Nailing the Video Interview

After sitting in on dozens of video interviews with head of school candidates, I am amazed that only one or two have been stellar and most have been somewhere between awful and horrendous. The common problem derives from the fact that video interviewing using Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting, or any other platform is very different from doing so in person.

Setting matters a lot! Give thought to what will be in your background. Family members wandering in and out of the bathroom or a romantic partner suddenly sitting up in bed behind you mid-interview telegraphs the wrong message (yes, both of those things have happened).

Camera angle matters a lot! The usual position of a laptop aims the camera up your nose or forces you to be in an awkward position looking down for the whole time. Set the computer on a stack of books to position your camera straight on with your face. Likewise, cameras mounted on top of video screens on the wall sometimes give the appearance of a videotaped police interview on “Dateline” (you know the downward looking view I am talking about).

Where you look matters a lot! Simply put, make eye contact with the camera lens. I know that it is more natural to look at the people on the screen, but eye contact is important and only happens when you look straight into the lens. Put something near the lens opening to remind you to look there instead. Above all, don’t forget the camera is there and start gazing off into space. That just looks weird after a while.

Distractions matter a lot! Mute your mobile phone. Turn off your television. Put the dog in another room, unless it is extraordinarily telegenic and cute. A dog running around in the background (or barking off-camera) pulls attention away from you.

Sound quality matters a lot! Most laptop mics are too weak to pick up quality sound at more than a four or five foot range. Best to invest in an external USB mic if you plan on sitting back in your chair or more than three or four feet from the computer.

Your acting skills matter a lot! Stage actors must exaggerate their motions because of the distance between them and the audience. Film actors under-act because the camera magnifies everything. Keep in mind that you are on close-up throughout the interview. Small movements show up big time.

How much you say matters even more! By far, the most common error is with excessive verbosity. The winner is rarely the one who says the most words in an interview; rather, it is the profundity of what you say that lingers with interviewers. Rehearse tight, seemingly spare answers to predictable questions. Less is more when it comes to video.

Candidates for almost any job in a school, not just headship, should expect to have at least one round of video interviewing. The good news is that each of the things that matter above can be corrected or avoided via forethought and preparation. Download and set up the free versions of Skype or Zoom and practice, practice, practice. You can even record yourself and ask trusted colleagues to critique your video.

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