How to ace a video interview

Stand out on your college application with a virtual interview

How to ace a video interview

Applying for college admission is a meticulous process — one that requires careful attention to every detail. Each year, prospective students spend hours preparing for college applications. From studying for the SAT, to drafting the best essay, there is a tremendous amount of hard work that goes into formulating a winning application. With fierce competition for admission to the nation’s top schools, every detail on an application counts.

Over the past few years, admissions processes have begun to evolve to help manage the influx of applications and to provide prospective students with additional opportunities to showcase their potential. Video interviews are a prime example of this phenomenon. Schools are now embracing technologies that allow students to participate in a real-time Q&A. This supplement to a standard application submission provides a great opportunity for a prospective student to exhibit his or her personality. Talking to a webcam, however, and answering pre-recorded or text-based questions can feel awkward and challenging. In order to use this feature to one’s advantage, it’s in an applicant’s best interest to fully prepare him or herself.

Like most things in life, acing a video interview is a skill that comes with practice. Similar to the long-standing practice of in-person interviews, video submissions are an opportunity to make an impression that could favorably reflect on an applicant. With the volume of applicants passing through an admissions office continually growing, this technology allows for a more personal interaction, affording prospective students the opportunity to showcase themselves outside the parameters of paper submissions. By investing time to practice, and keeping a few key points in mind, anyone can learn to execute a strong video interview:


Make eye contact by looking directly into the camera lens.

While it may feel unnatural, it’s important to address your webcam as you would an actual interviewer – by making eye contact. Eye contact demonstrates confidence and this can be achieved in video scenarios by looking directly into the camera lens. If you look at your screen, your notes...or out the window, it will give the same impression as staring at your shoes during a live interview.


Be aware of your gesturing habits.

Gesturing is OK — in fact, subdued gesturing can add emphasis to your words. But it’s important to remember that your response will be viewed in a small screen and as a compressed image. If your hands are flying about, it will distract the admissions officer and make you look frantic at best - and invisible at worst.


Always remember to smile.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often people forget to smile. It can feel unnatural to smile on cue - and even harder to smile at a web cam. That’s why it's a good idea to practice smiling before the interview. Make mental cues to smile when you greet the interviewer and when you finish stating your response. This simple act adds tremendous warmth and personality to your presentation and will help leave a lasting impression.


Appearance still matters.

Being on camera may give the impression that appearance doesn’t matter – but to the contrary, it most certainly does. Your appearance from the waist-up, areas that your computer camera lens will capture, is critical. Taking the time to put on a decent shirt and comb your hair will say a lot about your ability to prepare, and the seriousness with which you take the interview.

Technology has given college applicants a stage to demonstrate their personality – in ways that are much more personal than traditional paper submissions. With this new opportunity, however, come unique challenges. By following a few key steps and spending the necessary time for preparation, prospective students can easily use tools such as video interviews to their advantage. In the rigorous competition for admissions, it’s worth giving yourself every possible edge!  


James Werner is vice president of higher education at DecisionDesk, a leading provider of application tracking and management systems.


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