Wayne Gretzky’s father famously advised his son not to skate where the puck is, but to skate where the puck is going to be. It’s an aphorism adopted by titans of industry ranging from Warren Buffett to Steve Jobs, and in these days of abject uncertainty, the line is worth considering by every executive and jobseeker in the in the post-COVID corporate landscape. Watching the quarantine unfold, and after speaking with job recruiting experts, one new normal is the video job interview. It is one place where the puck is definitely going to be.
You know by now that COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work. The thing is, as we’ve written previously here at ClearanceJobs, there is no going back. Telecommuting will forever be an option. Micromanagement can no longer be justified; workers are smart and can turn on a dime and adapt to terrible circumstances. Online learning is not only viable; it is in some ways optimal, and with its legitimacy now beyond dispute, workers have a new and unprecedented flexibility to get that degree that gets them the promotion. Even handshakes—long the alpha and omega of corporate life—are done for.
Everything is different now, so in every aspect of your career, you should ask yourself: where is the puck going to be? My next few pieces for ClearanceJobs will ask this question of various aspects of your career. Today we’re going to start at the very beginning: the video job interview.
THE WEBCAM COMETH
For most of us, the video job interview is a pretty new concept. I live in Louisiana. Fifteen years ago, I applied for a great job in South Carolina, and after making it through the telephone interview, I was expected to get on a plane and do the final interview in person. That’s just how it was done.
But that’s not how it’s going to be done anymore. And the truth is—for me, anyway—it was far less intimidating to fly 600 miles and interview in a strange city than it would be to do a Skype interview from the comfort of my home office. Why? Because I already know the rules of the in-person interview. I know what to wear and what to bring. Over the years, I have learned to make effective small talk and how to comport myself well. And I don’t have to worry about lighting or how my face is framed. My fate rests not in the hands an Internet service provider and whether the guy down the street has decided to go on a bandwidth sucking BitTorrent rampage.
The sort of job interview I am good at—the one in-person—sure, it’ll still have value for a while… but that’s where the puck is. It’s not where it’s going to be. So to find out how to do job interviews through Skype, Zoom, Facetime, and other services, I reached out to consultants best able to answer that question: those who work with international clients. They’ve been doing this for a long time, and know how to turn a chat into an offer.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
“The big thing I tell people is to use a laptop or a desktop,” says Ralph Chapman, CEO of HR Search Pros, Inc., a consultancy that helps both human resources workers and companies find the best jobs and the best talent, respectively. Part of his job is to work with job seekers and help them prepare for video interviews. He says that people often try to use their phones for job interviews—it makes sense, in a way, as FaceTime and Instagram Stories have reached ubiquity, and because we are so used to video chatting by phone, keeping that little dot of the camera lens trained on our faces. But phones are informal, says Chapman. We move them around too much.
Use a nice, fixed computer webcam, he advises, and test everything—audio and video—before the big day. “Find out which program the hiring company will use for the interview and do your research on it. You can typically download the software in advance, and I always recommend that you have everything lined up. Make sure the software works, your microphone works, and your camera works.”
He says that if you are actively interviewing, it’s not a bad idea to get a decent webcam, though it’s not a requirement, and you don’t need to go out and buy the most expensive ultra-high definition camera out there. Most modern laptop webcams are fine. (Note that I can recommend from personal experience the Logitech C920, which works on just about every computer out there, and has the best balance of quality and ease of use at the best price point.)
THE BEST ANGLE IS DEAD ON
“You want to have a camera setup with lines on you. Check it out in advance. Make sure you can see your face. If you’re in a bright spot, good lighting in general, you’ll be okay. Make sure it’s not too dark.” Because of the nature of working from home, says Chapman, colleagues are a lot more flexible about kids running around, but as a rule, the idea is to have no distractions, especially on an interview. And that might mean doing your interview in a closet. You’re going to need a lamp to get that lighting right, and make sure there is a plain wall behind you—not a rack of clothing. (A flexible tripod that can affix to just about any surface is a must-have, and can be found for about ten bucks.)
“You want to put your best foot forward and you don’t want again any distractions. That means a clear picture of your face, and you want to be in a nice quiet place. Let them know you are focusing on them, and you want them to focus squarely on you.”
With that in mind, people can get a little… creative… when decorating their home offices. Chapman advises avoiding those particular backgrounds. “You don’t want something unprofessional or just inappropriate in the background. A blank wall, with maybe a picture on it. Even then, be careful because it will draw people’s focus.”
HAVE A PLAN B
Computers crash. The Internet goes down. Sometimes it happens on job interviews—and you need to be ready. If you do nothing else in preparation for this interview, says Chapman, have a backup plan in place. His firm usually handles such backup arrangements, but he says that in general, when an interview is set up, a job seeker should expect an email listing the arrangements for the interview: thinks like a calendar invite, a link to click on to launch the video conferencing software at the right time, and an email address.
“Always email back and ask, ‘Worst case scenario, if we lose connection, what is the best number to reach you? What do you prefer?’ Address that up front. A lot of times the interviewers won’t give out their phone number, so make sure they have yours if the connection goes down, or if audio doesn’t work.” Keep your phone right next to you, muted and ready to go.
THE REAL DEAL
“Plan every video job interview as if it is the real thing,” says Neelam Tewar, a business strategist who works with clients in the U.S. and around the world. “Treat it as if you are doing the interview in person.” That means dressing for the part. “That’s the first thing you need to do. You absolutely have to prepare for it and take it seriously, even if it’s a fifteen minute conversation. Prepare, play the part, dress the part.”
Like Chapman, she advises job hunters to test their devices before the call, and notes that another reason to keep your phone muted and close by your desk is because in the event of a power failure or Internet crash, your phone can act as an Internet hotspot.
As with in-person interviews, human resources representatives and hiring managers are interested not only in how you sound, but also in how you articulate. “How you move your hands,” says Tewar, “there are a lot of things they can tell by gesture, and many hiring reps are always looking for how expressive someone is—especially if the job requires that you have a certain set of communications skills.” This means it’s not a bad idea to arrange your camera such that you have a wider angle shot of your face and upper body.
I asked Tewar if you could somehow cheat on a video job interview, perhaps, by having notes scribbled with the “correct” answers for common interview questions. “If you can do it discreetly, sure,” she says, laughing, “but I can guarantee you when people are looking at the way your eyes move, they can tell that you’ve got a document open and are glancing at it.” A better strategy, she says, again, is to treat the interview as you would in person. “Be natural, be genuine, and answer to the best of your abilities,” she says. “Whatever happens to you in the moment is probably more important than you trying to sort of finagle your way into having a perfect answer.”
THE BIGGEST MISTAKE YOU CAN MAKE
What is the biggest mistake candidates make when doing video job interviews, in her experience? “They take them too casually,” she says, “or they get too freaked out. Those polar opposites are the real killer. Maintain a healthy disposition, meaning, hey, you’re just on camera. It’s a little alien. It can it can be little scary, but just think about the person on the other end… they’re also probably not used to doing these sorts of interviews, so you probably have a similar learning curve.”
On the flip side, she says, hiring managers can tell when you are being aloof. “Not caring enough, and just sauntering into the room, hitting the ‘on’ button or ‘join’ button—prospective employers can tell how prepared the candidate is, or the interviewee is. They can tell if the candidate is twiddling around as they join the call, or just adjusting their pens and papers.” Prepare your area the night before, have a notepad and pen ready for taking notes, and keep a resume next to you, printed out if possible. Such items are precisely the same things you would need for an in-person interview.
In other words, job interviews are forever changed, and jobseekers must be ready. But the important things… they remain exactly the same.