The SPS blog has been re-running several posts from our job search series, in the hopes of helping recent graduates with their job search.
Today's post is well-aligned with a key component of the SPS curriculum goals, as it encourages development of a critical skill for 21st century professionals: remote engagement. Whether by Skype, Zoom, GoTo Meeting, or another platform, today's professionals need to know how to present themselves through remote communication.
Increasingly, employers are turning to Skype as an alternative to conducting initial in-person or telephone interviews - particularly when the applicant is at a geographical distance. Unfortunately, many job seekers are not aware of how to conduct a polished interview in the digital space, resulting in a poor first impression.
Few differences exist between how one should present oneself in a digital interview versus a traditional interview: applicants should always aim for a professional and engaging presentation. However, digital interviews do require some additional preparation and staging in order to successfully demonstrate that professionalism and connection. SPS professor Dr. Alice Hamilton, who teaches digital interview skills as a component of PRST 230 - Professional Presentations, notes that while students may feel intimidated by the notion of presenting themselves on camera, the digital interview setting can be advantageous. “With a Skype interview, you can control your environment to a greater degree; you just need the proper techniques,” offers Hamilton.
Below we have compiled some of those techniques, to help our students make a polished and professional digital impression:
As with any interview preparation, it is critical that you thoroughly understand the company’s mission, values, overall objectives, and goals. Carefully review the job description, and be prepared to relate your previous experience to any of the required or desired qualifications.
Most applicants will have already completed much of this research when tailoring their cover letter.
If possible, find out who will be conducting the interview, and what other members of the search committee will be present. This will allow you to do further research, and become familiar with each member’s professional background. “The more you know about the people on the other side of the screen, the better you are able to present yourself,” explains Hamilton.
On the technical side, be certain to test all components as far in advance as possible, so that you may make repairs or purchase new equipment if necessary. Familiarize yourself with the Skype audio settings, so that you can ensure that you can both hear, and be heard effectively.
If you use Skype for personal communication, make certain that your username and profile photo are appropriate for professional settings. You may also choose to create a Skype account solely for professional purposes.
If you are camera-shy, or generally nervous about speaking in front of others, you may find it helpful to rehearse prior to your interview.
If you are new to Skype, you may want to video chat casually with friends or family, to help you to become familiar with the interface, and adjust technical settings if necessary.
Once you are comfortable, ask a trusted friend or family member to participate in a practice interview. This interview may also be recorded to give you a better idea of how your surroundings, outfit, expressions and gestures will translate on camera.
Set the Stage
Digital interviews should be held in a quiet environment with a neutral, yet not stark, background. Make sure anyone sharing your environment is aware that you will be participating in an interview, and take steps to minimize distractions, such as interruptions by children or pets. Turn off or silence any devices not being used in the interview, and close all other programs on your computer.
Dr. Hamilton recommends the following video, as it offers a clear and concise demonstration of how location and staging can affect the quality of a Skype interview.
CofC students who do not have a consistently distraction-free space available may opt to reserve one of the “blue rooms” at the North Campus facility. These rooms are designed for optimal on-camera sound and lightning, and can be enhanced by adding a lightweight plant for staging purposes.
Look the Part
Contrary to what is stated in the video above, it is best to dress for the interview from head-to-toe. Not only will this help ensure a professional mindset, but will help you avoid embarrassment if - for some reason - you need to stand during the interview.
Choose an outfit that is suited to the company culture (researching the company’s website and social media accounts can often help with this), erring on the side of being dressed more formally than might be expected. Avoid any clothing items that feature logos, as well as items with busy patterns or stripes (the latter can be particularly hard on the eyes). Solid colors that contrast with the background are generally best.
Women may want to avoid dangling or sparkly jewelry: these can be distracting, and may cause blinding or unflattering light reflection.
Use the Setting to Your Advantage
Unlike an in-person interview, a Skype interview allows the applicant to have resources at his or her disposal, eliminating the need to memorize quite so many details.
Prepare a brief “cheat sheet” with research notes, as well as your list of questions for the interviewer. You may also want to have a blank piece of paper or pad available to jot down follow-up questions.
Review your resume and portfolio, and be prepared to reference these documents in the interview. Digital copies of these documents should also be readily accessible, in the event that the interviewer requests a copy.
Notes should be used sparingly, as your focus should generally be on the camera. To avoid looking down repeatedly, you may opt to place Post-It notes with key information close to the eye of the camera.
Engage with your “Viewer”
An often overlooked aspect of physical presentation is one’s energy level. Hamilton recommends that her students engage in a 20-30 minute vocal and physical warm-up prior to the interview, to help begin with a moderate energy level, and ensure a more dynamic overall presentation.
Although it is natural to want to look at the video image of your interviewer, it is important to keep your focus trained on the camera. “The secret to a Skype interview is to look through the camera,” explains Hamilton. “Take that leap of imagination and ‘see’ the people on the other side.” Use your facial expressions and body language to help convey engagement, such as smiling when appropriate, or leaning forward slightly to demonstrate active listening. Gesturing is a natural extension of emotional connection, and may also be used judiciously.
If possible, position the camera to allow the interviewer to see your arms and hands: a set-up that limits your on-camera persona to chest-level will diminish the effectiveness of non-verbal cues.
Most importantly, avoid becoming distracted with your notes, or other applications on your computer. Even if an interviewer is droning on at length, keep your attention on the camera, and occasionally interject with ‘listening sounds’ to confirm that you are paying attention.
Address Technical Issues
Although you have taken the necessary steps to ensure that your equipment is functioning properly, technical difficulties may still arise.
While it is tempting to ignore such issues - in order to appear professional - it is best to address any interruptions or deficits in sound or image quality: i.e. “I’m sorry, there was some interference on my end, could you please repeat the question?” The interviewer should not fault you for inevitable technical glitches.
Just as with an in-person or phone interviewer, send a written or e-mail thank you note to your interviewer/committee.
Have you participated in a Skype interview? Did this information help you to prepare for furture interviews?
Share your comments or experiences with us below!