Smile, You’re on Camera! Etiquette for Online Admissions Interviews

I remember the first time a high school senior told me that a college he had toured required a Skype interview.

The student, Griffin, was in the Northeast, and Wake Forest University, the college requesting the interview, was in North Carolina. Sure, Griffin was a strong student who had taken several AP courses at a competitive high school and demonstrated a passion for his extracurricular activities. He was also, however, among the most reserved seniors I counseled that year.

Before we get into the specifics of how to ace a Skype interview, let’s start with a fundamental truth: The ability to interview well is a life skill. Knowledge of how to interview is also cumulative; the more you do it, the better you’ll be. With time, you’ll be able to anticipate questions, draw on answers that worked well, and project poise and confidence.

Understandably, the anxiety that some students feel about interviews may be heightened by the prospect of undertaking a webcam interview, such as those on Skype or Google Hangout. But these types of interviews are becoming more and more common. As applicant pools become increasingly global, more colleges and universities will likely use webcam interviews because they can no longer meet many of their candidates on campus. Wake Forest is a pioneer in webcam interviewing, which the school began in 2008. Sessions are 25 minutes long, and they are valued tools in assessing a candidate. The university accordingly advises candidates: “Be prepared for a thoughtful and wide-ranging conversation.”

As much as the interviewing fundamentals remain the same despite the medium, there are some special considerations to be aware of when you plan a webcam interview. Before your interview, be sure to follow these five tips.

1. Carefully select your setting.

Setting is a major issue with any video interview. While the location of choice for alumni interviews seems to be the coffee shop, do not dare hold your Skype interview at Starbucks! A quiet spot at home may be best, but there’s nothing wrong with a site at your school — maybe at a favorite teacher’s desk or in the media center. You’ll need a reliable internet connection and a location where there won’t be other students or siblings passing through. Be sure there is no glare or harsh light reflecting on your screen. Also be aware of what will be in your interviewer’s view. Close the door, and put a “do not disturb” sign up if necessary.

2. Know the computer you’re using.

Understand how to adjust the volume, camera, and screen — especially if you’re using someone else’s computer for your interview. Be sure the computer is charged and that you have the necessary cables if you need to connect to an outlet. When Wi-Fi isn't reliable, Ethernet cabling can be a good option if available.

3. Understand the software.

Skype

You can easily download Skype, which works on Windows or Mac — this Grovo video provides a good overview. If you don’t have an account on Skype, set one up. (It’s free.) Make sure your Skype handle is professional. For example, you would want to call yourself @dwilson in lieu of @donnythebigdude. Attach a professional-looking photo, such as a yearbook picture.

Google Hangout

In lieu of a Skype interview, your contact may suggest a Google Hangout. All this requires is a Google account and a working Web camera. Here is a basic Grovo video, along with additional information from Google.

4. Prepare.

Interview Week

You can be a tech whiz and a Skype all-star — and yet you still need interview practice; we all do! Remember to:

  • Keep a list of possible questions for your interviewer. For example: How was your experience at [name of college]? What do you think of the [subject] department? If you had to do it again, what might you do differently?
  • Make sure you have an idea of what you’d like to study your freshman year.
  • Pick an activity or two in which you hope to participate. This should be specific to the college with which you’re interviewing. (Activities could include the college’s club soccer team, radio station, or alternative weekly newspaper.)
  • Skype someone you’re close to for practice.

Just Before the Interview

  • Keep the questions you plan to ask in view.
  • Have a phone handy in case the connection fails.
  • Double-check the time, and be aware of time zone differences.
  • Try calling a family member or friend in advance of your interview to be sure all systems are go.
  • Dress as you would in an interview: a polo or nice shirt with pants or skirt is always a good look.
  • Keep water close by.
  • Smile before you’re on camera; it relaxes you (really!).
  • Be ready early, just as you should always be for any interview.
  • Close all other applications on the computer.

On Camera

  • Look at the computer’s camera rather than your screen. (Think of the camera as being your interviewer — you want to make eye contact.) You can use the window at the bottom of the screen to check your appearance beforehand, but try not to look at yourself during the course of the interview.
  • Remember to nod and smile.
  • Show your knowledge and etiquette by not interrupting and using appropriate language.
  • If you can’t hear clearly — as sometimes happens — apologize to the interviewer, and ask her to repeat the question.
  • Should you get disconnected, wait a few minutes for the interviewer to call back. If that does not happen, initiate a new connection yourself.

5. Wind down.

A writeup of your interview will become one of the many ways that your college evaluates you. Impress your interviewer with your depth of thinking and knowledge of the particular college, and show that you have an engaging personality. Just like any interview candidate should, drop a thank-you email to your interviewer within 24 hours of your interview (sooner is better).

Back to Griffin — he did fantastically on his interview. In fact, the confidence he gained fueled his enthusiasm for the rest of the college application process.

Read more advice from Noodle Experts about applying to college, where you can also ask any questions you have.