Aleksandra Sobic of Mankato, Minnesota was thrilled to interview for a position with a company that facilitates and guides international tours, based out of Thailand.
“I nailed the first round phone interview, and then was asked to interview via Skype. I dressed in business attire, and did my hair and makeup,” says Aleksandra.
After the interview, she learned she wasn’t the right candidate.
“They were worried I may not be rustic enough for the position,” she says. “They felt they couldn’t see me traipsing through the jungle!”
Whether your mistake is not dressing jungle chic enough—or not bothering to get out of your PJs—make no mistake, remote interviews are harder to prepare for than regular ones.
And these days, making a good first—or fifth—impression isn’t necessarily done in person. Remote interviews and business meetings are becoming more common in today’s workforce. According to a 2012 Census Bureau report, about 13.4 million U.S. workers currently work from home. CNN Money reports that the number of people who work at home at least one day per week has increased in 2010 to 9.5%, up from 7% in 1999.
Sooner or later, you’ll be involved in a remote interview, or asked to present your points at a meeting you’re not physically present for. Just how do you make a great impression from a distance?
1. Look the Part
As Sobic learned the hard way, gauging the company culture—from afar—becomes a key skill when trying to nail a remote interview. Since you’re not there physically (experts estimate that 90% of the cues we give off are non-verbal), looking the part becomes even more important.
First, do your research: Check out the company’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed to get a feel for how employees (and executives) dress and behave, then take your cues from that when prepping for your interview.
Next, clean up, says Sherif Hussein, president and creative director of Jinni Communications in Ottawa, Canada. If your at-home appearance leans toward casual, take some time to polish up. It’s always better to err on the side of freshly-scrubbed—even if you’re an aspiring trek leader, carefully dressed in her best khakis.
“I work a lot from my home office, so my beard is almost always too long, my hair isn’t combed and I’m not properly dressed,” admits Hussein, who makes a point of looking the part when he takes a professional call.
Assuming your bottom half will be hidden under a desk, you may be tempted to wear your favorite sweatpants, but it’s best to dress from head to toe. What if you have to stand up to adjust your equipment? There’s also the psychological aspect: Shedding your loungewear will help switch your mind to professional mode.
2. Prepare Your Surroundings
Whether your call is video or telephone, do it in a quiet, businesslike setting, ideally in a room with a door.
“Look behind you, because that’s what (they’ll) see,” says Hussein. A cluttered background may distract your audience, not to mention send the wrong idea of your organizational skills. Also, rid the area of personal items—no need to share too much information. A blank or neutral background is best, with a well-organized desktop.
Be sure to inform anyone else at home about the meeting; you don’t want to be interrupted by a sudden blast of stereo music or someone bellowing your name. Feed and walk the dog ahead of time, and call a sitter (or a neighbor) if you have young children.
3. Practice It First
Your first few video calls are bound to feel awkward as you figure out where to look, what to do with your hands, or how loudly to speak. But it’s easy to work out those kinks ahead of time.
“Conduct a practice interview with a friend, and record it so that you‘ll have an accurate idea of how you come across on video,” advises Cheryl Palmer, career coach and owner of Call to Career, a career coaching service.
Analyze your tape (you can practice using a free service like Skype) and repeat the process until you feel comfortable with the result.