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How To Interview Over The Internet

Webcam job interviews grow in popularity as companies scale back recruiting budgets.

Up until last year, mining company Rio Tinto used to spend $20,000 per candidate to fly them and their spouses to the diamond mine in Yellowknife, Canada, just a few hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle for in-person job interviews with mine managers. That added up to real money when Rio Tinto was trying to fill 100 jobs a year and needed to fly up three or four candidates for each position.

Inevitably, Rio Tinto found that many candidates--and/or their spouses--didn't have the personalities or the enthusiasm for living on the edge of nowhere. "We wasted time and money," says Steven Price, director for recruitment and talent for Rio Tinto Americas.

Enter the webcam. Last year Rio Tinto and dozens of other companies ranging from software giant Cisco to Nike to Educators Overseas, an organization that hires people to teach English as a second language around the world, used the Internet to handle the first and second rounds of interviews.

It's a growing trend. For instance, when Bethlehem, Penn.-based Interview Stream started in 2005, their focus was helping college students see what they look like during a practice job interview. Recently, though, the technology has caught on with employers looking to cut costs on expensive travel. Now they count 50 to 60 employers worldwide as regular clients.

Here's how it works: The most common method is for a third-party vendor like HireVue, a Salt Lake City video outfit, to send the job applicant a webcam with detailed instructions on how to use it and an 800 number to call if there are technical problems.

The job candidate then logs into a server to get the interview questions, which appear on the computer screen. You've got 30 seconds to read the question and a set amount of time (usually up to three minutes) to answer on camera.

Once the interview starts, there's no turning back. You can't edit your answers, and the questions--usually about seven questions--just keep coming, like them or not. Sample: Can you give a summary of your past work experience that is relevant to the post applied for in a remote location.

Price says it's a much more accurate way to weed out flawed candidates and that Rio Tinto now only flies the finalist up to meet the Yellowknife crew. Plus, that person is almost always offered the job.

"Our recruiters are able to get a much better appreciation for personality, which has got to be taken into account when you're working and living in a place that's covered in ice most of the year," says Price.

But it's not always comfortable for the applicant. If you're nervous, try a test run with the videocam. And though you may be in the comfort of your home, don't wear a sweatshirt and be seen sipping a Budweiser between questions. Dress professionally as you would for an in-person interview. Be knowledgeable about your potential employer.

Set the camera up in a quiet, neutral location. There shouldn't be religious objects, posters from your favorite band or inappropriate books or videos visible. Also, no kids running around in the background.

No need to slap on makeup. This isn't professional-grade video equipment so it won't pick up imperfections on your skin. However, lighting is important. During the test run, adjust the lighting if the screen looks dark or if there's a shadow.

Although this medium is foreign to most job seekers, try to relax. In some cases, it's a test for how you'd handle an unexpected situation on the job. Be enthusiastic by smiling and using hand gestures.

Since a taped interview doesn't allow for the natural movement from idea to idea, have several talking points prepared. They should be examples of times you've overcome challenges and your achievements in past jobs.

"Be like a politician and have your top three best success stories in mind," says Cynthia Shapiro, a career consultant who has coached clients on succeeding at a video job interview. "Throw them in at every opportunity even if it doesn't 100% answer the question."

In this difficult economy, webcam interviews are helping this year's crop of graduating seniors and graduate students meet recruiters who can't afford to fly to their campuses. Andy Chan, director of Stanford Business School's career management center, says, "We push video conference interviews because we want them to find ways to get in touch with our students."

Recruiters appreciate that.

"Interviews are exhausting," says Shapiro, a former HR manager. "You do three or four, and then you need to lie down. The candidates are excited and nervous, and they want to continue the conversation and maybe don't have the time in the first round. This way I can sit down with a cup of coffee and figure out which one is best in my own time." [Tara Weiss, Forbes]





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