Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
March 13, 2020

Ready for Your Closeup? Six Tips for Mastering the Art of Video Interviewing

As people start to work remotely and replace high-fives with fist bumps or wave-like gestures from a safe distance, chances are high your big job interview will get moved from in-person to video. What do you do? How do you prepare differently than originally planned? 

Beyond the normal interview best practices and the basics of a video — a working camera, internet connection and audio connection (all of which you tested before the meeting) — what else matters? Here are my best tips for video interviewing. The good news is that most of this applies for any video meeting. 

What’s in your background? 
Many people don’t think much about what their camera might be picking up. I have watched as very senior executives interviewed with a robust array of alcohol in the back of their home office, risqué artwork, or photos that might not be appropriate for the conversation at hand. At the same time, I have seen some executives who have a thoughtful background featuring books and personal artifacts. There have been times where there was something so interesting in the background that it sparked a question and provoked interesting dialogue. 

Notes, phones and access to the web
Many people take notes during an interview and it is not uncommon to have notes walking in about the company, the person you are meeting, etc. When people fly into a city to interview, I find that they usually spend significant time researching the people they will meet, the company, the role and will usually come in with some detailed notes and questions. Interestingly, I have noticed that by phone and video, perhaps because the investment is lower and it seems more casual (and it often gets scheduled more quickly), people show up with less prep work. Or, if someone did do prep work, they may find themselves looking down and referring to their notes a little too frequently. 

If you are going to take notes, write larger and clearer so you can quickly glance down for a reminder, but whatever you do, don’t spend the time reading off your desk showing the camera the crown of your head. Also, the person interviewing you might have their notes about you (or your resumé) on their computer, so don’t be bashful asking if they have what they need at hand or if it would be helpful to give them a quick background given they may not be able to look at their notes and you at the same time. This can be a nice gesture for the harried executive.

Small windows, small talk 
Perhaps it is human nature, but when someone pops up in a small video box on my monitor, I have noticed they don’t always make the small talk I am accustomed to when meeting in person. There is no shaking of hands, there is no offer of coffee, no one comments on the surrounding atmosphere. Admittedly, it is harder to make small talk in a video interview. Don’t let that stop you. Take a few minutes and put your interviewer at ease and show a little humanity. I have no doubt that in the next few months we will all have a new depth of video humor to draw on, so for now, make it simple but don’t skip the personal touch and the welcome. 

We can still see you
If you have ever seen someone forget they are on video, it is priceless. The same is true of people walking in and out of the room while the video is on. One easy tip is stick something right next to your camera when you are on video and a sign outside your door that you are “ON CAMERA.” If a red light outside the door works for TV and radio studios, take note. The other benefit of a colorful sticker next to your camera is it will remind you that you need to look at the camera, not the screen or keyboard. 

Who said you have to sit down? 
While it takes a little more skill and should not be tried for the first time during a big meeting, some have mastered the art of drawing on a whiteboard while being on video to demonstrate a point, drawing the viewer in more like a TED Talk and less like a talking mug shot. When I asked one executive who was particularly adept at drawing you into her space on the other side of the video, she replied, “We do internal video meetings all the time and so I started to try new things. Getting up to the whiteboard and sketching was something I realized was much more fun than just staring at a camera.” Now, there is a reason weather reporters look (mostly) natural gesturing at clouds that don’t exist on a blank screen; if you can’t make it work, don’t.

Lights, camera, action
If the meeting or interview really matters, take a moment to position good lighting that hits your face and make sure you don’t have picture frames or other things that can glare awkwardly back at the camera. Set your camera up just a little higher than your face and remember that audio is really important. Amazingly, many people would rather be misunderstood than wear some form of headphone. You are on camera, but the audio is the content — make sure you are coming through clearly. In fact, check once near the beginning if you are coming through OK and if not, do something about it. When you do, ask the person at the other end to please interrupt if they can’t hear you. People are surprisingly polite in interviews, but often it is to your disadvantage. If they can’t hear you, they may not tell you, but they also may not tell you that is why they don’t advance you to the next step, so “check 1, 2, 3” that you can be heard.

Lastly, the rule of sending a follow-up thank you note doesn’t change. Be sure to not only thank the interviewer, but also anyone else who assisted in making the virtual interview possible. Relationship-building is important as ever, despite the screen in between. 


Jason Baumgarten helps organizations across industries to find and assess CEOs who drive results and inspire senior leadership teams to perform at the highest levels. He also works with boards on director recruitment, CEO succession and identifying next-generation leadership. Reach him via email and follow him on LinkedIn