Monday, October 27, 2014

Ten Ways to Impress People in Skype Interviews

When you are looking for a job, an internship, a place in a business school or whatever you are likely to be interviewed through Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime or other Internet video call apps.

Skype interviews save you the time and trouble of travelling. They also broaden the range of opportunities because you can do more interviews with people you couldn't meet face to face. They also have a downside, because most people do not come across so well in a Skype interview as they do face to face.

But the good news is that someone who is well prepared can easily outshine their rivals who just sat down at the computer and hoped for the best. Theoretically an interviewer could make allowance for shortcomings in the way you use Skype, but subconsciously they are influenced by the image you project. They might also draw some conclusions about your abilities from the simple observation that you had not prepared for a call. This, they will reason, might mean you are equally careless about other things.

1. PREPARE BEFORE THE CALL. Don't be the guy who is still trying to start Skype and find the microphone when it is time for the interview to start. This will give a very poor impression and also undermines your own confidence. Always set up everything long before the interview is scheduled and test that everything works correctly.

2. PLACE YOUR CAMERA AT EYE LEVEL. Many people lean over a laptop looking down at the camera. This looks bad. Take a tip from professional video camera operators and set the camera at the same level as your eyes. If the camera is built into your laptop then raise the whole laptop on boxes or books until the camera is at eye level.

3. MAKE SURE THERE IS PLENTY OF LIGHT. Modern video cameras will work with very low light levels but the image gets grainy and the colors fade. Find a place with plenty of light from a window or arrange a light to illuminate you. Sometimes a desk lamp is enough; sometimes I use two. But always check the result so that it doesn't look strange.

4. GET THE BEST POSSIBLE SOUND QUALITY. In an interview the sound is extremely important because if the interviewer cannot hear very well they will not ask you to repeat everything so after a while they miss important points. Choose a location with little background noise. Turn off any equipment nearby and close windows to keep out traffic noise. Always use a microphone close to your mouth because this will both reduce background noise and echo. It's worth trying a few microphones to find the one that sounds best. It's worth it: that microphone could mean the difference between getting a job and getting rejected.

5. CHECK THE BACKGROUND. Look at whatever is behind you and can be seen in the video. It should not be distracting so find a clear, tidy corner to do the call. Make sure also that there are no windows behind you where people might walk past. This is very distracting.

6. LOOK AT THE CAMERA. It is tempting to look at the picture of the other person on the screen. This does not look good because everyone can see you are looking down. It's better to look straight at the camera and just glance occasionally at the screen. If you have a separate camera you can do it the way I do: I put the camera on a tripod just in front of the screen or tape it to the screen right in front of the image of the other person.

7. SMILE TO LOOK NORMAL. Video cameras tend to reduce the happiness of a face so if you look neutral in reality you look sad on the screen. Compensate by having always a slight smile so that you look natural. But test this first to avoid looking scary creepy.

8. PUT NOTES WHERE YOU CAN READ THEM. Don't keep looking down at your notes. Print them in a large font and place them on a wall behind the camera or write them on a post it and put it next to the Skype window on your computer.

9. TEST THE CONNECTION, MICROPHONE.  Ideally you should make a quick call to a friend just to make sure everything is working, that the microphone level is right and so on. Now that many people have Skype in their phone it isn't hard to find someone to do a test call. In the worst case if no friends are available use the Skype test call function. Don't wait until the recruiter for your dream job is on the line to discover you plugged the microphone into the headphone socket. And don't begin by asking "Can you hear me?". That gives the impression you are used to failing. Just start talking as if you knew it would work.

10. SCOUT FOR SKYPE LOCATIONS. When you are doing calls from home you can identify and prepare a conveniently quiet, luminous corner for your Skype interviews. But sometimes there are only limited time slots available and maybe you have to do the call from somewhere else. Since this could happen to anyone it's best to think ahead and look around for suitable quiet rooms you could use if needed. In many buildings this is surprisingly difficult so plan ahead.

Taking great care with your Skype interviews will make you stand out among the other candidates and even if the interviewer recognizes that you have done this deliberately they will be impressed that you take care to do things effectively. There are not many jobs where they are looking for people who are sloppy and careless, so this is another reason why they should choose you.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about this and other communication topics you can contact me by email on or by phone at 0033 6 79 61 42 81 or 0046 730 894 475. You can also find out more through my website

Monday, October 13, 2014

Three Questions for Conspire, the Email Traffic Analysis Networking Site

Conspire is a very interesting new networking tool that uses email traffic analysis to determine how strong are the connections between two people. Using this information it can determine the strongest connection path between a user and anyone else.

This approach addresses a well-known weakness of the market leader in professional networking, LinkedIn. Though one of your connections might be connected to someone interesting it sometimes happens that they do not really know each other. Some people are careful to only connect with people they know -- I do this myself -- but there are many others who send and accept random connections. Conspire does not rely on self-declared connections, determining from the frequency of contacts, if and how fast the person responds and other factors to measure the strength of a connection.

When you sign up for Conspire it asks for access to your Gmail account and analyzes this data using only message headers, so it does not store your message content. Once this processing has been done you can type in any name and then you will see the most efficient connection paths between you and the target. This is certainly an interesting idea, but there are some questions about the way it is currently implemented that could make some potential users wary.

PEOPLE DON'T LIKE GIVING ACCESS TO EMAIL ACCOUNTS. My business emails are not terribly exciting to outsiders, but like many people I am reluctant to give access to my email accounts unless there is a very compelling reason. I do not fear government surveillance but I do have a healthy concern that every additional access I grant gives criminals another weakness to probe. Even major software companies like Adobe have had their security compromised so we have to assume that everyone is potentially vulnerable. In the case of corporate business email accounts it is also quite likely that your company forbids allowing access in this way.

MOST PEOPLE USE MORE THAN ONE ACCOUNT. On a typical working day I use four separate email accounts for my business contacts. Most people have at least two addresses because they need to separate work from private or just to have a stable account for when they change jobs. At present Conspire only tracks my Gmail account so it misses most of my connections. For one partner in Europe I have also been assigned an email in their domain so all connections through that company are invisible to Conspire. You can see the results of this when you search for someone you have regular business contacts only to be told that there are no paths.

MANY OF MY GMAIL CONNECTIONS ARE IRRELEVANT. I often use email to exchange information with tax authorities and other organizations that are not related to my work. It might be true that I have regular contacts with the business account adviser at the bank or the international taxation experts at the French department of public finance. These people also have strong connections with other business people but I can hardly use them as stepping stones to approach other business people.

There are also some nagging doubts about the damage to your routine self-deception since Conspire, like Google Now, uncovers the stark reality of your relationships with other people rather than the way you prefer to see them. James Carmichael wrote in the Atlantic about this problem recently in Google Knows You Better Than Yourself, drawing attention to this growing problem. Maybe not all of our LinkedIn connections are as strong as we would like but a little self deception is good for your self esteem.

Conspire is still very new and I expect that some of these questions will be addressed in future upgrades, but in the meantime these uncertainties offset the brilliance of the idea and could deter many users. Corporate users in particular will be less than enthusiastic and this weakens the strength and utility of their social graph. On the other hand people questioned the value of LinkedIn in 2003 but now it has more than 300 million accounts and it has become almost indispensable for career minded people.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching & Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing on this and other communication topics you can contact me by email at, through my website or by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Talko Is Useful for Workgroups But Won't Replace Plain Old Telephone Service

Of all the new iPhone apps I have tried in the last year Talko is probably the one that impressed me the most -- a good idea, well executed, easy to use and actually real-world useful.

Talko is the latest brainchild of Ray Ozzie, the person who gave the world Lotus Notes, the de facto standard for collaboration in pre-web days. What the app does is to reinvent the telephone using all the possibilities modern smartphone technology brings that Alexander Graham Bell could never have dreamed of.  You can have one-to-one voice conversations, you can have group calls and you can send spoken recordings to people. You can also switch seamlessly from recording to live and vice-versa. Better still, you can also illustrate your calls by tapping the camera icon as you talk, sharing an image of what you are seeing, and you can tag parts of a call and send them to others.

Where Talko will be most useful will be in enhancing the communications of project teams. You just can't beat spoken communication to quickly solve many problems and the extra features of the app compensate for the limitations of a voice-only medium. In this scenario an organization can simply decide that the team will use this app and just make sure everyone is equipped. But outside of this space Talko will not replace plain old fashioned telephone service simply because not everyone has the app and not everyone has an iPhone to run it on. With a regular phone call I can call from any telephone to any other telephone in the world and be sure they can hear me. With Talko you first need to find someone else that has the app, and quite likely they don't want to talk to you.

In my iPhone Talko joins dozens of other apps that are functionally excellent, but not as useful in practice just because they are not global standards like telephony or email. It's a product and one that will never be available to everyone. It reminds me of GoogleWave and many other neat ideas that never went mainstream because there was nobody to talk to. After creating a Wave account I understood how Bell must have felt, sitting watching the first telephone and wondering why nobody called.

Some kind of Talko-like functionality would be useful in a second-generation telephone network but I don't think that will ever happen with an individual product; it has to be the fruit of a standards-based solution that can be implemented by anyone. Meantime, though, if you have a team of people working closely together on a project a bunch of iPhones with the Talko app is going to make them work better than plain old conference call technology.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, coaching and writing on this and other communications topics contact me by email through, by phone on 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 79 61 42 81. You can also contact me through my website and you can, of course, also reach me using Talko.