10 Ways Executives Should Prepare for a Video Interview
Those with the “personal vintage” to remember this AT&T slogan – “The next best thing to being there” – understand its power. Back in the day before video chats, the telephone giant’s promise of some close facsimile of talking face-to-face with a loved one who was a few hours, or even an ocean, away, melted hearts.
Here we are in 2016, with face-to-face video capabilities, still missing the hug, the handshake, the clear eye contact, the physical presence. In business, this presence reveals more important things about people and relationships than even the psychologists can distil.
Even so, the easy option to use video technology renders the consideration of a costly and time-consuming cross-country flight, or in some cases, even a pan-Manhattan taxi ride, a non-starter.
Transnationalism has changed the search process
With the growth of liberal cross-border trade, the expansion of transnational companies continues on its upward trajectory. With more candidates oceans away, video interviews are the only sensible choice for first- or even second-round interviews. And as people become more accustomed to the practice, the routine bleeds over into intra- and interstate recruiting practices within U.S. borders. More and more, we are settling for the new “next best thing to being there,” even in executive roles.
Candidates can shrug their shoulders and just, well, slog through it, or they can figure out how to come out on top of their competition, who are jumping through the SKYPE hoop with them. I suggest a “master the medium” approach, because this trend isn’t going away.
Mastering the medium starts with giving it its due
The Internet is loaded with tips and tricks to acing a video interview, but I’m going to start off pointing out something obvious that, remarkably, I find is not done by the vast majority of candidates: simply putting equal preparation time into the video interview that they put into an in-person interview.
There is something about the video format that, in many candidates’ minds, reduces it to that hoop to jump through that we referred to – a formality, a filter of first-level criteria. People tend to think they can readily satisfy some checklist items and then be passed forward to the real thing. They seem to save their best for the in-person interview instead of giving their all from the start.
Let’s think instead of what the video interview really is: a fine-meshed filter that weeds out all but the few who merit what is really a second level (in-person) interview.
Now that you are wearing these lenses, what do you do to prepare?
1. Revisit your background research
Check the news for any updates on the company, its competitors and any other market or political changes that impact the company. It may be remarkable how often that company was serendipitously in the news – this very week!
2. Comb through your CV again
Be sure you have customized the fit, underscored the accomplishments and experiences that make you irresistible as a candidate for this particular company and for this specific position. Even if you have submitted a more generic resume, having these items highlighted on your desk or screen as you interview can work magic.
3. Get your look right
So many companies are “business casual” these days, so wearing your best Armani suit may not be a simple no-brainer. Check social media and the news to see if the company appears consistent in their dress and if their brand dictates that they need to broadcast a certain image. Dress to that image, if it exists. If not, take the measure of how they dress for meetings and nudge it up a notch to find your look.
4. Test the electronics
Sophisticated candidates are usually pretty good about this one. You didn’t get where you are by ignoring the lessons of that mortifying tech glitch in the middle of an otherwise slam-dunk sales presentation. Just be sure you have a good microphone (we recommend a dedicated mic), locate yourself where the Internet connection is reliable, send your SKYPE account name ahead of time and cover who is calling whom.
5. Light up the room, but don’t blind anyone
I have seen home video interviews in which the lighting is so dim that the viewer must strain to discern facial features, and others so bright the candidate looked like she just emerged from three months of solitary confinement. Hardly the visage of a confident leader. Lamps should be strategically arranged and neutral, unclutter the walls behind you, anticipate the potential distractions of doorbells, children and pets, and set your computer at a height that flatters your face. This all helps ensure a sharp first impression.
An even better option is to reserve a meeting room at a nearby hotel or conference center for an hour or so. The business environment of the meeting room sends subliminal messages that probably best those your home office is delivering.
With your spouse, buddy or colleague, just practice video chatting so you can get some feedback on whether your video personality reflects who you are. Are you stiff, do you look into the camera (remember it’s not where the interviewer’s eyes are, but where the camera is that matters), do you fidget, slump, or lean on your hands? The way we present ourselves for in-person meetings can be far different than how we present ourselves for a computer.
7. Pose for power
This may sound a little hokey, but I can’t fight the research. Assuming some power poses before and during an interview has been shown to make an impact on how confident you feel and come across. Men and women alike can raise the testosterone and reduce the cortisone levels in their bodies by making themselves appear larger (think the Wonder Woman or Superman pose) and sitting with an expansive posture. Square your shoulders, and, for the most part, keep your arms on the armrests, not under your chin or crossed. Showing your executive presence with large and open body language, even in a video interview, matters.
8. Stay agile
Be sure you are prepared to flex with the interviewer. With an in-person interview, you know you will likely have an hour or more, but with video interviews, nothing is certain, even if your interviewer has given you an approximate window in advance. It is too easy for him or her to end a video call early if an interruption occurs, leaving you with important things unsaid.
To avoid this, start the interview with a strong summary of your qualifications for this role and stay succinct enough in your answers to fit the most important information into a 30-minute window. There is also nothing wrong with asking partway how you are doing on time, so you can guide the rest of your answers accordingly.
9. Prepare for cultural and language barriers
Second to technical glitches, nothing puts strain on a video interview like a language barrier created by only a partial facility with the native language or an accent that necessitates repeating statements or finding alternative phrasing. As a business leader, you will likely find yourself on both ends of this challenge. Plan ahead and work in tandem with a translator whenever this threatens to diminish the quality of an interview.
Cultural differences can be off-putting if you haven’t done your research. We may know that in some cultures the propriety of eye contact and the use of “no” and “yes,” for example, are viewed quite differently from how we view them. Still, it is smart to refresh your knowledge and mindset so you are as open as possible to the intended messages, not just what seems to be conveyed.
10. Be yourself
Before you chortle, let me offer an story of what can happen when you don’t get this part right. In one of our international searches, I prepared a candidate slate after conducting face-to-face interviews. Based on my in-person interviews and the client’s assessment of the candidate profiles, he and I were in agreement on who looked to be the top candidate. But to my surprise, a video interview changed the whole landscape when the candidate presented himself not as the polished leader I had met, but as someone overly eager to sell himself at any cost.
Because of that, he was dropped from the slate, and it was a missed opportunity for both parties. It turned out that he hadn’t invested time in practicing with video interviews and getting feedback to ensure his video and in-person personas matched.
Video interviewing may not exactly be “next best thing to being there,” but then again, it’s the next best thing we have. As in everything, with practice you develop your chops. Your thoughtful preparation will enable a video interview to be that fluid exchange of ideas and stories that makes for a memorable impression.
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