job, interview, skype, video, conference, call
March 15, 2011 5:14 PM   Subscribe

I have a job interview tomorrow via Skype; it was supposed to be via the company's own internal system, but alas, we have to fall back on Skype. Tips for making me look good?

Video conferencing can be challenging even at a professional set up, I know. What are your tips on two fronts. One, technical stuff, like how to light it, how to look good, etc.. (I'll be using my FiOS connection, so no worries there). And two, how to deal with multiple people (the whole department will be attending) in a Skype video call for managing the conversation, differences between a "live" interview and a video one, e.g., I'm at home, but should I still wear the BB suit and Hermes tie?

Background: interview is for a specialist research position with an international bank's Rotterdam office; I'm in the US, but I'm a dual national who lived in Holland for many years.

posted by digitalprimate to Technology (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Wear the suit. Make sure the background is clean or better yet set up in front of a plain white wall.

The most awkward thing about Skype is the delay, where you end up talking over the top of each other. Commit to finishing your sentences and don't try and anticipate questions.
posted by smithsmith at 5:33 PM on March 15, 2011

I think if you'd suit up if the interview was in person, then you suit up for Skype.

As for looking good, a) get the camera at your eye level or a little above so you will naturally be looking at them rather than above them, and b) try to set it up in a non-cluttered space.
posted by grapesaresour at 5:35 PM on March 15, 2011

Oh and turn off your phone/any equipment which may generate noise or interference, make sure you aren't interrupted, have supporting documentation nearby or scanned on your computer so you can send them through during the interview if required.
posted by smithsmith at 5:37 PM on March 15, 2011

Neutral background, dress well.

Make sure your space is well-lit. Nothing is tougher in Skype than looking at a dark little box.

Also, make sure your space is quiet. Try to cut out as much background noise as you can.
posted by xingcat at 5:40 PM on March 15, 2011

nthing, neutral background, adequate lighting and wear the suit. Also, setup and test about 15 - 30minutes prior so you have time to find a backup should something go wrong tech-wise on your end.
posted by getmetoSF at 5:43 PM on March 15, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all this.

In thinking about this, more specific tips on lighting would be appreciated - angle? type? wattage? I have congenital dark circles under my eyes, so tips on handling that with lighting would also be appreciated.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:44 PM on March 15, 2011

Don't wear pants. Don't need 'em. Make sure you look at the camera and not at the screen so it makes you look like you are looking at them on their screen.

I agree about the lag. Commit to what you are saying and give enough of a pause, but not too long between when they finish and when you talk.

You could also ask if you could be on a landline instead of using the skype voip and have the camera/video muted so there isn't that dely in talking if you think it's going to bother you.
posted by TheBones at 5:46 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you are married, you could ask your wife to help you with a little foundation for the dark circles under your eyes. If you are that worried about it, it's an option. If not, ignore this suggestion.
posted by TheBones at 5:47 PM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I have a friend that works for Skype (albeit in a development position) and he was hired through a similar Skype-based interview process. He's a great guy with strong professional credentials and experience, but his body type might be best described as that of a young Wilford Brimley, albeit with more hair. They hired him for his professional talents, not his pretty-boy looks. Don't sweat the on camera interview process any more than you would any other interview. It's a wrinkle, but it doesn't change the fundamental nature of the interview. Also, from everything he's said they appear to be a good company to work for and he's happy there. Good luck!
posted by mosk at 5:53 PM on March 15, 2011

Best answer: Some lighting thoughts. -

Soft light sources work best.

Natural light is usually the most flattering as long as it's not too direct. I've had a lot of luck setting up so that the light from a window hits me at about a 3/4 angle, or straight on.

If you have to use artificial light, make sure it's bright enough, and not coming from directly over head.

If all you have are hard light sources, (a anglepoise desk lamp or similar) consider bouncing the light off a piece of white poster board. I put 4 sheets of blank copy paper on my cubicle wall and angled my desk lamp at it, and was amazed at the result.

Chinese lantern style lamps are also great. I have a big paper lantern from Ikea in my office that's works great, when I have to videoconference.

Putting the light just a little above your eye level is a good idea, but pay attention to the shadows. Especially if you wear glasses.

Some people recommend 3 light sources. A bright key, a softer fill, and a backlight. I'm a pro, and I don't even do this on my full lighting shoots. It's a very manicured look, but just a single nice soft light source is often the most flattering.

Re-iterating the natural light thing if it's a possibility. The light on a cloudy day is even better.

On the background, I would recommend against the white or beige background. If the background is lighter than you, the camera iris will shut down and make you the darkest thing on the screen. A darker background works best in my opinion. It doesn't have to be very dark, so if you don't have a darker option, just trying to keep the light level lower than what's on your face. That can help a lot.

Uncluttered is a good recommendation, but I'd add a deeper background is a valuable if possible. Webcams aren't generally good at depth of field, but the less I'm looking at what's behind you and the more I'm looking at your face, the better, I'd think. My eye would naturally be drawn to anything in sharp focus and as bright as the subject.

Definitely test it out before hand, and while you're at it be sure you sound good to. Not sure what you're using for a mic, but I've been on some very echo-y videoconference's and it's been really annoying.

If you have the option to put the camera very close to the window where the far end will appearing, you'll be able to simulate eye contact better. On my Macbook, I just shrink the window and put it right under the camera. If I'm sitting a little farther away, you'd think I was looking right at the caller. If you're really on your game, try to look directly into the lens when you answer questions, and don't fall into the trap of watching the people on the other end. This is surprisingly hard to do for some people.

Don't spend too much time looking at your own shot once you're set up. Don't know if you can turn that off, but I find that a huge distraction, (and not because I think I'm pretty.)

Sorry, that's probably more than you wanted. We just starting doing a lot of video conferencing at my office, and since we're all TV pros it's been pretty interesting.

No matter what you do, as long as you're just able to get a really good bright image of your face, your going to do better than 90 percent of most people on Skype.

Hope this is useful.
posted by Noon Under the Trees at 6:24 PM on March 15, 2011 [10 favorites]

If you have a friend who is into photography - ask that person for lighting tips.

Whatever you do, make sure the light source is not lighting you from below - that's hell light and look unnatural. Windows light is good, diffused light is good, play with whatever you have available and take a shot with your webcam.

Good luck.
posted by jstarlee at 6:34 PM on March 15, 2011

What about doing it in front of a bookshelf of books about your technical area of focus (if you have such a shelf on hand)?

I'd also do some practice runs with Skype friends first and ask for feedback from them on how you come off. I tend to over-emote on skype.
posted by serazin at 6:52 PM on March 15, 2011

See if you can set it up to work without a headset (not if that will affect sound quality, though). I recently had a skype job interview, and I felt like I looked really dorky with the headset on.

There were five people interviewing me, and they had a "camera man" who zoomed in on the person who was talking, but he frequently messed up, so I was looking at one person and hearing another. That was quite disconcerting. Be prepared for similar issues. There's nothing you can do to avoid them, but even just expecting such things might help.

Only do it in front of a bookshelf if you have checked multiple times to make sure there is nothing embarrassing there. White wall background would be better.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by how much my interview felt like a "real" one. As long as there isn't a bad sound lag, you soon forget you are separated from your interview panel by such a long distance, and can relax to focus on the content.
posted by lollusc at 6:56 PM on March 15, 2011

Oh, and one other thing: arrange the camera angle so that it is good no matter whether you are sitting up straight or not. I ended up adjusting my posture part way through the interview, and then I realised the camera was then pointed at my cleavage instead of my face.
posted by lollusc at 6:57 PM on March 15, 2011

Think about how this setup could break and figure out in advance how you'll handle each failure mode. For my field, most technical interviewers will ask you to write code on a whiteboard, so I was advised to carry a dry-erase marker with me in case the one I was provided stopped working. I've never used Skype before, but a few things I can imagine:

Networking goes down? Ask for a landline telephone number at the start of the interview, or get it from HR before the interview, so you can re-establish some kind of contact fast.

A few previous answers have mentioned sound lag. What will you do if that happens? What if it gets really bad (and what does really bad mean)?

posted by d. z. wang at 7:11 PM on March 15, 2011

I deal with Skype calls all day with my work, and the two most important things are (duh) audio and video quality. Make sure you connect to the Internet with a hard line ethernet cable, as using wifi will degrade the call quality. Also be sure to use some kind of headset (for a job interview, the less noticeable of a headset, the better. iPhone headphones/mic can work in a pinch). If you just use your computer's on-board mic, you're going to get very roomy sounding audio which will make it difficult for them to understand you.
posted by allseeingabstract at 7:47 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do some test calls with a friend.

Think about what your eyes are doing when you're looking at the them, your picture in the corner, into the camera, etc. Try to get some intuition about how it looks/feels to them when your eyes are going different places.
posted by zeek321 at 8:33 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Laptop or desktop? Try to make sure you're not looking down, even if you have to use a book or two to prop up the computer.

Next, get a lamp up and behind the computer. You want light coming at your face, not from behind you. Experiment with this beforehand. Avoid lights on behind you.

A plain background is better, but I wouldn't worry too much about that.

Do wear your full suit. You'll be live, and if you have to stand up for some reason, you'll look silly with nannies on the bottom.

Try to look at the camera, not the screen. It will be awkward for you but more natural-looking to them.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:20 PM on March 15, 2011

Jammies, not nannies. Either would be quite silly though.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:22 PM on March 15, 2011

I avoid fine patterns when doing teleconferences. Solid colors are easier to compress and they don't show moire patterns with the camera lines.
posted by ccoryell at 12:41 AM on March 16, 2011

Make sure the cat is secured in another room.
posted by essexjan at 3:46 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Egad, the cat! Yep.
posted by digitalprimate at 3:58 AM on March 16, 2011

turn all the lights on you have. collect them and stack them behind the computer's camera so that they light you up. stack them a bit higher than your head will be, so they shine a bit down but not too much. 20 degrees might be good. if you get too much of a glow, mask them with a sheet of white paper.

a really quick and easy solution is to have a white desktop background or image on your computer screen while talking to them. the screen will act as a light illuminating your face. now all you need to make sure is to test out the color balance so you don't look terribly blue.

I personally hate skype interviews. did two myself. thought the companies were cheap for not flying me out, was right in the end.
posted by krautland at 5:32 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did a recent Skype interview and we ended up not using the video function to save on bandwidth.

Wear the suit.
I turned my desk so that my back was to a plain wall rather than have the camera look out on a messy room.
Don't shine light directly on you, rather have it bounce off a wall behind or, if possible, to the side.

Remember to smile :)
posted by jander03 at 11:01 AM on March 16, 2011

Response by poster: To finish this off, I wore the suit, and had about five regular house lamps in front of and beside the computer. The audio was so bad we eventually switched to phone.

Lesson learned: they are using Skype too, so the people far away from the computer's microphones are difficult to hear.
posted by digitalprimate at 4:40 PM on March 25, 2011

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