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Producing and Performing Skype Interviews

Skype interviews are my favorite! Lo and behold my supplement to Brianna Marshall’s exceptional Phone Interview Strategies. The genesis of this post is when I presented a paper via Skype at the Graduate History Forum at UNC Charlotte in April 2013. It was a great experience! I’ve been Skyping ever since.

Talking on the phone can disorient me because I like to see people’s nonverbal cues and adjust my own communication accordingly. On the other hand, in-person interviews are strenuous situations in which your every move and word will be scrutinized and your ability to navigate unfamiliar physical and social spaces will be tested. But as fewer employers can afford to fly candidates around, Skype is displacing F2F interviews at all stages of candidacy. (So no pressure!)

With Skyping, you need not worry about traffic, handshakes, hard chairs, or what to order for lunch. Skype interviews place you in control of your environment and performance to a significant degree—and this is pressure of the productive sort.

My advice for acing your Skype interviews? Approach the entire process as if you were producing and performing a pivotal scene from a play or film.

Costuming

Be sure to dress “professionally” from head to foot. Granted, the committee is not likely to notice your pajama bottoms or bare feet under the tabletop, but you’ll feel more confident and capable if you dress the part. If applicable, trim and tidy your hair and beard—remember, the committee will be staring at your unkempt talking head for the next forty minutes. And please, no hats! (You’d be surprised.)

Avoid wearing reds, blacks, whites, overly bright colors, or anything that appears harsh or washed out via webcam. I never go wrong with olive or deep blue shirts. Wardrobe choices should take into account what lighting you have and what your skin and hair tones are. And any ornaments should not dazzle the viewer.

Background

I suggest a plain background (maybe an office wall) unlikely to excite comment. If your environment is hard to customize, consider rigging up a curtain or a roll of seamless paper, or just sitting with your back to a window. Feel free to evoke your personality without going over the top. I generally sit with my back to my bookshelves and my webcam angled slightly toward my window, making sure that my John Steinbeck collection and Starry Night painting are noticeable amid the history and LIS books. If your home is noisy or otherwise unsuitable, consider booking a library study room. Or you can do what one of my friends did—connect your phone to your car’s Bluetooth and ace your interview from the driver’s seat!

Lighting

Render your lighting soft and balanced so that your face is evenly lit. Check that your lighting is flattering and does not impart a Goldfinger-esque metallic or oily gleam to your face. I mainly go for sunny natural lighting because it reflects my personality (I’m a Floridian and a kayaker, folks). If you are relying on windows instead of lamps or overhead lights (natural lighting is ideal), be sure to practice Skyping at the time of day that you will be interviewing. In Florida, west-facing rooms are dim in the morning and bright in the afternoon. Plan accordingly.

Acoustics

Quiet on the set! Please choose a Skyping venue without noise distractions—no talking roommates, howling children, roaring air conditioners, or vocal parakeets. Consider using a noise-canceling quality headset if you foresee distractions or if your built-in microphone fails to transmit your voice clearly and at an adequate volume (do practice thoroughly with a friend ahead of time). One final point: try to record yourself talking into your mic and then play it back to check your vocal quality. Nervousness may cause high-pitched voices to come off as squeaky, while deep voices may come off as nasal. I make an effort to talk with my throat and not with my sinuses. Otherwise, I sound like Robert De Niro’s duck.

Nonverbals

Nonverbal communication says a lot over Skype. Refrain from rapid or sweeping hand gestures or head movements—some of us get dizzy seeing an oversized hand or forehead tracking in slow motion across the screen for the twentieth time. Nod frequently, smile, sit upright or lean forward (while keeping your head fully in the frame), and vary your facial expressions as much as you would for a F2F interview. Adjust your style and substance according to the interviewers’ nonverbal feedback, and build interpersonal warmth by mirroring any positive body language they display. Finally—and this is important—maintain the illusion of eye contact with the interviewers by looking directly into the webcam. Beware of staring too fixedly lest you miss something and have to ask the interviewer to clarify in the hope that she will repeat the question. (Fortunately, she did.)

Performance

By performance I mean not implementing cynical social manipulation but rather representing your feelings, experiences, and skills truthfully in terms that a given hiring committee will find creditable and persuasive. Practice but also improvise the way actors do, and be sincere and open, because interviewers can detect fake enthusiasm or expertise (I have sat on both sides of the hiring process). As you articulate a response, you may glance at your notes—discreetly, and only if you remembered to tape your cheat sheets alongside your webcam! To judge by my service on an academic faculty hiring committee in Jan.-Feb. 2014, interviewers distrust candidates who check their notes with anything close to frequency. As for demeanor, “be serious and smile” is my advice. Never underestimate the value of humor, especially when delivering a sample presentation. Finally, use the power pose to psyche yourself up for exemplifying the awesomeness that you are!

Substance

That said, performance or production design cannot conceal a lack of substance. Yes, you should know your material fluently. Yes, you should rehearse answers to predictable questions. Yes, your answers should be specific. Script everything that can be controlled or predicted; recognize the many limits to your control over the process; and know your technology and material well enough to handle curveball questions, technology problems, and other impromptu challenges with something resembling aplomb. Roll with the punches—effective Skyping should highlight your fluency with (basic) technology as well as your interpersonal skills.

Final advice

Recognize and correct—but try not to internalize—mistakes. We all could do better sometimes. Embrace this truism and you will excel. Good luck!

Any tips or experiences with Skype interviews? Please share in the comments!

5 thoughts on “Producing and Performing Skype Interviews

  1. I had a Skype interview at an Ad Agency and of course there were technical issues. It was so interesting to watch as the admin staff fiddled with the controls and it was all I could do not to step in as I was talking with my other interviewer.

    Needless to say it kind of put the lie to the agency’s claim of being a tech first workshop.

    Like

    • Thanks for sharing, Alex! Great point that Skype provides ways to assess prospective employers. Ideally, they should inspire you to *want* to work with their organization in particular.

      Becoming “the tech person” in the eyes of administrators sometimes strikes me as being at least 50% confidence.

      Like

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