Distance Learning 2.0: The Skype Interview

Skype and other video conferencing services are revolutionizing the interview process at colleges and universities. They're replacing the less personal phone interview or the costly in-person interview with something that falls between the two. This service offers a variety of benefits, though it's not without its quirks.

Webcam call

Skype in Academia

Not long ago, faculty search committees at colleges and universities would use telephones for first round interviews. Only those candidates who made a strong impression over the phone might be brought to campus for in-person interviews. Flying a pool of candidates to a site is a major financial investment, costing thousands in plane tickets, ground transportation, lodging and meals.

As a workaround to this type of expenditure, institutions in recent years have turned to services like Skype and its free webcam calls. This enables initial interviews to be conducted in a virtual one-on-one, face-to-face environment. Many schools also use Skype to place candidates in front of a panel; this allows a team of screeners to get a sense of a candidate quickly and efficiently.

In addition to interviews with prospective faculty, institutions are using Skype in student admissions. This can replace remote alumni interviews or campus interviews that require students to travel to every college at which they wish to interview. Students are now more capable of making a strong impression on the admissions officers who will decide their fate.

The Benefits of Skype Interviews

Skype interviews offer benefits to both the interviewer and interviewee. For the interviewer, Skype does much more than save money. It's a chance to make a visual connection with an applicant early in the hiring or admissions process. You're able to pick up on social cues and develop a stronger understanding of the applicant as a person.

At some institutions, Skype may be considered a small test for the applicant, too. In addition to having a face to face conversation with an applicant, you'll also learn how comfortable he or she is with technology. This is increasingly important as the role of technology in the classroom continues to expand.

webcam call

Skype provides related benefits for interviewees, like seeing reactions from your interviewer to your responses and making simulated eye contact. You also have the chance to go beyond your curriculum vitae and phone presence, presenting yourself in closer approximation to how you are in person. This can be especially helpful in an early interview, as you might not otherwise progress in the process far enough to make that impression.

Webcam Quirks

Skype interviews do have their pitfalls. While it can be helpful to see the person you're talking with, people are more inclined to forget they're being watched while on a webcam. It's easier for a member of an interviewing panel to forget an applicant can see him or her looking disinterested if the candidate isn't physically in the room.

If you're being interviewed, it's essential to think of your home or office as a studio. You need to consider lighting so as not to appear awkwardly in the shadows. While you may position your desk with a window at your back to best suit your surroundings, this can be disastrous with a webcam.

Finally, if you're new to Skype, it can be distracting and unnerving to see your own image on the screen beside those with whom you're speaking. In an in-person interview, you're unlikely to sit in front of a mirror. Yet in a Skype call, your face is in front of you, which can make you more self-conscious than you might be otherwise.

While these quirks cause challenges, they can be overcome. For example, you should test the lighting of your setup before your interview. Make sure that your face is well lit and clear. Also, it's a good idea to have a test call with a friend to get used to seeing yourself. Simple steps like these can help ensure that you focus on the interview itself and not the technology.

Skype is also useful in academia for enhancing the classroom experience, including new opportunities for guest lecturers.

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