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How to Ace Phone and Video Interviews

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It’s said that you only get one chance to make a first impression, and never more so than with a job interview. Nobody gets a job without conversations taking place, and in this time of increased remote working due to COVID-19, phone and video interviews have become the norm.

However, phone and video interviews require some differences in preparation and should not be treated the same as one another.

Phone Interviews

Employers use the telephone as a time-management tool to weed out less qualified contenders. You, on the other hand, want to turn the telephone interview into a face-to-face meeting, so your goal is to convince the interviewer that s/he will not be wasting time in meeting with you in person.

There’s a simple three-step process to achieve this:

  • Be prepared
  • Know the company
  • Know the job and understand how the employer expresses their needs

Bad timing

Phone interviews aren’t always planned, so you need to expect the unexpected and be organized at all times. Phone interviews will all too often come when the kids are screaming, the dogs are barking, or you’re just sitting down to eat.

These things happen and recruiters expect them and won’t be offended if it takes you a moment to gain calm, sound positive, friendly and collected. A way to tackle this would be to say something like:

“Thank you for calling, Mr. Wooster, as you can tell it’s a madhouse here at the moment, would you wait a moment while I close the door?”

You can then take a minute to calm yourself, pull up the company folder on your screen, and review the job posting before you start.

If you need to move to another phone, say so. Otherwise, put the caller on hold while you take the above steps, and a few controlled, deep breaths to slow down your pounding heart. A simple smile also improves the tone of your voice, so that when you pick up the phone again, you’ll be in control of the situation and sound energized.

If you are heading out the door, making this a bad time, say so straight away and reschedule: “I’m heading out and am late already. Can we schedule a time when I can call you back?”

Beware of overfamiliarity: you should always refer to the interviewer by his surname until invited to do otherwise.

Video Interviews

Video interviews hold an advantage over a simple telephone interview because with video the recruiter gets to see and read your body language. So, with video interviews, recruiters can judge professional appearance, interpret your body language and your general bearing.

Your video set

If you have a video interview coming up, the room and setting you use will essentially become your studio. A plain blank wall is usually the best and least distracting option for the background. You want to avoid rooms with lots of glass, or that has your mouth facing the glass, as this will cause an echo, or what‘s called professionally “shiny audio.”

You don’t want physical or audio interruptions of any kind, and I have done many interviews in a clothes closet. The clothes can’t be seen but they do help deaden the sound and increase your privacy. They make an especially good choice when you and all your family, pets and/or roommates are on top of each other almost constantly. It can take hours to decide on the physical space that also has the right acoustics and lighting. 

You’ll want to choose a distance that shows you at your best, somewhere in the four to six feet range will usually work. The interview itself will be a head-and-shoulders close-up with the area behind you framing the shot, and you’ll want this to be a plain background with nothing to distract attention from you.

Your look for video interviews

Professional.  Even if the company dress is casual you have not been invited to join the team, plus a professional appearance shows your respect for the company, the occasion, and the interviewer. Additionally, pulling your interview gear together will help focus your thoughts on the coming battle and the points you want to make – all of course linked to the interviewer's stated needs.

Camera placement

For the viewer, your best camera angle is when you are seen to be looking the interviewer in the eye: friendly, direct and nothing to hide.

However, if you look at the interviewer on your screen when answering a question, you will be seen by that interviewer to be avoiding eye-contact to be looking down as if overly shy, feeling guilty or hiding something. This is because a laptop or pad-based camera lens is invariably located at the top centre of your machine.

A simple solution to this problem (wherever your camera lens is located), is to put your laptop on a pile of books / boxes so that the lens on your device is exactly at your eye level. Train yourself to look into the lens, not at the interviewer’s onscreen image. Also imagine that your machine’s lens represents the interviewer’s eyes. “Make eye contact” by looking into the lens and smile as you talk, just as you would in normal conversation. What the interviewer will experience is a warm and confident candidate who isn’t afraid to make eye contact.

If you are worried about forgetting important points in the heat of battle, remember that everything behind that lens can be covered in notes and big notes are easier to read.

Video and audio interviewing skills represent an important new career management tool you need to master.

BONUS: The toughest two interview questions

Whether you’re having a phone or video interview there are two popular questions that you’re likely to face and can be the toughest ones. Ace your answers to these first two most popular questions and you’re likely to be well on your way to an in-person meeting.

“Tell me a little about yourself.”

This is not an invitation to ramble, the interviewer wants to know about your experience and qualifications for this job. Answer the question well and you create a good first impression and set the tone for your candidacy.

If you follow my advice on Target Job Deconstruction you will know how your abilities match an employer’s needs in surprising new ways; you’ll identify the key skill sets that all employers seek for the specific job you are targeting. This will enable you to talk about the employer’s needs while painting a picture of the relevant skills your candidacy brings to support those needs.

“What do You Know About Our Company?”

Your interviewer spends the majority of his or her waking hours at work. Your knowledge of the job and understanding of the company - who they are, what they do and believe in – are all pieces of the jigsaw that help interviewers evaluate your skills and engagement with the deliverables of the job.

Admire an employer’s achievements whenever you can, and by inference, you admire the interviewer – both of which show your research in a businesslike and complementary way. Also, without being too sycophantic, look for areas of common interest, because people like to hire people like themselves.

If you are prepared to answer these two questions, which start almost every job interview, you will be so far ahead of the competition, the job offer will be yours to lose.