of what you would see if someone were sitting across from you). You should be directly facing the video camera, close enough that you can clearly see the other person’s facial expressions, but far enough away that you’re not awkwardly showing the other person a close-up of your face (if someone can count the freckles on your face, you’re too close!) Hiring managers, remember that you may need to give video-newbie candidates some pointers on where to position themselves in the video.
Everyone always worries about where to look in a video meeting. Don’t worry so much about making direct eye contact. Video cameras are, by necessity, not in the middle of your computer screen, and therefore it is next to impossible to look at both your camera lens and the other person at the same time. Instead, focus on looking at the person directly on your screen. Hiring managers, you can make candidates feel more comfortable by letting them know that they need not worry about making direct eye contact, a normal “must-do” in an interview.
In terms of audio, your best bet is to use a pair of quality headphones with a built-in microphone to ensure that your conversation is private and you are not picking up any surrounding noise or pesky computer/phone notifications. We at Pekarsky & Co. use Plantronics headsets – these work really well. Apple Air Pods or something similar can also work. If you don’t have access to headphones with a built-in microphone, you can use your computer’s built-in microphone and speakers, but you’ll want to make sure you are in a quiet place, no more than an arm’s length away from your computer (if you can touch your computer screen from where you are sitting, you are probably close enough).
Like you would any in-person meeting, make sure you are attending your video interview in a private place, where you won’t be distracted. Although it might be tempting for convenience sake to interview at your kitchen island with your kids playing in the background, do your best to find a private, quiet room where you can shut the door and create a more formal setting. It will be difficult to create a business-like and professional atmosphere otherwise.
Along the same lines, although it might be tempting to attend a video interview in your pajamas from home, show up for your interview just like you would a regular interview. For hiring managers, you should remember that candidates will respond to and mirror the tone you set in the video interview (so you are not exempt from these rules). And for candidates – this is an interview, so normal rules on dressing professionally still apply.
There are a couple of ways you can make sure you are looking your best in a video interview, aside from dressing the part. First is lighting. The ideal is to find a space with ample natural lighting, which is always the most flattering light. If natural lighting is not possible, make sure you have two (or at least one) lighting sources around you, positioned so they are not creating harsh shadows on you. An easy trick is to put a piece of white paper in front of you, placed roughly under your wrists while typing, which will help reflect light onto your face.
Second, and more sneakily, you can improve your appearance using your video platform’s technology. On Zoom Video, for example, you can tick a box under your Video Settings marked “Touch Up My Appearance”. With the click of a button, you will look slightly more polished with smoother skin without having done anything at all! Magic.
The purpose of any interview is for a hiring manager to assess a candidate for a particular role. Video interviews will be no different. Hiring managers should be paying attention to the candidate’s communication style and body language, like they would in an in-person interview. A hiring manager should be thinking: How is the candidate dressed? Is this person confident and articulate? Professional? Warm and approachable? Someone I could see fitting into my company’s “office” culture? (The day will come when we are allowed to use offices once again!).
Likewise, candidates should try to present themselves like they would in-person, remembering that the hiring manager will notice things like fidgeting and nervous chair swivelling.
And for both hiring managers and candidates alike, despite the temptation to look at other things on your computer, please remember that you need to focus during this interview. This is not the time to multi-task! Although you may think you are being subtle in reading your emails or the latest article on Buzzfeed on the side of your computer screen, I can assure you this will not go unnoticed by the other person (remember, they can still see you).
Video interviews also allow another level of insight that is not normally possible: hiring managers can see the environment the candidate chooses to be interviewed in (and hiring managers, candidates can see the environment you select as well). Ideally, candidates will be presenting themselves as professionally in a video interview as they would in an in-person one and, similarly, the client side of the screen should be conveying a fairly realistic virtual portrayal of the company’s culture and values. This includes choosing the most professional “at home” setting you can find – one that is organized, tidy and removed from distractions.
On some video platforms, such as Zoom Video, the ability to share your screen with the other person means that you can add another dimension to your interviews. For candidates, instead of rattling off facts about your current role and company, why not share a quick visual presentation about what your company does? Why not show a recent Investor Presentation, or YouTube video or PowerPoint? Or pull up some of your recent work?
If you’re the hiring manager, you can also use screen sharing to aid the meeting. For example, you could consider pulling up the candidate’s resume as the candidate walks you through their career history (although in a competitive process, you might want to be testing how well a candidate can articulate their experience without using the bullets on their resume to guide them).
If you do decide to use screen sharing as a creative way to add to your pre-screening or interview process (or for any other meeting, for that matter), make sure that you are not inadvertently sharing confidential information on your desktop or operating system. It might be a good time for you to change your desktop background to something professional and clean up all those random files and desktop icons that have been living on your computer screen for years. It’s also a good idea to bring up the materials you want to share on your computer in advance, so you don’t have to go digging through your files in front of the other person.
Finally, my last tip in conducting video interviews is to afford each other some extra grace. Most candidates (and hiring managers) are not video interview experts, and may actually be using video technology for the first time. They may feel uncomfortable showing up to a meeting via video and may not know where to look. They may have gotten a bit frazzled struggling to make the technology work. And let’s not forget, in this particular moment in time, they are also struggling with the myriad of mental, physical and emotional issues relating to dealing with a pandemic, over and above the pressures of a job interview!
Affording each other a little bit of extra grace in a video interview can go a long way. Take some time to acknowledge the unusual circumstances of the interview and try to help the other person feel comfortable. With a little bit of patience and grace, you can be your most professional self, meeting as you would in any in-person interview.
Happy video interviewing!
For more tips and tools please reach out to any member of Pekarsky & Co. by referring to our website at www.pekarskyco.com or emailing us at email@example.com. Thank you as well to Jo Williams from Not Your Average Jo Communications for providing some additional inspiration and tips for this article.
Pekarsky & Co. is a proudly independently owned and operated, award-wining, boutique executive search firm based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.