Tackling the Skype interview

Having an interview on Skype is nothing to fear if you are well-prepared

Thanks to advances in technology, we now live in a rapidly shrinking world. And thanks to computer chat / video programs like Skype - which so many of us are familiar with by now - it's possible to see and chat with friends and family members as they sit in bedrooms and living rooms in far-off distant lands.

However, Skype is now used by many companies as part of their recruitment drive. If a company has a job applicant who for geographical reasons is unable to attend a traditional face-to-face interview, it's still possible to get a feel for the candidate's job suitability by interviewing them via webcam.

This is of course an ideal solution for schools in Thailand - provided they have internet-savvy staff - inasmuch as a school can interview a potential teacher before that person has even left home and set foot in the country.

But the ‘Skype interview' as it's become known, is still something of a mystery to many. I'm guessing the majority of people (me included) have never sat in front of their computer to take part in a formal job interview. So what are the advantages and disadvantages of the Skype interview compared to a traditional one? How should you prepare? What should you avoid doing? So many questions.

Ajarn.com put the feelers out to its Facebook page visitors and found a number of them were a wealth of knowledge and information on the topic of Skype interviews. After all, they've experienced what it's like to be on the other side of the webcam. So, microphones at the ready. Here are some tips on how to perform well in a Skype interview.

Light and sound

The quality of your internet connection and how Skype will perform on the day are often beyond your control but it's worth spending a little time testing your webcam to make sure you've got the best possible angle (more on that later) and secondly, that your microphone works.

The last thing you want to do is to introduce yourself to an interviewer and then have to spend time fiddling with your equipment (quiet at the back!) Someone suggested doing a ‘dummy run' with a friend or family member and getting them to offer feedback on sound and lighting. That sounds like a very wise idea to me.

One of the problems I have with chatting on Skype video is that my desktop computer is positioned right next to a large window. Early in the morning and after darkness falls, there isn't a problem, but if I chat to someone in the middle of the afternoon when strong sunlight is streaming through the window, I look like I've just come off the night shift at a nuclear power plant.

First impressions

How does the old saying go? - you never get a second chance to make a first impression. First impressions count. They always have and they always will. And on Skype, the first impression an interviewer will get of you is from your Skype profile picture. That's right - the profile picture you'd completely forgotten about.

Now you may have had the most wonderful time on Steve's stag night but believe it or not, a photo of you standing on your head trying to down a pint of lager in less than 20 seconds won't create a good first impression. Neither does having your face licked by the family pet Alsatian or dressed up as Widow Twankey for a staff fancy dress party.

On the other hand, you shouldn't feel the need to go for a profile photo that smacks of ‘passport photo' but every ounce of common sense should tell you to go for something neutral, some might even say dull and boring.

What to wear

This is a tricky one - or is it? I think there are arguments for and against wearing the same kind of attire that you would wear for a formal face-to-face interview - shirt and tie for a man; conservative business-style blouse for a woman - but this is definitely not the time for your favorite Def Leppard tour t-shirt with the out-of-shape neck.

One can't though underestimate the psychological aspect of wearing ‘interview clothes' - even for a Skype interview. Just as a woman feels like going to a party when she's dressed for a party, and a soldier feels like a soldier when he's in military uniform, your interview performance is sure to be enhanced if you're wearing the right clobber.

Personally, I couldn't sit in front of a webcam, in my own bedroom, wearing a navy blue suit and necktie. I just think it's slightly over-the-top and I wouldn't feel comfortable. I would certainly go for a nice open-necked shirt and trousers though - and I would consider that perfectly acceptable attire in which to face an interviewer. However, if you want to go the whole hog and dress up to the nines complete with immaculately laundered pocket square - let me be the last person to discourage you.

While we're on the subject of Skype interview attire, one of the ‘dilemmas' facing the interviewee is that the interviewer won't be able to see what is below your waist - your ‘bottom half' as it were. Let's face it, you could wear a crisp white shirt with a necktie and team it with a pair of fishnet stockings - and still get the job. But you're not going to be one of those people are you?

The level of formality

Because it's a Skype interview, human nature dictates that the environment is going to feel less ‘formal' than a traditional job interview. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be wary of momentarily letting your guard down.

It's still an interview for a job and it's still a business conversation between two professional people (unless one of you is wearing the fishnet stockings)

Resist the temptation to trade war stories. The same rule applies to face-to-face interviews. If the interviewer says "Oh you're calling from Ottawa. I had a wild night there once, God, I dread to think how much we drank" that isn't your cue to play the top-it game and tell him about a night out you had that was wilder and longer.

Keep the conversation to regular interview topics like your background, your work experience and those all-important questions about the vacant job and you won't go far wrong. Once again - don't let your guard down by getting carried away with the ‘informality' of the situation.

Background

It goes without saying but the interviewer will be able to see what's behind you - so pay attention to it! If you have the luxury of a portable laptop and wi-fi, then you'll probably choose to do the interview in front of the recently-painted French windows or a similar appealing backdrop. Don't give the interviewer a chance to say "Hmmm....nice gun collection"

I use a desktop pc for Skype calls and that desktop pc is in my bedroom. And in my bedroom is a bed. Call me on Skype and you can clearly see it. But it's a nice, well-made bed with a nice duvet cover. I'm not ashamed of it. If your pc is in your bedroom then that's the way it is. Just keep the room tidy, that's all.

When you know that you are going to be having a Skype interview, it's worth informing other members of the household that you do not want to be disturbed and that your ‘interview room' is out of bounds for half an hour or so. You don't want mom sticking her head around the door and telling you that dinner's on the table. Or your sister begging to borrow your new mini-skirt. Or a bleary-eyed flat-mate standing there in his grubby white boxer shorts playing pocket billiards. I think you get the picture.

Speak when spoken to

Other feedback I got from people with lots of experience using Skype for interviews included one lady who said you have to be careful not to talk at the same time as the interviewer. If there is a delay in the internet connection - which there very often is - then it's very easy to fall into the trap of two people trying to talk over each other. In her opinion, this was just one reason why Skype simply doesn't work for job interviews

Close all other programs

Make sure you only keep the Skype program open. Close down the rest of those ‘memory-hoggers' that might affect your computer's performance.

Don't forget the all-important eye contact

When talking with family and friends, we all tend to look at their images on the screen or we look down at the keyboard if we are typing messages at the same time. Remember to actually look at the webcam itself so you are maintaining eye contact.

In conclusion - love them or hate them, Skype interviews are probably here to stay. From all the feedback I got, the disadvantages of the Skype interview seem to far outnumber the plus points. Most people still much prefer the traditional face-to-face interview.

If you have any more tips or Skype interview stories to add, please send us your comments.


You might be interested in....

Skype interview tips - good advice from an ajarn reader in the postbox section


Comments

Well Jim Bob, Skype "weeding out the scumbags and time wasters" can also work the other way too, in regards to dodgy employers.

By davey boy, here and now (2 years ago)

Jimmy made a cynical observation about the advantages of Skype interviews... "scumbags and time wasters" My goodness! John picked him up on it and suggested that Jimmy's character was the worse for referring to job hunters in this way.

Well, John... I'm with Jimmy on this one. If you are a recruiter in Thailand and have been doing it for any length of time, the stories you could tell at parties would make for fascinating intercourse.

Frankly, there's nowhere in the world where (I'm going to put this a bit nicer than Jimmy) there is such a varied mosaic of colorful characters gathered in one place, than there is in the Thai ESL teaching profession!

By Mark Newman, Thailand (2 years ago)

Whilst the content of the article covers generic ground for a Skype interview there's a glaring omission that needs to be addressed...

Your speaking voice and how you sound!

Skype interviews are used as a last resort when looking at candidates for a job because it's a dreadful way to communicate, compared to a 'face to face' interview.

They are often used as a preliminary way of screening candidates when schools in Thailand hire from abroad. They are also used by schools outside Thailand to 'poach' teachers. Myanmar does this a lot!

Sure, you can get the lighting and sound adjusted for optimum performance and you can even tweak your internet connection so it won't be interrupted... but if your prospective employer can't understand you then that job may slip through your digital fingers!

It's hard enough for Thais to understand English, and without the body language and other advantages of a 'proper' interview, you may find yourself either having your statements misunderstood or simply not being understood at all.

Here are some basic ideas that may help you to cruise through an online interview and overcome the handicaps that this type of interview poses. These ideas should also help you even if the interviewers are themselves native speakers.

As this list is a long one and the subject matter is unending I'll just highlight some points of importance and you can follow up these by Googling for more information.

1 - Breathing! Take deep breaths and calm yourself before the interview starts.

2 - Before the interview, practice enunciating your answers. Read answers to questions into your phone or computer and play them back. How do they sound to you? Cut down on the 'umm's and 'er's!

3 - Slow down the tempo and turn up the volume of your answers and say the words clearly. You don't have to sound condescending to pull this off and you may want to practice this before the interview.

4 - Think about your answers before you say them out loud. The interviewer won't mind waiting a few seconds, especially if the pay off is worth it to him or her.

5 - Learn to listen! One hurdle of this (or any) type of interview is that you are giving answers to questions that nobody has asked. Listen to and understand the question and return a pithy and considered response.

6 - Open your mouth when you speak! This is unbelievably crucial and will go a long way to helping you to be better understood.

7 - Inflection, inflection, inflection! Monotonous speech is boring and difficult to understand, especially on the phone or in a video interview.

8 - Finally, don't try to be funny. Your light-hearted banter won't translate well over the internet and you'll look unprofessional. Interviewers will be able to gauge your personality well enough, without you having to resort to jokes and off-topic anecdotes.

Good luck.

Like I say, this is a subject that can be explored forever and I've covered just some brief points. But if you just follow these, you'll find your online interviews will go a lot better than you had even hoped for.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (2 years ago)

Good article with some useful advice - but "far-off distant Lands"? A little superfluous, some might even say padded.
"keep the conversation to regular interview topics". Once again you are getting carried away with the idea of an alternative sexual lifestyle when you refer to fishnet stockings. Lighthearted or funny? Perhaps.
Jimmy (Bangkok) seems to think that Skype allows him " to weed out the scumbags and time wasters". What a nice guy!

By john citizen, thailand (2 years ago)

There's some great advice here on how to prepare for a Skype interview. As an Employer I find Skype to be the best thing since the Mac.

Skype allows us to weed out the scumbags and time wasters. It saves our time, and of course the applicants travel time and costs especially if we have no intention of hiring them.

I can usually tell with a few minutes at a face-to-face interview if an applicant is a definite no or a maybe and I find I can do the same on Skype.

We use Skype as an initial interview and if they seem ok, we do a second Skype interview then we get them in for a second interview in our offices with the view to hiring them. Rather than having 2-3 days of endless interview, we now have just 2 or 3 interviews for each post.

Candidates should prepare for a Skype interview in the same way as a normal interview with a few extras mentioned in the blog. Dress well, nice background, create good lighting, position your webcam so the interviewer is not looking up your nose etc

The downside is, if your computer or internet connection is dodgy it will likely reflect badly on you.

Make sure you have the interviewer's phone number handy so if the connection becomes poor, ditch Skype and call them right away on the old fashioned telephone

This will show you are prepared, innovative and keen.

By Jimmy, Bangkok (3 years ago)

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