Business school career centers have long prepared students for job interviews, but now they have a new platform to contend with. Enough companies now interview for jobs and internships over Skype that career offices have started to train business students in the art of conversing on video chat.
You’d think that digital natives could pull it off easily, but more can go wrong than you think, says Stacey Rudnick, director of MBA career services at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business. “Students need practice with that to be comfortable,” she says, citing the video and audio failures as common hiccups. “It’s also just harder to get a feel for the room.”
Students often think they’re more prepared than they really are, says Randy Bitting, founder of InterviewStream, which sells interview preparation systems to schools and companies, including nearly two dozen top B-schools. “Business schools are finding that there’s an enormous gap between how students view themselves as prepared compared to how employers view them in interviews.”
What makes up that gap? Here are some horror stories and tips:
Beware of wardrobe malfunctions
Jamie King Belinne, assistant dean for career services at University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business, says that while students typically dress professionally before face-to-face interviews, they tend to slack off during video chats. She says the standards are the same, and it’s always better to overdress.
“Students have a challenge because they feel video interviews aren’t as real as in-person interviews,” she says. “We have to remind them to put on their suit.”
Karen Dowd, assistant dean of career management and corporate engagement at University of Rochester’s Simon Graduate School of Business, says one student during a virtual interview last year wore all the right things—but only above the belt. When he had to get up from his chair during the Skype interview, “he was in his boxer shorts,” she says.
Tech glitches won’t sink an interview; but how you handle them might
Most people get frustrated by Skype chats with friends that cut out the feed or drop audio. Job interviews have much higher stakes, so it’s best to make sure you have a strong wireless connection before getting on a video call, says Belinne.
When Belinne conducted a video interview for an open position at her past job, an applicant ruined her chances of getting the job because of how she reacted to glitchy audio. “They were having trouble hearing me, but I could hear them,” she says. “I decided I didn’t want to hire them, because they went on a cursing rampage in a stressful situation.”
Be aware of your environment
Students can also mess up their interview backdrop. They should choose a private office or clean bedroom and use as much natural light as possible, Dowd says. “Don’t have a bar sign in the background of a basement.”
Don’t be a jerk or be boring
If students perceive the video interview as less formal than a face-to-face interview, they may forget to check their ego, Bitting says. “The key is coming across as confident but not overconfident, which happens a lot with business students.”
They can also fall into the same distraction-prone tendencies they would in class or at the office, like checking e-mail or reading notes, he adds.
Because nonverbal cues get lost on video chat, Dowd says students should make sure their voice intonations aren’t flat or monotone. She suggests students make sure they have a conversation with someone before the interview, even if it’s first thing in the morning. “The person has to almost artificially pump themselves up ahead of time.”