Tips on Successful Video Interviews for PhDs on the Academic Job Market

For PhD students on the academic job search, an invitation to interview with a search committee is both exciting and daunting. As many institutions are now moving away from conference interviews in favor of video interviews through platforms like Skype, Zoom, and BlueJeans, some students I’ve worked with have asked for tips on how to interview well on camera, which can be quite different from an in-person interview. Besides being prepared to answer questions on your research and teaching, it’s also a good idea to keep in mind some of the best practices when it comes to interviewing by video.

Here are a couple of suggestions to help you present the best version of yourself on screen, so you can create a positive impression on the search committee:

  • Background and Lighting: Use your background to help convey your professionalism. A plain background works just fine; a professional background with a bookcase and plants might be even better. Just be sure to put away anything distracting or embarrassing! Additionally, try to have natural lighting in your room or office to enhance your video quality. After all, you don’t want it to appear like you’re interviewing in the dark. Conversely, you wouldn’t want to blind the committee by having too much light either.
  • Camera Angle and Frame: It’s so important to look straight at the camera when you interview. Think of it as making eye contact with the committee. Doing so will allow you to establish rapport with the people you’re speaking with. If it’s helpful, I always suggest that students put sticky notes or arrows pointing at their camera to help their eyes stay focused. You can also move the video of the search committee up to the top near your camera, so when you look at them, they won’t see you staring down or to the side. It’s also good practice to elevate your laptop or screen a little (by propping it up on a book or two) so that the camera is at or above eye level. If the camera is too low, it will look like you’re looking down at the committee.
  • Attire: Wear what you would normally wear to an in-person interview. Just because an interview is by video doesn’t mean you can dress more casually. And just in case you have to stand up for any reason, it’s always best to be dressed in interview attire from head to toe. Patterned clothes can be a little distracting on screen, so opt for a solid colored shirt that’s not too loud or bright.

Always be sure to test your internet connection and the platform (if possible) before your actual interview. If your internet is too slow for video communications or you can’t log into your Skype account, for example, you’ll want to know that before your interview!

At the time of your interview, make sure to minimize any distractions like putting your cell phone on mute/vibrate and keeping your pets in a quiet place. If video technology isn’t working and you can’t see or hear anyone you’re interviewing with, don’t panic! You can always use the good old phone as a backup. Just make sure you have a phone number to call, or at the very least, an email address, so that you can let someone know if you’re having tech problems.

If you are in the middle of working on applications for faculty jobs and would like to do a mock interview to practice your interviewing skills, make an appointment with a career advisor on the Graduate Student/Postdoc Team. We can do the mock interview in person, by phone, or, if you’d like to practice your interviewing skills on camera, by video. You can also use Big Interview to record a practice interview in the privacy of your own home. We look forward to working with you throughout your job search!

By Helen Pho
Helen Pho Associate Director, Graduate Students & Postdocs Helen Pho