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Tips for nailing a Skype interview

The rise of freelancing, telecommuting and a global economy has made video calling a vital part of business. It’s easier to get a vibe for the person you’re talking to when you can see his or her face, and as helpful as Skype calls are, a lot of people make some key errors that could cost them a client or even a job. Follow these tips, and the only thing you need to worry about is the business.

1. Don’t forget your pants

Angie Hill, general manager of Microsoft’s Apps and Services organization, pretty much runs her team via Skype and other remote communication methods. She says, “Even though your boss can’t see that you’re in your sweatpants or jogging shorts, you’ll feel extra confident if you pair a blazer with a chic pair of pants or skirt.” So many people think they can fake it, but what if you have to stand up to get a pen or retrieve paperwork?

Try to stick to neutrals with only a few minor pops of color (no complicated patterns), and avoid distracting jewelry or anything that would make noise as you move.

2. Get ready for your close-up

Your hair should be neat and out of your face, and even if you don’t usually wear it, makeup is recommended (even for men!). It’s the same principle as wearing makeup on camera — it’s just to keep you from looking washed out. But think Ellen DeGeneres, not Kim Kardashian.

3. Set the stage

Angie Hill also recommends setting up an appropriate place in your house to have the interview. It should have a clean backdrop free of clutter like busy artwork or personal photos, but avoid large blank walls. I do my Skype interviews in my office with my webcam facing my well-stocked, clean-lined, full-wall Ikea bookcase, which is also a subtle indicator that I’m a reader (which people associate with intelligence). But don’t overdo it. Having all your awards sitting in the background is tacky.

It shouldn’t be exposed to harsh light that might glare on your face, but natural light is actually a great idea in terms of looking more “human.” If possible, avoid fluorescent lighting. Put a bright enough desk lamp behind your computer to light you from the front if necessary. Backlighting is never flattering and can actually mess with the camera.

4. Test your equipment

Hill also advises making sure you’re in a place with a strong internet connection. If that’s not an option, there are tons of quality hot spots you can buy. I like my Karma because it works well and there are no monthly fees (the device is $149 and the connection is pay as you go, plus there are tons of ways to earn free connection time). And if you don’t have one, you can buy Skype credit to access millions of hot spots if you’re not at home.

Also, make sure you have a quality webcam with good reviews hooked up properly and securely so it doesn’t cause the Blair Witch Project effect. Splurge if you have to.

5. Practice makes perfect

Before your interview, make a few practice calls to a friend to ensure you know how everything works. Skype doesn’t natively support call recording, but there are third-party applications you can buy that do. Recording the practice calls is a good idea because you can really study how you look, the angles, the lighting and what you do that might take you out of frame (but if you want to record the actual call, you must ask permission first). For added measure, do dress rehearsals in the same spot you’ll use for the interview.

6. Sit up straight and don’t forget to smile!

Sit up straight but make sure you don’t look stiff. It makes you look more professional and confident.

In an in-person conversation, smiling and appropriate body language happen naturally, but when you’re on the computer, some people end up looking like zombies as they get lost in their own thoughts and distracted by equipment issues. Make sure you stay engaged in the conversation.

7. Look at the camera

It’s human instinct to look people in the eyes, but on a Skype call, that means looking at the camera, not the interviewer. To help yourself keep that vital eye contact, get a small headshot of a businessperson from a magazine. Cut out one of the eyes, tape it over the webcam (so the lens isn’t blocked) to help it seem more natural and look that person in the eye.

That said, follow photo rules. Take a look at great “candid” celebrity photos (Christina Aguilera is a master), and you’ll see a common theme. Instead of directly facing the camera like you’re having a mugshot taken, turn your body slightly to one side, then turn your head back to face the camera. But nothing too extreme — think high-end school photo instead of red carpet.

8. Close other programs and turn off your phone

Unless you’ll need to reference something during the call, close everything you have open. There’s nothing more embarrassing than getting an audible social media notification during a professional interview. Also, turn your phone off or be prepared to explain why your mom’s ringtone is “Dance, Porcupine, Dance.”

9. Double check that profile

If you set up your Skype originally for personal reasons, just double check that your bio and profile pic are professional. You don’t want their first impression of you to be the body shot you did off that hot bartender in Cabo. If your username is something like “touchedafrog” (based on a true story), consider setting up a different account or changing your username.

10. Shut out distractions

Make sure everyone in the house knows you’re on a call and can’t be disturbed, and if possible, put any animals outside so they don’t end up being stars on your own personal “This is My Life.” If possible, make sure your “Skype studio” is in a quiet room where you can close the door.

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