Bagg Group’s 16 top tips for making a good impression on camera.
Whether you’re scheduled to talk over Skype, Go To Meeting, Google Hangout or any other software program — be sure to know how to use it before you go live. Practice using the particular software to video chat with a friend, or a family member who has a computer in the next room. It’s a very good idea to learn how to mute without accidentally hanging up.
Open with the equivalent of a ‘digital handshake’:
On camera, as in-person, first impressions happen within 17 seconds. And about 93% of our snap judgments come from non-verbal cues. In other words, we get a feel for someone not so much by what they say but from how they stand, in this case sit, the expression on their face, how they’re dressed, and more.
For a first interview online, learn to master what Paul J. Bailo calls the “digital handshake.” Bailo is the author of The Essential Digital Interview Handbook. He says digital chemistry sparks between you and an interviewer within seconds of starting the chat. To create good digital chemistry, Bailo recommends opening with “confident, professional, firm nod” with “a slight shoulder bend and eyes forward—the other person should not see the top of your head.” And a warm smile. This simple gesture shows you’re happy to meet and ready to get down to business.
Look at the camera, not the screen:
To maintain eye contact, you have to look at the camera lens, not the screen. This is tough to remember as we all naturally are tempted to look straight at our screens. And don’t forget that if you have a laptop plugged into a screen, look at the camera lens on your laptop.
Bailo offers this idea: “Try downloading a photo of the hiring manager, printing it, and making a hole in the photo to allow the camera lens to see through. Now you can look at the photo, which makes it more human to conduct your digital interviews.” (Just keep it small—you still want to be able to see your screen!)
Dress as you would for a face-to-face:
Dress professionally, this is still an official interview, even if you’re sitting in your kitchen. Be careful about throwing on a jacket on top of sweat pants. If you have to stand up to adjust a cable or a light, the interviewer may see your entire outfit.
Dress up your space:
The first impression of you includes an impression of what’s around you. Be very aware of what the interviewer is going to see behind and next to you. Set up the right environment by moving in plants or placing books and magazines on shelves. And be sure to take away any plates, kids’ toys, bag of chips or other clutter. The idea is to make your background look like a tidy workplace.
Think like a photographer:
You may have to warm up the lighting by adding lamps. It’s worth it. If you’re Skyping against a white wall, lit only by harsh overhead light, make sure you don’t have unflattering shadows on your face that make you look tired and haggard. As well, be sure your face is not hidden in darkness or that you don’t have a halo light effect around your head. Take pictures of yourself with your webcam before the interview to see how you look.
Eliminate background noise:
If you were meeting face-to-face, you wouldn’t bring your dog, your kids, or a TV into the interview room. Whatever isn’t appropriate in person, isn’t appropriate over Skype or any other visual platform.
Check your connection:
If your connection is weak, find a better wifi spot before your interview. Dropped calls and freezing are understandable, but these distract from the interview and reflect poorly on your ability to plan ahead. Make sure your audio is at the right level before the interview.
Close all other programs:
It irritates interviewers when pings and beeps interrupt the conversation. And we advise against keeping your phone where you can see it. It’s just too tempting to look at alerts and messages that come in during your chat. Interviewers will notice and it can hurt your chances of getting to the next stage.
Have cheat notes:
One of the great advantages of an online interview is that you can use cheat notes. Have your key points in large print, taped somewhere you can see them easily at a quick glance.
Keep your username/ handle name /and picture professional.
The first thing your interviewer will see isn’t you – it’s your profile. You don’t want your username and picture to send out the wrong signal, and hurt your image. You can always create a professional Skype account –after all, they’re free.
Engage your interviewer:
If you’re just a talking head who goes on and on, your viewer will get bored – even more so than in a face-to-face. When the interviewer gets restless, it’s easy for them to put you on a split screen and start reading their mail. Be sure to check in with them often, ask questions, and keep your answers relevant and to the point.
Don’t say anything after signing off, until you are certain you won’t be overheard:
Sometimes you think you’ve hung up, but actually you haven’t. Check and check again. If unsure, shut everything down. We have heard of cases where candidates believed their camera and audio were turned off after the interview –but sadly, they weren’t.
Practice, practice, practice.
We like to repeat this one because it’s so valuable for you to set up a couple of test online interviews with friends or family to get used to looking at the camera, and interviewing online. Ask friends to tell you what they see in the background, how your face is lit, how your posture is, how the audio sounds, etc.
Follow-up with a thank you — but not through Skype or Google.
Although the interviewer is now on your list of contacts, having someone on your list of contacts really doesn’t make them your friend. As you can imagine, hiring managers don’t want messages and calls to pop up from people they interviewed. Send a thank-you note to their email address, as you would if you had interviewed in person.
Gene Hayden, author of The Follow-Through Factor: Getting from Doubt to Done (Random House), is a career coach who has helped hundreds successfully put their best foot forward at interviews and in the workplace. She is also writer-in-residence for The Bagg Group.