Avoiding an Online Interview Disaster

Zoltan Pataki Shutterstock

Imagine this scenario: A job candidate logs into Skype for an interview with an HR director. The candidate’s username is “BadWolf11,” which he thought was a pretty cool handle when he set up the account. Except it’s not so cool now—the interview hasn’t even started, and the interviewer is already put out.

Yes, there are many mistakes you need to avoid in job interviews that take place via online video. While having a neutral username will help you dodge some of them, presenting yourself as a candidate to hire via a webcam is an exercise in potential disaster, unless you create a great impression from the outset.

Chris Brown, director of human resources at digital-conferencing firm InterCall, offers some top tips for creating that great impression:

Check the Conferencing Format

Is it Web conferencing, Skype, Face Time, or some other means? Confirm that your system is compatible with the application. Most recruiters have the interviews stacked back-to-back, so the time you lose when you can’t properly connect is time lost from the interview. You’ll also appear colossally unprepared.

“Do this way before the interview takes place,” said Brown. “If you have problems you can diagnose them and deal.” Conversely, something may happen that’s not your fault. “If there’s a snafu,” he continued, “be proactive and call the recruiter or interviewer. If it’s not on your end and you reach out first, it’s better than if they call you and ask, ‘Where were you?’”

Neutral Environment

Don’t be fooled by the at-home setting. Brown said your environment should match that of the interviewer’s office. “Dogs, family, children, laundry,” he tallied, “get everyone out of the house and isolate. There shouldn’t be any background noise or unexpected audio.”

He also recommends having nothing visible in the background, e.g. any distinctive artwork or other visuals that could detract from the conversation.

You’re On Candid Camera

Test your look on-camera. You don’t want to appear to have green skin or not be visible at all. “I’ve done interviews where the sun is right behind the candidate’s head,” he said. “It looks like they’re in the witness protection program.”

He also stressed that you need to look at the camera, not the monitor, and to be mindful of sitting either too close or too far away.

No Cell Phones!

Don’t have it out; don’t look at it; put it in another room. Brown has seen too many interviews go down the drain because the candidate was unwilling to put his or her phone away. “You’ll look at it even if you don’t want to,” he sighed. “I’ve had candidates put them in their laps and periodically glance at them. They think I can’t tell what they’re doing.”

Comfortable But Not Sloppy

Dress is business casual, no matter the dress code of your potential employer’s office. Do think about your chair and how you’re sitting; if it’s a long interview, you want to be comfortable. “Sit in a chair you won’t fidget in and keep a glass of water to the side,” Brown suggested. It’s likely you’ll be doing most of the talking, so the water will help; just keep it away from the lens, to minimize any potential distraction.

A Word to the Wise

If you’re interviewing on video, it’s likely being recorded. “The interview is probably going to be screened by anyone in the group who’s responsible for hiring,” said Brown. “It’s really important you pay attention to how it all appears to whoever is, or will be watching.”

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9 Responses to “Avoiding an Online Interview Disaster”

  1. jelabarre

    > The candidate’s username is “BadWolf11,”

    What, the interviewer isn’t a Dr. Who fan??? (of course, they could be biased towards the classic series, and consider you an uppity newbie…)

    • AnonymousPoster

      I was hired after a telephone interview that was 4 timezones away, is that close enough? The position was a 2-month position working in C#. I was dubious from the start, and to test their sincerity I pointed out that all of my C# work, including just plain learning the language, was post-university with projects so far limited to my personal programming projects. They requested a portfolio in the form of screen shots of the personal projects, no code samples or anything very technical, and proceeded to hire me. So,I’d say it can happen.

      • Nightcrawler

        Interesting. Did you have any IT work experience at that point?

        I don’t apply for far-flung jobs because I’ve had negative experiences doing so in the past. Specifically, if I even get a response (usually I don’t), it goes like this:

        CALLER: Can you come in for an interview tomorrow?

        ME: No, I live [hundreds or thousands of miles away].

        CALLER: Oh. [Long pause.] Well, why don’t you give us a call when you’re actually living here.

        I’ve been told this is because I’m looking for entry-level positions, which makes sense.

        • AnonymousPoster

          RE: Interesting. Did you have any IT work experience at that point?

          Yes, but probably not in the sense you are asking. My experience predates my CS degrees, where I had my own consulting business I ran from home, and I wrote a few programs for a few clients for embedded 68HC11 (and older) embedded systems, using C or assembler.

          RE I don’t apply for far-flung jobs because I’ve had negative experiences doing so in the past.

          Agreed. This job offer came after the HR person found my resume on monster.