By Jacqui Harper
In January many people resolve to get a new job and often the first step is doing a confident and memorable online interview.
It’s all about the first ten seconds. That’s when recruitment professionals decide whether to continue watching you or move onto the hundreds of other recordings. At the heart of the decision is whether they trust you.
It’s challenging for candidates. The ‘interviews’ are not interviews at all but ten minute presentations to an online camera and there’s no interaction with another person.
Assuming you’ve done your homework on the company and the job these tips will help you begin with a powerful presence to win trust and get noticed.
Colour is the first thing people notice. It’s what the brain processes first. So think about colours that serve you best. Light, dark, bright or soft colours have different effects on you and those watching you. High contrasting colours like a black jacket and white shirt or a navy blazer and ivory camisole will give you a more authoritative presence. Lighter colours will generally make you come across as more approachable.
Also bear in mind that individual colours have qualities associated with them.
Red is often linked to power, boldness, strength, sexiness. It’s a want-to-get noticed colour.
Blue is the world’s favourite colour. This classic business colour is often associated with calmness and authority.
Grey is a conservative, rational and neutral colour. It may suggest competence with a conservative aspect.
Black is a neutral colour often thought of as classic, elegant and powerful. It is also linked to death, magic and evil yet for all its challenges black is consistently one of the most popular colours for fashion garments.
The colours you wear will communicate messages about you so might as well be intentional and shape those messages.
- Body Language
Before you’ve said a word your body language has been noticed and judged. Positive body language typically means having an open, upright posture with shoulders down and back. If possible do online interviews standing up as it will improve your posture. This should also allow you to speak expressively with your hands.
You can improve your body language by reducing tension in your body. In interviews most people feel tension in their jaw, throat, shoulders or stomach. As part of your interview preparation try gently massaging your jaw and throat, rolling your shoulders and breathing slowly into your tummy.
I would recommend composing a medium close up shot (MCU) of yourself on your laptop camera or smartphone. That means you are visible from the chest upwards. The closeness of the image will help recruiters connect more quickly to you but it will also magnify facial expressions so be aware of how you come across at all times.
I encourage women to wear makeup for online interviews. A well made up face often provides a helpful shortcut to looking more professional, competent and likable.
After you have said the world ‘hello’ a reviewer has started to form judgements about your character and suitability for the job. In less than a second the energy, pitch and emotion of that single word tells the reviewer whether they trust you and whether they like you. If they form a positive initial impression this is generally what they think of you at the end of the recording. This is one of the key findings of academic research done by McAleer, Todorov and Belin in 2014.
It’s vital to start speaking with a passionate, energetic and authoritative voice from the very first word. The most important way to improve your voice is to learn diaphragmatic breathing sometimes called belly breathing. There are countless video guides and articles on the internet so find one that works for you. Diaphragmatic breathing can quickly transform your voice with regular practice.
Once you’re breathing effectively it’s time to warm up your voice. Humming a tune works well. If you gently hold your throat with one hand while you hum you can feel the good work you are doing for your vocal cords.
Good articulation gets you noticed. Too many people are lazy when speaking and don’t make the best use of their jaw, lips and tongue to give clear, dynamic speech. Tongue twisters said out loud will get your articulators working. I like Peter Piper but there are many others!
The purpose of working on voice and body language is to show recruiters your best self and establish strong personal impact within ten seconds.
- Your story
Storytelling is the oldest and most powerful way to communicate ideas, get attention and gain trust. Your story will make your interview unique. No one else will have that story and no one else will tell it like you. As a typical online interview is ten minutes much of that time is taken up with answering pre-set questions. That means you probably have time to tell one short story when asked to speak about yourself.
An effective story needs a theme that communicates one big idea about you. You can then use that theme to describe additional details you want the reviewer to know. We all know the three elements to a story: beginning, middle and end. The beginning establishes the setting for the central character (you). The middle has an important moment or trigger and the end contains the learning or conclusion for the central character.
For example, when introducing myself to groups I often share the story of a big moment in the life a ten year old child. My story takes place in a classroom where a teacher asks various ten year olds to read out an assignment. One by one the children proudly read one or two pages (the beginning).
The teacher asks the final child to read her story and quickly adds that she knows the child has written eight pages but there is only time for her to read out the first two pages. The child is confused and upset and dives under her desk (the middle).
I reveal that I am the child and I could not have known that moment was the start of something big. I did not know that I would grow up with a life-long passion for communication which would influence every job I have done and how I have done it (the end). With a clear theme established I then list a few significant jobs/roles. It’s a more memorable and creative way of communicating aspects of a CV.
There’s a great chapter on how to use stories in the book ‘TED Talks – the official TED guide to public speaking’ by Chris Anderson.
In my previous career when I presented a new TV show we would always do a ‘dry run’. That involved rehearsing everything in real time and real conditions: scripts, lights, cameras, studio set, full make up and clothes. It’s the best way to get your performance absolutely right. The equivalent for an online interview is recording your rehearsal as if it were the real thing so using the actual room, same lighting conditions and wearing work clothes.
Rehearsals are a good time to try out notes or prompts to see how effective they are. It might help to pin notes to the left or right of the camera so you can maintain train of thought and direct eye line. This achieves the effect of eye contact with the reviewer which is critical for establishing trust.
Bullet points usually work better than full scripts as you will sound more natural and maintain crucial eye line with the camera.
Forensically review and critique your rehearsal recordings. Assess your presence: voice, body language and even personal grooming. Check how clearly and effectively you are expressing your ideas. Note what’s visible in the background of your shot and whether your colours work. Rehearse until you look and feel confident.
Expect to feel nervous when you record online interviews particularly at the beginning. My advice for achieving a powerful beginning is to BLAB: Breathe, Look And Begin. Start with good diaphragmatic breath to power your voice, look into camera, pause and then begin. This should help you start in control. If you talk quickly when nervous make yourself speak a little slower at the very start. The important thing is to stay in control.
Finally, try to smile. According to research by healthcare entrepreneur Ron Gutman a smile can help you feel more confident, look good to others and even help you live longer.
© Jacqui Harper 2017
Founder of Crystal Business Coaching, Jacqui Harper, has 20 years’ experience training and coaching executives in the art of communication around the world. She lectures on leadership communication at INSEAD.