3 tips to prep for video job interviews

I do a lot of video interviews and meetings. I’m the CEO of Fizzmint, an employee task administration and compliance management tech startup here in Seattle, and many of our team are remote. I’ve conducted about 300 video interviews at this point, and I’d like to share my three best tips for preparing to do well. Hopefully, this will help you figure out how to give a great first impression over video for your future employers!

First off: the background matters. In a phone call, the only thing the interviewer can assess you with is the sound of your voice. In a video call, the only visual information you can convey is your face and whatever the interviewer sees behind you. This means that they’ll be looking hard for any clues about your personality and who you are from the choices you make about your backdrop. I did in fact just say “choices”. Whether you know it or not, you’ve chosen to present yourself a certain way, and if you don’t think about what your interviewer sees behind you, you might be in trouble.

I recently interviewed a programmer from a different city than Seattle. He clicked his video on, and like every other techie. I started asking him questions. About two minutes into the interview, I started looking behind him. He had several extremely explicit drawings, sculptures, and images of nude women in various poses on the office walls behind him. They were obviously artistic, but I question his judgment in having them as his professional backdrop. I can’t remember his name or his skillset now, but I remember with icy and perfect clarity the two labias that were framing his head.

If you don’t know what backdrop to have, just put you and your camera opposite a plain wall. A corollary to this is that you should make sure your sleepy roommate doesn’t parade around behind you wearing boxers and not much else. I’ve seen that one too…and my eyes are still burning.

Second, check your tech a full two days before the interview. I use Google Hangouts by preference since it allows me to share screens and add people easily to the hangout…crucial if I want to do a video round where I call in a few people at a time. This usually doesn’t present any problem, but you do have to install a browser plugin and have a Google or Gmail account. Most people are fine with it, and/or can get it set up in about 15 minutes. I don’t like Skype, since it costs extra to do video conferencing the way I like, and I’m unenthused about the fact that Microsoft is unashamedly parsing my voice data for ads and targeting.

About 1 out of every 4 interviews I do, someone hasn’t checked to make sure they can do Google Hangout video — and this is after I tell them specifically that we’ll be using it. So recently that it actually inspired this post, a developer didn’t show up in the pre-created video link at the specified time. He didn’t show up when I invited him specifically again. He didn’t show up when I cancelled that hangout and tried inviting him personally to a new one. He emailed to say that he was waiting on me. I told him to call me himself. He didn’t. He emailed again (15 minutes late, telling me he hadn’t even installed the browser plugin before our meeting) to tell me that he guessed the plugin didn’t work for him, and he’d try something else. 20 minutes after he was supposed to be impressing me, I told him I was moving on.

Sure, sometimes there are real technical difficulties. However, the difference between someone who was prepared and is having troubles, and someone who didn’t bother to check in advance that a technology they’d never used before would work for them is that 15-minute timespan. If someone’s having actual troubles, I get an email from them one minute after the meeting has started telling me that something is wrong. If someone didn’t know they’d have to install that browser plugin, meaning they did not prepare, they email me 15 minutes after the meeting starts. Check your tech and the equipment you’ll be using and do a live test with a friend.

Hell, I don’t know why I’m even telling you this. It’s actually a very good check to make sure that someone is the kind of person who prepares ahead before I spend time interviewing them.

Third, dress for the video interview (at least from the waist up) as you would for the actual interview. I’m wearing a perfectly proper button down shirt now (with yoga pants and Chewbacca house shoes that my cat likes to cuddle with), but everything showing on video is all buttoned-up, as it were.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve seen people show up in their pyjamas, tshirts, robes, and in one spectacular instance, what was clearly the top half of a bikini with a ratted hoodie tossed over it. How we dress conveys a world of information to people, and if you’re not dressed like you take this conversation with me seriously, it doesn’t matter how awesome you are as a marketer or programmer or administrator. In addition, there’s lots of research out there discussing how our clothing choices affect our posture and speech patterns. People wearing better clothing do better on tests objectively, and people who feel like they’re well-turned-out project a greater air of confidence and competence.

If you have Star Trek or Buffy action figures, I strongly suggest you hang them on the wall behind you. That is all; good day.

[cross-posted to Medium]