There1 have been a lot of changes since my last blog entry, both at McDermott & Bull, and in the industry.

For one, our firm’s new Associate Principal Consultant that I work closely with, Jared Moriarty, and I will now be contributing to this blog together. McDermott & Bull has been growing and is now one of the largest retained search firms in Southern California, and we are continuing to do more and more work on the national level.

As you can imagine, with more searches happening all over the country, coordinating interviews with candidates has become a greater challenge. However, we make a commitment to our clients to put eyes on every candidate and there is no way we would ever submit a candidate without doing some type of in-person interview. So now, instead of constantly hopping on planes and traveling all over the country to meet with every candidate, we have been using Skype a lot more for first round interviews.

While Skype is certainly an amazing tool and very beneficial to our industry, candidates should be aware that there are many thi2ngs to think about that are unique to Skype interviews. Jared and I were discussing this the other day as we completed several back-to-back Skype interviews at our hotel in Portland before heading off to some in-person meetings. We spoke about all of the small things that can have a giant impact on the interview. Too often, candidates forget that presentation on a small screen is much different than an in-person presentation.

We decided to write up a quick checklist that candidates can use when they are preparing for a Skype (or FaceTime) interview. Some points may seem obvious, but after seeing a few otherwise great candidates miss the mark in these areas, we wanted to touch on the big ones.

  1. Dress like it is a face-to-face interview

It is very easy to let your outfit preparation slide when preparing for a Skype interview. Don’t let that happen. This is not a phone interview, you should be dressing as professional as you would if you were going to interview with the hiring manager in person.

And be careful not to just dress up whatever part of your body that you think will be on screen. Recently, I interviewed a candidate that was sitting in his home office via Skype. He was dressed in a suit and tie, from what I could see. However, half way through the interview his dog ran into the room and started barking. He wasn’t able to get the dog out of the room at first and had to get up and pull him out. When he stood up, I could see that he was wearing jeans instead of suit pants. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TO HAPPEN. It doesn’t take much more effort to dress up all of the way, but it could end up making a big difference.

  1. Make sure you have a good connection

While Skype is a great tool, there is nothing that will make you dislike it more than losing your connection during an interview. This interrupts the flow of the meeting and can waste a lot of time as both parties have to try to get back online and then go back and forth calling each other, fighting off frustration.

As a candidate, you should always make sure you are somewhere with a strong internet connection. To ensure that your interviewer on the other side will be doing the same, you might want to suggest doing a test run with their office. I know that any of the recruiting associates at McDermott & Bull would be more than happy to do a test run with a candidate to make sure Skype is working on both ends before they interviewed with me.

  1. Make sure you have a good background scene

It may not seem like a big deal, but what is shown behind you on screen has a big impact on the impression you give during a Skype interview.

Jared mentioned this after a few Skype interviews we did for the same role. One candidate had a background that almost looked like he was in a cheap motel. He was pressed against the wall with a scraggly wooden door behind him. The next candidate we interviewed was sitting in his home office, seated in a large, leather, executive-type chair, with a beautiful bookcase behind him.

This can be easily avoided by planning ahead. Think about a place in your home or office that would make a good impression on your audience (but make sure there is a strong internet connection there!). If there is no good scene that is convenient, just a neutral blank wall behind you would be alright.

  1. Check your volume and lighting

Always remember that while you may be able to see and hear your interviewer perfectly, it might not be the same on their end. I’d like to think that any of our Principal Consultants at McDermott & Bull would speak up if they could barely see or hear the candidate they were interviewing, but there are some interviewers that won’t say anything to you.

You need to make sure your volume is dialed appropriately. Imagine half of the good points you make going unregistered because your interviewer is too polite to tell you that they can’t hear you. Lighting can make a huge difference also, but is something that the interviewer is even less likely to comment on. As long as they can see what you look like and what you are wearing they will probably be fine with that, but in order for you to make the best impression you want the lighting to be perfect. Be mindful if you have any type of window behind you. Even if blinds are drawn, sunshine can have an effect on the lighting and make your appearance much darker to the person on the other end.

Once again, this issue can only be solved through a trial run. Ask a family member or a friend to Skype with you and test out the volume and lighting. If the sunlight could be an issue, make sure you are mindful of the time of day you do the trial run. These little things can have a big impact on your presentation and could ultimately even be the difference between you or another similar candidate being selected for the next round.

  1. Remember, everything is amplified on screen.3

Any trained actor will tell you that there is a big difference between acting on stage and acting on screen. The same is true of interviewing, which is essentially a performance. While you want to be loud, proud and animated, you don’t want to go overboard during a Skype interview. You won’t be seated across a large boardroom table from your interviewer, you will most likely only have your chest to your face blown up on screen. If you are always looking around, nervously trying to think of an answer, it will be amplified on screen. If you have any grooming issues, they will be amplified. If you’re making facial expressions, they will be amplified.

You of course don’t want to be a straight-faced robot either. But it is important to be aware that all of your expressions and reactions will be bigger on screen. I recommend not sitting too close to your own computer screen, but a nice arms-length distance. You should be doing your best to try to make the interviewer feel like they are meeting you face-to-face.

  1. Have a back-up!

Even if you have done a great job preparing and you know your internet connection is strong, the interviewer on the end might have a bad one. Skype calls get dropped from time to time, it happens. That is why it is very important to make sure you have the information of the person interviewing you and a cell phone or landline that is ready to call them in case your Skype call is dropped.

Honestly, if this happens towards the end of the interview, you can probably just finish via telephone. The purpose of a Skype meeting is for the interviewer to get eyes on you and try to get a sense of what you are like in person. After a good ten minutes or more, they already have that. So make sure you have a phone ready in case the call is dropped. You may end up just finishing that way if you can’t get back online.

As I’ve said several times, the best way to avoid making these mistakes is to PRACTICE! Do a test run with a friend to make sure the background, volume and lighting are set to go, and if it is appropriate, see if you can do a test run with the office of your interviewer to make sure there is a good connection. Of course, the goal of every Skype interview is to move on to an in-person interview, so you can truly put your best foot forward. This checklist will hopefully help you avoid making mistakes that could keep you from that.

We would love for any of our readers that have questions or any good Skype/video conferencing stories to join in the conversation. Share your question or story with us in the ‘comments’ section below.

Best of Luck!

Rod McDermott & Jared Moriarty