Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 21, Issue 2;   January 13, 2021:

Virtual Interviews: II


The pandemic has made face-to-face job interviews less important. And so we must now also master virtual interviews, and that requires understanding the effects of the attendance list, video presence, and the technologies of staging, lighting, and makeup.
Why we have so many virtual interviews now: no one is in the office

Among the many workplace activities and norms the Coronavirus Pandemic has changed is the job interview. Before the pandemic, job interviews beyond the screening stage were usually face-to-face. Because of the pandemic, the video or virtual interview now dominates instead. There are important differences between face-to-face interviews and virtual interviews. Last time I noted one important difference related to psychological safety and what might be called the "home field advantage."

There are at least three other differences that can be just as significant, including the attendance list, video presence, and the technologies of staging, lighting, and makeup. In what follows, I use the term interviewer to refer to the representative of the hiring organization, and the term candidate to refer to the person seeking or considering the position.

The attendance list

In most face-to-face interviews, both interviewer and candidate know who is participating. Rarely are face-to-face interviews observed by hidden camera. But in virtual interviews, neither interviewer nor candidate can be certain of the attendance list. In virtual interviews, on either side, people other than the interviewer and candidate might be present. Usually, the possible presence of unannounced attendees gives the interviewer an advantage, because few candidates have the time or resources required to harvest any value from recordings or hidden attendees. In what follows, I assume that any unannounced attendees are colleagues of the interviewer. And I refer to the unannounced attendee as Heidi (H for "hidden").

Heidi might be sitting just out of camera view, or she might be connected to the interview digitally. If she wants to comment to the interviewer or prompt the interviewer without disclosing her presence, she can write on a whiteboard if she's co-located with the interviewer, or she can send a text message. If Heidi isn't co-located with the interviewer, she can speak to the interviewer directly if the interviewer wears a headset or in-ear monitor.

The interviewer The most important difference between
our video presence and our real-life
presence is the nature of our eye contact
can benefit from the participation of unannounced attendees in two ways. First, if the interview is part of a series, the interviewer can pursue lines of inquiry that arose in previous interviews in the series. Those previous interviewers can hear firsthand the results of those pursuits. Second, a topic might arise that's beyond the interviewer's area of expertise. But with assistance from Heidi, the interviewer can pursue that topic.

Recordings provide another way of extending the attendance list. Recordings can't help either party in real time, obviously, but they can help both parties as they perform their after-action reviews. In this regard, though, recordings can be more helpful to the interviewer than they are to the candidate, because processing the recordings can be time-consuming. The hiring organization is more likely to have resources available for such activity. For the candidate, it's safest to assume that a recording might be available to those evaluating the interview. Take care.

Video presence

In virtual interviews, as in real life, people take in visual and auditory information. They use that information to evaluate what others say (or don't say), which contributes to decisions they make. In the context of the hiring process, the pertinent decisions are the decision to hire or not hire — or to accept or reject the offer. The difference between a face-to-face interview and a virtual interview is related to the difference between the information each party projects in real life and the information they project via video.

And that difference can be significant. In my experience, the most important difference between our video presence and our real-life presence is the nature of our eye contact.

To achieve eye contact in the video context you must look directly at the camera. Unfortunately, people tend to look not at the camera, but at the video image presented on their own computer displays. That image is usually directly below the camera. The result, for most common camera configurations, is that in their video images people seem to be looking down. Experienced video presenters avoid this. They look directly at the camera.

The hard part about this is that when looking directly at the camera, you can't easily see the other person's reactions. To make this a little easier at first, try looking at the image on your computer screen occasionally, rather than steadily. And for one-on-one interviews, make your video partner's image as large as you can, or as close to the camera as you can.

Over time, the odd sensation you feel at first will pass, as you begin to rely more than usual on your peripheral vision.

Staging, lighting, and makeup

Staging includes all matters related to selecting and positioning whatever the camera sees. What I mean by lighting is clear, I hope. Makeup includes anything applied to skin to enhance the resulting image.

For staging, consider carefully those items that will be in the camera's field of view. For example, if you have a wall calendar with notes written on it, be aware that your video partners might be able to discern what you have (or don't have) on your calendar. Be aware that if your sofa is in view, when your dog jumps up on the sofa, circles around three times, and plops down with a heavy sigh for a nap, your video partner will catch every second of the action — and will likely miss whatever you were saying.

Lighting is a bit of a (ahem) dark art. By previewing your image using an expired meeting link, you can probably make suitable adjustments. Avoid point sources such as standard light bulbs. If you must use a point source, aim it at a broad flat surface so as to produce a less direct effect. Even better: use multiple light sources to get a more diffuse effect. This is one reason why ring lights are so effective.

Natural daylight is best, but beware: the quality of the image can change when a cloud passes by, or when the angle of the sun changes. The lighting variation resulting from changes in the sun's position within a time interval as short as two hours can be significant. For a short video interview — an hour or less — daylight is probably fine. And north light is the least variable.

Applying your own makeup requires skill and practice. If you don't normally use makeup, try to adjust the lighting instead.

Last words

In most interviews, participants try to manage their performances to project their own preferred image of themselves. They also try to evaluate their partner's performance, taking into account the effects of their partner's performance management. In virtual interviews, experience with virtual interviews does provide an advantage for both performance management and performance evaluation. Just as it's possible to overthink all this, it's possible to over-rehearse your own performance.

Presenting your true self as best you can is a sound strategy. Accepting a job offer for the wrong job is just as counter-productive as having the wrong candidate accept an offer that should not have been extended. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Anticipating Absence: Quarantine and Isolation  Next Issue

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