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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.

Why I Hired My Team

So here is the last in my blog series about my perspective on recruiting and hiring my team. We’ve discussed where I found people, what I did to recruit them, and now today why I thought that these were the right people for the project. Here is what impressed me about my team members.

Achievement and Leadership- As I grow as an entrepreneur and a recruitment specialist, I try to broaden my perspective from the “left-brained” approach of quantified accomplishments and try to consider more creative qualities in prospects. But I’ve come to realize that I place a high value on achievement and my experience has shown that it does predict success. Someone who is focused on accomplishments and leadership cares about their work and making a positive impact. It also means they can “ship,” to quote Seth Godin.

Generalist and Diverse Experiences- I know that there are lots of career and HR experts that disagree on this, that it’s best to become a specialist in something to make yourself more marketable. I have to say I disagree. In professional services, I want to work with people who have done a lot things and can move into various roles when needed. Flexibility and the ability to dig in and get your hands dirty are more valuable to me than being good at one highly valued skill. I can outsource technical work to people I don’t have to work with in a team. The more you can do, the better.

Confidence- Each person I hired was confident about what they could offer me and told their own stories. I believe at least three people I hired at been laid off in the last year, but I am not even 100% sure about all of them. It didn’t matter because they didn’t portray any gaps to me in their work and led the effort to explain how specific things they had done before were going to bring my project to the next level. During the brief interviews, I never had to stretch to envision these people in the job. They acted the part from the first time we spoke on the phone.

One thing I will close with is that since I hired within my network for a short-term project, I did not do extensive behavior based interviewing, even though I am a big believer of its power to predict success. If you’re making hiring decisions from a broader pool of applicants who you aren’t that familiar with, I’d use that as a main tool to help with your selection.

So hope these three short posts on my experienced helped some jobseekers and recruiters. If you have any questions, throw them in the comments!

Three Reasons Not to Ask For Feedback When You Don’t Get The Job

Every few weeks, I see a Job Hunt Chat question that asks whether it’s appropriate for job seekers to ask for interview feedback from a company when they find out they didn’t get the job. Every time this question appears, I effusively answer “Absolutely not!” It’s hard to explain my reasoning in 140 characters, so here are three specific reasons why I advise job seekers against asking for feedback beyond the general thought that your eyes should be on the journey ahead, not the trip behind you.

Growth

One: It does not help you develop the type of relationship you want to have with the company.

While reflection and constant learning are qualities companies want in new team members, it’s a fine line between wanting to grow and coming off insecure and most job seekers don’t walk that line very well. If you don’t get the job you applied for, you still want to be considered for future positions and the best strategy is to come off as eager and confident in your abilities in a well-written thank you. Even if you didn’t do so hot in the interview, the person may be impressed and call you in a few months for a new opening based on your strong re-positioning of your candidacy.

Some might say that you should ask for feedback because “it can’t hurt,” but it can. When someone puts you in an uncomfortable position, such as asking you to give negative feedback to someone you barely know, you often subconsciously sour on him/her. Don’t give the company this opportunity to feel awkward about you.

Two: The feedback you’ll get is likely worthless and won’t help you become a more successful professional.

First, most companies have strict legal requirements on what they can say to candidates so no one will ever be 100% honest with you. Feedback on your communication skills may be seen as welcome advice to one candidate, but received as slander by another one, even if s/he requested it. Second, the hiring process is complex, highly contextual and only a small part is based on your interview. The decision involves everyone else in the applicant pool- including internal candidates and referrals from important people- and what the company needs now AND in a few years. The context will always be out of the job seeker’s control and successful applicants understand this. All you can do is your personal best.

If you made it through an interview and you were not selected, it’s for one of two reasons- the company picked someone else for the position for a contextual reason, or you didn’t communicate well enough in the interview about your candidacy. You likely already suspect if it’s the second reason. You can work with a professional or well-qualified peer or mentor on interview skills through mock interviews and story-telling exercises without asking for feedback from the company. You’ll get higher-quality information and it’s a better use of time.

Three: It’s not the right mindset for job seekers.

Anyone who makes hiring decisions for a company has two roles they must fulfill- (1) serve as a gatekeeper so only the best are hired, and (2) make sure that people feel good about the company brand no matter what the outcome is. Unsuccessful job seekers often don’t understand that it’s not the job of human resources professionals and recruiters to be altruistic to the unemployed. In fact, their job is to weigh the interests of their hiring managers OVER yours. A great recruiter will never let you see this because they also realize you’ll judge them and their company if you sense it, but it’s 100% true.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve become tired of job seekers who have been unemployed for close to a year or longer, but have done nothing but go after drips of free advice and clutter their Twitter feed with articles about how unfair the job search process is. They know who they are and they’ll be stuck there until they change their mindset to one of growth. It sounds harsh, but sometimes the role of the coach is to give tough love. If you want to be successful, read up and study successful people and how they pursue their goals. They invest in themselves by working with teachers and coaches to learn new skills, and/or by finding mentors who can give emotional support and professional insight, not the HR person who likes throw out soundbites in a Twitter chat or gives you advice that is not in your self-interest.

Let me close by sharing a feedback story from my recruiting days. A few years ago, we had a candidate apply with a truly weird resume that listed his qualifications in alphabet format. A is for why I am Awesome… B is for all the reasons I am Breathtaking… all the way to Z for Zany. I am not sure about awesome, but he was definitely zany.

Needless to say, we eliminated him from the applicant pool quickly. This candidate had the contact information for one our recruiters and emailed her to ask why he hadn’t been selected for an interview. She told him that she couldn’t give him individual feedback because our legal department prohibited it, but he persisted in harassing her. After the fifth email, I told her to tell him that “most candidates” do not advance to the interview stage because of resume issues so he may want get a professional opinion before applying to his next job.

His completely misspelled 3,000 word reply came in the middle of the night and he informed my recruiter she was the reason he was 32 years-old and still living at home and he had no point in living. We decided to call him the next morning because of the threat and he was shocked to hear it was us when he answered the phone. We had no idea his mother had also picked up the phone and was listening, and she started screaming obscenities at him when she heard what he had emailed to us. He made another veiled threat about taking his life to her and at that point, we hung up, Googled emergency services for that town and they sent a response team to the address on his resume. We never heard again from that candidate and hope it was from embarrassment and not another reason.

Granted, this is an extreme story. But please, as a career coach, I implore you not to ask for feedback from the company if you don’t get selected. There is too much potential for people to think of you in a negative light if you don’t do it 100% right and for meaningless advice to screw with your head. Let HR do their job well, view you from a place of power, and go seek better advice from people who unequivocally have your back.


Liked this advice?

A revised and updated version of this post is included as one of 12 chapters in Tracy Brisson’s book Create Your Own Opportunities, available in PDF and for your Kindle and nook eReaders for just $3.99!