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Phone screening has become common in job hunting, as corporations do a quick pruning of candidates. But these days, Skype might be used for that or even regular interviews further along in the hiring process.

Here's what Halifax-based executive recruiter Gerald Walsh suggests on his blog for improving your chances when interviewed on Skype or similar online vehicles:

Organize your surroundings: Mr. Walsh has interviewed people whose computer was in their bedroom and there was an unmade bed behind them, perhaps even with a dog barking throughout the session. Aim for a clean, uncluttered background and eliminate any distracting objects or noises.

Dress the part: Most people naturally dress for a Skype interview the same way they would for an in-person interview. But he warns that can undermine you. Certain patterns or colours affect picture quality and therefore distract the viewer. Avoid stripes and small patterns, which are counterproductive on camera. Also: White shirts, particularly with a dark suit, since that can make you look washed out.

Set your computer at eye level: Often people use laptops on their desks for the interviews, sitting close to them. But with the laptop lower that your face, the interviewer on the other end is looking up at you with a better view of the ceiling than of you. For Skype interviews, Mr. Walsh puts his laptop at eye level on top of an upside-down blue plastic recycling bin on his desk.

Use appropriate lighting: Overhead lighting or a light from behind you will tend to wash out or darken your face. Also, never sit in front of a window. "The best type of lighting is natural light on your face. If you don't have natural light, use a small lamp, like a table lamp, to illuminate your face," Mr. Walsh advises.

Use decent equipment: Even if your computer has a built-in mic, use a headset to improve your voice volume and clarity, and avoid background noises. Similarly, invest in an external webcam to improve picture quality. To check what you look like for the other party, go to Tools/Options/Video Settings to make any necessary adjustments.

Test your internet connection: Check the internet connection so there are no glitches during the interview. Just in case, however, get the interviewer's telephone number so you can call if necessary.

Look at the camera: The temptation is to look at the screen to see how great you appear. That's a mistake. Look at the camera so you keep eye contact with the interviewer.

Focus on the interview: Don't use the interview time to browse the web or check your e-mail. That can wait.

First impressions count: Make sure your Skype user name and profile picture present you in a professional way. "Please: No pictures of your pets or inappropriate images. If you want, you can always create a second Skype account for friends and family," Mr. Walsh says.

Practise, practise, practise: You shouldn't give a speech without rehearsing. Similarly, make sure you practise with a friend online to sharpen your appeal.

Communicating with high-level executives

If presentations to high-level executives are a rarity for you, here are some tips from leadership coach Joel Garfinkle:

Get to the point: Don't meander. Executive time is precious and they want to know the key points from the start – why you are sitting down together, what needs to be achieved, and how it fits with strategy. "Don't be long-winded – keep your words short and sweet. Mentally rehearse what you'll say beforehand, and write notes if that helps you, to keep yourself on point as you present your ideas," Mr. Garfinkle writes on his Career Advancement blog.

Ask questions to gain clarity on what the executive needs to hear: To customize your pitch, some questions can be helpful. Ask if he has particular concerns or interests that you could speak to; that prevents you from focusing on project A when he wants to hear about project B. Also, ask if the executive is familiar with the project before launching into a description of something he knows.

Listen to what the executive is and isn't saying: Mr. Garfinkle notes that when communicating with high-level executives, you'll get feedback not only from what they say but also from what they don't. If the person hasn't commented on what you see as the most exciting part of your plan, probe to learn her feelings toward it.

Be natural: You want to radiate confidence but not appear as if acting on stage.

Let the executive know how to support you: Encourage the executive to be an ongoing part of your team and effort by letting her know how she can support you. That may include helping you to reach out to even higher-level executives. As well, set up a follow-up meeting a month or so later, to keep the ally you have developed in the loop.

The seven fears to overcome to be an effective leader

When you move into a supervisory position, consultant Lolly Daskal says on her blog there are seven fears that can derail you unless you face up to (and overcome) them:

  • The fear of being seen as an imposter, since if left unchecked that can hurt your effectiveness.
  • The fear of being criticized, since criticism comes with the new territory.
  • The fear of being a failure, since at some point you will fail and it’s vital you understand the need to fail forward.
  • The fear of not being a good communicator, since that is something you can work on and improve over time.
  • The fear of making hard decisions, since you will need to avoid “paralysis of analysis” in the new job.
  • The fear of taking responsibility, since that’s vital to being effective.
  • The fear of not getting things done, since these days leadership is defined by results and you must overcome any hesitation on that score.

Quick hits

  • The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Author Amy Blankson says if each time took a single minute – probably an optimistic estimate – that would account for 2.5 hours of distraction every day. That’s 912.5 hours a year, or roughly 38 days each year. Want to know your own score: She recommends the iOS app, Unplugged, which keeps track.
  • Anita Purbasari Horton, a Fast Company editorial assistant, improved her productivity by scheduling time throughout the day to procrastinate, during which she was taking planned, helpful breaks.
  • Consultant Donald Cooper warns against “the research trap”: Asking your customers what they want, since they can only tell you what they expect, which will then lack any ability to “wow” them. Your research doesn’t tell you what to do – it should tell you what to exceed.
  • To build mental toughness, don’t focus on a struggle – focus on the outcome, says blogger and U.S. infantry vet Ken Downer.
  • Here’s one simple sentence – just 12 magic words – to negotiate a higher job offer: “If you can give me X, I will accept the offer right away.” Entrepreneur Betsy Mikel says at that hiring managers will like to hear that phrase as it shows you want the job, eliminates back-and-forth and displays confidence.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter.

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