An International Student's Guide to Acing a Video Interview

An International Student's Guide to Acing a Video Interview

The Dick Tracy watch is a reality! Visual technology has become relatively ubiquitous for every kind of call or meeting you can imagine: personal, professional, or academic. Today, you can easily visit with your relatives halfway around the world or see a co-worker six or seven time zones away. In turn, video interviews for college programs are becoming more prevalent, particularly for international students who don’t have the resources available when it comes to visiting campuses in far-flung destinations.

Though the rules for video conferencing are very similar to those that need to be followed for a face-to-face interview, there are a number of considerations you’ll want to make when interviewing via the internet as an international student.

With that in mind, here are some steps to follow when preparing in order to execute the perfect video interview.

Step 1: Geek out!

First find out what platform or application the school uses for video interviews and make sure that you have a working understanding of its functionality. Is it Skype, ICQ, Google Hangout, or something else?

Well before your interview, play with that technology and practice working within its interface. Do you know where the mute button is, should you need it? What if you accidentally click on something that makes the screen hide — how do you get back easily?

Practice with a friend. Test every aspect of the technology, see that it works well and is compatible with whatever computer and operating system you are using. That way you will avoid mishaps on the big day.

Step 2: Where in the world are you?

If you were meeting in person, all your environmental choices would be figured out for you. You’d likely be on the other side of a desk, sitting in a quiet and neat little office, perhaps with the soft ticking of a clock behind you and many leather-bound books perched on shelves.

But that may have no relation to the chaos where you live. Maybe unpredictable siblings or roommates have a tendency to jump in your room. With that in mind, you’ll want to set up an interview environment that is as ideal as possible. That means have your own quiet, clean, and neutral place from which to project yourself properly. Look at your space and be certain there is no clutter, no “Attack on Titan” posters, no stuffed animals (and no real animals) that can be seen on camera. Make this environment clear, focused, and ready strictly for the task of interviewing. Also find a place you can procure a strong internet connection—nothing is worse than a sticky or weakly connected interview.

Step 3: Respect personal space.

Now look at yourself and construct a professional persona that has the best chance of admission to the school to which you are applying. Present yourself nicely, just as you would in-person. That means shower, get your hair cut, put on a suit or dress, and wear nice shoes (even if they will never see them). Taking your appearance seriously (even at a distance) will put you in a better mindset to succeed.

Now you look great — but don’t get too caught up in your looks. It’s easy to become a narcissist when video conferencing, trapped in your own image. Resist that urge and make sure you are looking at the camera as much as possible.  Looking at yourself, or even at the interviewer on the screen can feel awkward on the other side. Get a chance to practice where you want to look with a friend and talk about how best to connect with the camera.

Step 4: Get prepped!

Try to anticipate the questions that they will ask you and create notes for usable answers. There are many places on the web to find sample interview questions but they all boil down to three basic categories.

  1. Tell us about yourself (strengths and weaknesses, an event that shaped your life, etc.)
  2. What do you bring to our program/why should we admit you? (qualifications/your potential)
  3. Do you have any questions about the school?

Prior to the interview, prepare at least two to three minutes on each of these topics. The category people often forget to invest in is the third one. Do some research on the program and write down a list of questions you have that are specific to the curriculum, environment, extracurriculars, and even professors who are part of the school. Get your interviewer talking about themselves and prepare follow-ups. The more information you have on this, the better you will look in an interview. Really, they just want to make sure that you’ve made the effort. Also, the more informed your questions are, the more you will learn about their program to see if it really is right for you.

Step 5: Practice, practice, practice.

Practice your answers with a friend or mentor. Get them to ask you questions and answer them over a video format. Particularly if you are speaking a different language than what is native to you, it is tempting to try to prepare canned answers, but it is more important to speak in a connected manner. If possible, work with a person who is fluent in the language of your interviewers and get them to give you notes and comments about pronunciation or presentation. For example, it’s a common mistake for international speakers to fall into a monotone as they try to think of wording. This can make you seem dispassionate. Don’t be flat, and work on varying your inflection.

Also, as much as is possible, research the culture of the country to which you are applying. In many places it is impolite to be assertive about your work for fear of appearing boastful. In the U.S., however, it is expected that you will talk proudly about your accomplishments, and as long as you give credit to those who helped you along the way, you should not feel bashful. However, don’t grandstand either — try to find a balance.

Step 6: Don’t just interview... converse!

Interviews are about getting to know you as a person and how well you can interact with others. Though you may have extensive notes, try to act natural — do not read directly from any prepared statements and don’t memorize answers to repeat verbatim.

Listening is just as critical as speaking in this situation, too. Make sure you understand the question that is posed to you and ask an interviewer to repeat it or expand upon it if you feel you are confused. Then, consider your answer before you speak and don’t be afraid of taking a moment of silence to collect your thoughts. Again, it is crucial that you talk about the question at hand and not veer into something unrelated that you specifically prepared.

Step 7: Be gracious.

That means avoid questions or actions that will make you seem rude. Inappropriate questions include simple mistakes like asking: “How am I doing?” or “Do you think I’ll get in?” or even “What kind of financial aid can I expect?” Questions like these will put your interviewer on the spot and make them uncomfortable.

Also be sure to thank the interviewer for his or her time and to send a follow-up thank you email. If there was something that sparked a connection (i.e. a book you both liked) be sure to mention that in your follow up. And it goes without saying, be certain you have the name of your interviewer correct.

People are always saying, “Above all, try to be yourself” in an interview, and that’s true. Always be honest and direct. That being said, if  you are the kind of person who usually doesn’t prepare, then in the days leading up to your interview I suggest you pretend to be someone else — someone who does prepare properly for what might be one of the most important conversations of your life.

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About the Author

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.