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updated: 4/21/2013 8:19 AM

How to make a great virtual first impression

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By Ken White, The Washington Post

Job interviews conducted via Skype, FaceTime or some other form of videoconferencing have become commonplace.

So common, in fact, that when people prepare for a virtual interview they often fail to differentiate between it and the face-to-face interview. However, a virtual interview is very different from the traditional face-to-face interview. Knowing how to successfully communicate in this medium will set you apart from others.

So who can help you nail your virtual interview? How about the people who communicate via cameras and microphones for a living? Television news anchors know what works. The tricks of the trade can help you succeed in a video interview.

Be Prepared

Anchors are prepared before they go on the air. They carefully review their scripts and their story line-ups. You need to do the same before your virtual interview. Practice answers out loud to the questions you think the interviewer will ask.

Talk to the Camera

Anchors look into the camera when talking to us. That's why their Teleprompter is positioned over the camera. Your screen will display a shot of you and your interviewer. When you speak, ignore those two shots, and look and speak directly into the camera. It will feel awkward at first but it is important that you direct your attention there. Eye contact is key.

Do I Look Like That?

Seeing yourself on screen can be distracting. Try not to focus on that. Instead, once the interview begins, forget about the technology and what you look like on camera. Focus on what you are saying. Anchors will tell you that once they are on the air, a switch is turned on in their heads. Total and complete focus. Turn your switch on when your interview begins.

Dress Appropriately

Reporters in the field dress for the story. Do the same in your interview by dressing the way you would if the interview was "on location" and face-to-face. Make sure to wear appropriate clothing from head to toe. No short cuts. Wearing the proper attire puts you in the right frame of mind. Avoid wild patterns and loud colors. They can be distracting.

Nonverbal Communication

Anchors who are quality communicators employ nonverbal communication tactics. They lean in and lean back. They use their hands, eyes and eyebrows. They smile. Anchors are often encouraged to watch video of themselves with the sound turned off. It's a great way to assess their nonverbal communication skills. If the interviewer could see you but not hear you, would your enthusiasm, passion and personality shine through? Use your nonverbal abilities.

Production Value

High-quality lighting, sets and audio are vital parts of every newscast. Make sure you have that covered, too. Adding a lamp in the right place or opening the blinds may give you the exact lighting you need. Avoid lights behind you. Eliminate distractions from your background. Most microphones pick up noise from around your office or home. So sit near the microphone or consider a headset. In addition, you might want to turn off your phone and ask someone to take the dog for a walk if you are interviewing from home.

Look Great

Position the camera so the interviewer sees a head and shoulders shot. Don't cut off your head. Give yourself enough room on the bottom of the shot for your hands to be seen when you use them. Avoid looking up or down at the camera. Raise or lower the laptop so it is directly across from your eyes.

No Interruptions, Please

The slight audio delay in virtual interviews can be unsettling. Beyond that, it's almost begging you to interrupt the interviewer. Give her time to completely ask her question before you answer. That will ensure a smooth conversation.

Jack It Up

Many anchors will tell you that cameras and microphones steal a little something from their delivery. The same holds true in a virtual interview. The technology chips away at your enthusiasm. It's very small but it's noticeable. So, remember to be up during your interview. If your enthusiasm level is usually a seven out of 10, make it an eight for your virtual interview so your personality and interest in the position come through.

Our favorite news anchors are experts at working with the tools of their medium. The next time you watch, see if there are additional tactics and approaches that can help you in your next virtual interview.

• White is an associate dean at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. He also teaches communication in the MBA program and to executive clients. Before joining the Smith School, he served as vice president for communication and marketing at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.

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