Interviewing At A Distance: So Far, No Matter How Close

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Videoconferencing for the purpose of interviews has gradually become the norm. But interviewees shouldn’t think this absolves them from traditional preparations. On the contrary: be doubly prepared.

Migrating Online

An increasingly normalized trend across the jobs market appears to be: be sure to have a Skype (or other) profile that looks as pristine as your resume, because your next job interview will probably take place online. So while there may be a temptation to assume that a videoconferencing interview cannot possibly be as serious because it can amount to a Skype “chat”, and, while “face to face”, it’s not truly face to face, the rules of the game are more or less the same, and the catch is, as always, in your presentation – and not to be lulled into a false sense of security.

Companies increasingly resort to interviewing via Skype or other communications platforms, and videoconferencing more broadly, for a variety of reasons: First, it saves them time, and sometimes money. Second, it provides the opportunity to cull prospective candidates from a broader pool, also overcoming national borders and other limitations, whether the position itself eventually requires relocation or can be fulfilled via telecommuting. Third, it probably gives employers a better screening process opportunity – the immediate impression of the candidate to the employer will be more or less the same, whereas the employer will be in a better position to make a judgment and also be able, if necessary, to cut the interview short, without having to take account of a person’s physical presence.

Keep It Clean

This basically means interviewees have to remain on guard. If you wouldn’t wear sloppy clothes to an interview, don’t wear them on Skype. Try to ensure that the work space on which your interface sits is cleaned up, and that it resembles a professional working space as much as possible (even if you are a techie applying for a tech firm – clear away the pizza boxes and beer cans). Ensure that there is

adequate lighting, and that there are no unnecessary distractions in the background. Also, ensure there has been an adequate microphone/sound test on beforehand. Practice – perhaps with a friend beforehand – on looking directly into the webcam rather than focusing on how you look on camera in the box below. And above all, ensure that your account name isn’t “Iloveyou123” or something else from your sordid past, as first impressions still count! The account name should be, at the least, your real name, with, at most, a professional qualification attached. Better yet, have an account devoted entirely to your professional life separate from hangout accounts.

The fact is, it’s too easy to not take something as seriously just because it’s online. Conversely, it’s also increasingly too easy not to take real world encounters, including professional ones, as seriously, just because everyone and everything has migrated online. The thing to remember, particularly in the context of work, interviewing and presenting oneself, is that the same rule for real world conduct may be even more important in an online arena where so much is searchable, and where because of the basis of immediacy, a contradictory statement or messy past may fatally undermine a candidate for a job if the profile doesn’t add up. This is deeply unjust, of course, but considering that one is rarely given a second chance, the same rules should apply to interviewing online: be in control.

Pros & Cons

While these developments, as with so much technologically determined behaviorism, are automatically accepted on a wider social scale, with many interviewees going so far as to claim they actually prefer it (some claim it alleviates stress to not have to meet in person on the company and interviewer’s premises), it also still has a number of drawbacks, particularly for the candidate. The distinct advantage in meeting someone face to face is in being in better command of the impression one wants to give. If one has a firm handshake, a charming smile and convincing body language, these are among the attributes that might be lost in an online interview. Similarly, comments or insights that require the establishment of a minimum of interpersonal charm or understanding might fall flat in a front of a panel of faceless interviewers, as might a connection that simply gives out in the middle of a train of thought.

Do not, therefore, be lulled into thinking the intermediary of a screen provides an illusion of distance. For all the practical advantages of videoconferencing interviews, the challenge in coming across as well as one desires might be even tougher than in person.

There is no stopping the normativity of technologically mediated social norms, of course. Though it might behoove both businesses and individuals to consider just how much might be lost in the process of trying to avoid personal contact altogether.



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