Guest Post: Notes from a Skype Interview by Rachel Eckhardt

Rachel Eckhardt Here’s a new post from one of our team members on our Teach Newark project, Rachel Eckhardt. Rachel helped us persuade teachers across the Northeast that Newark Public Schools was the place for them and then identify the best from that pool via many tools, including Skype interviews. Read her thoughts and advice if you’re an organization considering conducting Skype interviews as part of your recruiting process, or a job seeker who has been invited to one.  

My first experience conducting Skype interviews occurred during my work with Teach Newark. To prepare for using Skype, a free online video conferencing service, I did a trial run with my partner from opposite ends of our apartment. That was sufficient for me to familiarize myself with the setup, which is very self explanatory but I would still recommend a trial run for anyone using it for the first time.

How to Invite Applicants to a Skype Interview

Wondering if some candidates would decline to use Skype, our team gave them the option for a phone interview to occur the following week. This decision provided candidates with an incentive to learn to use video conferencing in order to have an earlier time slot, and it also provided a way out to anyone who legitimately could not. We effectively set a relatively low bar for candidates to demonstrate their technological mastery. Those who opted for phone interviews ranged from reporting that they did not have “a skype” to apologizing for having a broken webcam.

For many, it was their first time using video conferencing. Almost everyone expressed a certain wonder and delight, maybe recalling the video communication systems on the Jetsons or the original Star Trek! Skype interviews gave a positive impression of Newark Public Schools as a forward-thinking, tech savvy district. This tone left me well set up as the interviewer to convey the positive changes, improvements and transformations occurring in Newark.

The Candidate Experience

People were excited at the initial connection of the video! There was something fun about making it work and people got a kick out of it. It is unusual to start an interview with having a laugh together, but Skype added a sense of delight and novelty to the usual process of introducing ourselves. Candidates seemed to feel like they accomplished something just by connecting, which allowed them to start the interview on the right foot. When occasionally the video didn’t work for them, it turned out to be a frustrating process which I somewhat mitigated by allowing them to see me, reminding myself to smile at the computer, and moving along to the questions. In a few cases, it functioned merely as a phone interview.

Even for those who were being screened out, I wanted to leave them with a positive impression of the process and the district. Regardless of the medium, my goal as an interviewer is to always give the candidate every opportunity to show their best self. In order to do this via Skype, I tried to put them at ease but also convey the importance of the interview process and the work at hand. It is tempting with video conferencing to be more casual, so inserting a little professionalism can go a long way. Some candidates were especially taken with Skype and wanted to chat about how awesome it was, which we did a little just to ease into the conversation, but not for too long. Often it was up to me to hold the formality, and this may be a function of the culture of education or it may be a function of video conferencing. Either way, just as it does in person, a warm yet professional tone is essential for putting the candidate at ease while simultaneously setting them up for success.

It’s on Skype, but It’s an Interview!

A video interview creates a very condensed interaction so it is important to be deliberate about each element of the experience, even things you might not ever need to consider as closely for an in-person interview. All we see of each other is from the waist up, if that much. For attire, the most formal candidate wore a suit and tie. He aced the interview. The least formal candidate was seated on her couch and apologized for not dressing up, but she aced the interview too. Both of these extreme cases were able to demonstrate their commitment to students. Somewhere there should be a happy medium where attire is not a distraction, somewhere more on the formal side.

Participants on both sides of the interview see everything behind the other, so it is important to remove distractions. It is also important to be well lit. I found that a light source that is shining on me from behind my computer is best. Definitely avoid sitting with your back to a window! A silhouette makes you appear anonymous, which is not a good quality for interviewer or interviewee. After being distracted by an email notification, I made it a rule to close all other applications on my computer. Another thing that can be distracting is our own narcissistic desire to observe ourselves talking! Skype provides a tiny window where you see yourself over the person on the other end. It helped me to reduce this window to be as small as possible, and place it near the web cam.  That way if I couldn’t help but glance at it, at least it would appear that I was looking directly at the candidate. Overall, a Skype interview is something like a compromise between in-person and telephone. Setting yourself up for success on either side of the interview takes technical preparation, mindfulness of professionalism, and willingness to enjoy a little futuristic fun.