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Video interviews: the graduate guide to nailing your small-screen debut

Jaymes Carr

Careers Commentator
Video interviews are commonly used in graduate recruitment. We give you tips on how to prepare and what to consider to help you launch your graduate career.

The rise of the video interview

Every graduate knows that the job market can be fiercely competitive: this, after all, is one of the things you’ve spent your degree preparing for. Still, the statistics offer a sobering dose of reality.

According to Glassdoor, the online job search engine and review website, each new job posting attracts an average of 250 resumes, with popular openings often yielding twice as many applications, if not more. In Australia specifically, a 2017 study published by the online recruitment service Adzuna found that, on average, 22 recent graduates compete for each entry-level role (this jumps to 46 recent graduates per role in South Australia).  

The challenge

In other words, hiring organisations and graduate applicants both face a conundrum. For employers, the challenge is to sift through a tsunami of applications to find the best fit, both professionally and personally, for their organisations. For would-be graduate employees, the challenge is often simply to stand out. This is especially true when applying for roles in which soft skills, such as communication and confidence, are considered to be equally as important as one’s on-paper credentials.

The solution

Enter the video interview: it appeals to employers, who can use it to identify star candidates with much greater efficiency while cutting down on travel costs. They can also be hugely advantageous for graduates, offering them a chance to draw upon their soft skills and shine (though not literally: more on this later). For example, here’s how one successful graduate described their video interview experience to GradAustralia: 'I am aware I don't have the strongest writing skills but I believe I am quite a confident speaker. Being given the opportunity to speak using video interviewing was different and really good.'

It’s no wonder then that some 60 per cent of employers now use video interviews during the first or second rounds of their recruitment processes. As companies cast an ever-wider net to find talented candidates, and as new technologies emerge, like automatic video analysis, the odds that you’ll find yourself sitting down for a video interview are only going to increase. Hence this guide: read on, and we’ll tell you exactly what you’ll need to know to prepare for your video interview and then knock it straight out of the park.

Preparing for your video interview

The video interview: live or pre-recorded?

The first thing you need to know when preparing for a video interview is which format to expect.

Live video interviews are designed to replicate, as best as possible, the feeling of a real-time face-to-face conversation. The duration of your video interview may vary considerably and could involve either a single interviewer or a panel. However, as a general rule, live video interviews are succinct, with successful candidates invited to attend a more comprehensive face-to-face meeting at a later date.

Recorded video interviews require you to submit responses to a series of written or recorded prompts. There is generally a time limit (often around two minutes) for each submission and, depending on the interviewer, you may have two or three attempts to respond.  

Learning your lines: know your answers before you know the questions  

Whether you’re required to participate in a live or recorded video interview, the pressure is on and the stakes are (or at least feel) high. To give yourself the best chance, and put your mind at ease, it pays to prepare with as much diligence as you would for a face-to-face interview.

Here, GradAustralia’s advice portal is particularly helpful: you’ll find articles on dealing with interview nerves, the interview questions you can expect in different industries (such as engineering), tips from successful graduate recruits at your target organisation, and more.

How to be a STAR

On one point, many graduates concur. 'Make sure you practice the STAR technique,' advises a successful applicant to the Victorian Government’s graduate program. 'Prepare your behavioural responses in STAR form!' agrees a graduate at Toll.

The acronym ‘STAR’ stands for ‘situation, task, action, and result’ and describes a technique for responding persuasively to video interview questions (especially behavioural ones) by drawing on your own experience. In short, you respond with a relevant anecdote, describing what the situation was; what you were required to do (i.e your task); which actions you took; and what the results were.

One of the most helpful things about the STAR technique is that it allows you to prepare for the video interview by creating a shortlist of experiences (in STAR format, of course) that you can readily adapt to various questions. But what sort of experiences are most likely to be relevant? Good news: all the clues you need can usually be found in the job’s selection criteria.

Logistics: technical things to consider before the video interview

Lighting and camera

Remember that, to make 'eye contact' with your interviewers, you must actually make eye contact with a web camera. As such, it’s important that the camera is positioned at eye level, lest it seems that you’re staring down at the interviewers from on high or, just as awkwardly, addressing them from below, as one would the moon. If necessary, consider putting some books beneath your computer or finding a seat with adjustable height. Do not use a handheld device, like a smartphone or tablet, to conduct your interview: it’s unprofessional, shaky, and gives the impression of somebody who hasn't prepared.

Position yourself at an arm’s length away from the computer such that your head and shoulders are well-framed by the screen, with your eyes about two-thirds of the way from the bottom.

Where possible, ensure that your face is illuminated from the front by an even soft glow (this can be achieved by placing two lights on either side of you at roughly the same height as the camera, if not slightly higher). Avoid unflattering downlights (this is a rule for life, not just interviews), as well as uneven lighting, rear lighting, or lighting that’s too close to your face (which may cause you to appear overexposed). If you wear glasses, be sure that they don’t reflect the screen in front of you (this shouldn’t be an issue if you have glare-free lenses).

Internet performance

Remember: this is supposed to be your video interview, so it’s best if you don’t instead resemble a stop-motion animation or, worse still, a wax figure of yourself caught mid-sentence. Alas, both of these outcomes are possibilities if your internet starts to lag, which, for many Australians, is an ever-present danger.

For a high-quality video call, your download and upload speeds should be at least 400-500 kbps. You can use Google’s internet speed test tool to check whether or not your connection is up to the task. If not, it might be best to conduct the interview somewhere with higher speeds. (Pro-tip: many local libraries will allow you to book a meeting room and use fast, free Wifi.)

Set design, costume, and makeup

You should make sure that you conduct your video interview in an environment that’s as professional as the one you’re hoping to enter. This means ensuring that you’re in a tidy and quiet room where you won’t be disturbed (by pets, children, housemates, and so on), with your phone off and no unnecessary visual distractions. Ideally, your background will be a plain wall, a curtain, or something else that’s clean and stationary (think ‘high school photo backdrop’). Read no band posters, unmade beds, busy intersections, or crimes in progress.

What you wear is important, and you should dress just as you would for a face-to-face interview: in neat, corporate attire that projects professionalism without being overly formal (suit jacket, yes, boutonnière, no).

Be wary of bright colours or sharply contrasting colours: they have a tendency to ‘confuse’ webcams, which may cause visual distractions such as the appearance that you’re constantly blushing. Similarly, steer clear of plain white, pinstripes, or overly busy patterns (this is not the time to break out your Gryffindor tie).

Finally, a judicious amount of makeup is a good idea, for men and women, especially if you tend to sweat a lot. Mattifying makeup (such as a mattifying liquid foundation) will reduce skin glare, which can look like nervous perspiration even if you’re bursting with confidence.  

Eight final tips to help give you an edge

  1. Speak clearly! You can perform a sound test by recording yourself and playing it back. Your voice should be clear, unbroken, well-paced, and an appropriate volume. If you tend to rush your speech when you’re nervous, use your breath as a natural timer: inhale at the end of each phrase, and then speak until the end of the next phrase. This will remind you to pause at appropriate points, and also help you relax enough to speak at an easy, unhurried pace.
  2. Set up your interview space ahead of time: lights, computer, webcam, and backdrop, as well as a glass of water (see the tip above), a pad of paper with a pen (particularly helpful if you wish to make notes while listening to a pre-recorded question), and copies of your resume, the job description, and any notes you’ve made (all arranged discreetly out of frame).
  3. Be punctual and log in early. If you’re using Skype, you can arrange to make a practice call to a friend to check that everything is working properly.
  4. Be concise. An answer that focuses on a single achievement or experience will be stronger than an answer in which you refer to several things without making your point explicit. (Again, the STAR technique can be a very helpful way to keep your responses punchy and relevant.)
  5. Consider using an affordable lapel microphone to provide high-quality audio.
  6. Download any necessary software (such as Sonru or Hirevue) well before the interview and check that it works on your computer. During the interview, close all applications and tabs except for the ones that are immediately relevant).
  7. If there is an unavoidable interruption (for example, a fire alarm, a leaf blower, or a nearby trumpet lesson), apologise, address the situation briefly (for example, by checking that the interviewers can still hear you), and then continue with the rest of the interview.

Bonus tip: relax! If you’ve read through this guide, then you know everything you’ll need to know to sail through your video interview and create a strong first impression. Good luck!