Tips for a long-distance Skype interview

Tips for a long-distance Skype interview

Don’t know how I ever became the expert on this, but over the past year, I’ve spent lots and lots of time on the international hiring committee for Atameken* library. Our mission, of course, is to convince unemployed young librarians from the US to come to the cold steppes of Central Asia to work in a library, rather than stay working at their local McDonalds in Durham or Lexington. Given the actual pay we offer to live on said steppe, I’m always a little bemused when they accept. Well, and the fact that I’m here myself.

But – other than getting a sneak peek at others’ resumes, some vageuly useful contacts, and a huge mound of stapled cover letters and candidate evals on my desk – the biggest benefit for me has definitely been in seeing the whole hiring process from the back end. My notes are below, and if you’re ever in a Skype interview situation, let me know if it helps!


You send us an application. Our boss gathers them all and decides which ones *he* finds interesting. If you’re not so hot, he sends a polite no-thanks. If you’re ok, you’re in limbo till the next round of hiring, and you hear nothing. If he’s interested, he Skypes you. And then, if you’re engaging and talk enough but not too much, and seem competent, and he could imagine you as his savvy young protégé, he passes you off to us. Sorry I can’t help with that part.

But! Once he approves, I’m given your resume, with a stack of others that have passed his screening. I collect all fifteen of them and email you guys a list of ridiculous times for an interview with your future peers. Some notes:  

Spreadsheet email, by Christopher S. Penn

Stay flexible. Yes, we’re scheduling you at some ungodly hour of the morning in Vancouver, probably before the sun rises. I’m sorry. But we’re trying to fit six of you into the magical two hours of the early evening on a Thursday in Kazakhstan. There are just two hours a week when the stars cross and our director, our morning staff, and our evening staff can all be in the room at the same time. And if you get to the final interview, there are just two magical hours a month where we get the senior admin to sit in the corner and look bored while you talk.

Get a camera. It’s $30 at the store, and makes all the difference. You need one.

Check your equipment. Once you’ve got the camera, try it. Do a long-distance run-through with a friend, sitting where you plan to actually interview. Have them evaluate the lighting, your appearance, your mannerisms. Get them to ask a few ridiculous interview questions, and practice not looking annoyed at being asked what your professionally-acceptable “weakness” is.

Read up on Skype & Interviewing. It’s a practice. Here’s my favorite story about a interviewer-botched Skype, with tips for both sides. And way more useful for you, possibly the best list of interview tips I’ve ever read. Each is on-target!

Answer your email. The guy from China and the girl in Thailand – I understand it. The girl in suburban Dallas who’s on the job hunt but can’t respond for ten days? You just dropped in the estimation of the whole hiring committee.

The Interview

We’re all in a hurry, but we’ve got to do this before we go home. Maybe we sit in the main library reading room, in which case you’ll see student workers in the background. Maybe we’ll sit in the bosses’ office (we don’t get our own offices), in which case you’ll see a complete book set of the works of the country’s president, a platter full of jelly-filled cookies, and two to four librarians who have been dragged into the room. Our boss, who you spoke with before, is listening just out of sight. Don’t contradict yourself.

Misti and Bike, by IrishEyes

But… Relax! On the whole, our goal is simple – assess if you can handle basic tasks, if you’re actually interested in moving across the world, and if you’d generally get along with students and staff. Your masterful tech skills are just a bonus.

Look at the camera! This is a hard one, because most computer cameras are mounted above the screen, while our flickery little picture is in the middle of your screen. But look at our picture, and all we see is your eyebrows. Kind of like the pic above.

Instead, try the mom-jedi trick – look at our wobbly image out of the corner of your eye, but look like you’re looking at the camera. It can be done. I practice this intently when I’m bored with your answers.

Don’t talk our ears off! We’re running through a bunch of interviews during our Magical Hour of Interviews and if we can get a few memorable stories and generally solid answers from you, and end a few minutes early, it’s a bonus. It doesn’t mean we don’t like you – it just gives us some time to breathe before the next guy.

Do tell clear stories. Can you work on a team? Can you work alone? Can you answer the dreaded “weaknesses” question? (I don’t know why it’s on our list, either!) Tell us about a time when you had a really bad Skype interview… For these, just come prepared, give a good paragraph’s worth of information or story, and let us ask the next question.

Dress Professionally. Yes, it’s 6:35 in the morning, and yes, we’ll understand if you threw on a polo shirt and brushed your hair. But if you can put on a blazer and makeup, and convey a friendly attitude, we’ll be amazed.

Don’t send emails. Or type. We can hear you clicking. Getting the housemate to adjust the camera, petting the cat – also not the best. If you need to take notes, do it on paper and send any follow-up files afterwards.

Get good lighting! It makes a huge difference. Set lamps just out of the camera’s view, or find early morning/natural light if you can. The clearer we can see you, the better you look.

The Waiting

Yeah, we had a great interview and we all felt happy, but now there’s a long silence in the email-lines. Probably, you were good and we’ll eventually offer you a job. It may just take a while.   

Follow up. Stay brief, upbeat, and professional even if our emails are quick and informal. Send a quick note thanking each person who was in your interview, even if you didn’t quite catch our names. Send a related follow-up file from your portfolio, and we’ll circulate it. That’s great.

politely. But don’t email every five days for updates! Every two weeks is fine. And if you see the job reposted, feel free to ask why, but stay friendly. It doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten you… it may just mean we had some hesitations, and are holding you to evaluate against the next round.

No Drunk Skyping. This should go without saying, but… these things come up. Definitely don’t drunk-skype asking how you’ll eeeever get along in a foreign country and how saaaadddd you’ll be. Just delete our contact and add later if you need, to protect yourself from yourself. Long insecure emails with 55 questions about the job – before it’s been offered to you – also not recommended.

The Hiring!

Congrats! You got to the final interview. Unless you’ve been drunk-skyping, this means you’re mostly a shoo-in for our small but esteemed establishment. We probably have you marked “hire.” Cuz that’s the kind of library we are. You’ll have a rapid-fire 10-minute interview with four non-native English speakers who will introduce themselves in long names that leave you bewildered. They exhale all the contractual terms in one breath, then ask if you have any questions. You have a lot. Ask what you can, but ask us more afterwards.

Friendly face at the Reference Desk, by NJLA

Now – Ask Lots of Questions. This is the time to email a list of confusions or concerns. Focus on the most important things first, and then ask about smaller things later on. You can try to negotiate—but good luck with that….

Get and Give Everything in Writing. Send a written acceptance or declension. Ask for clarification on the terms of “vacation days” and “bonus.” You might be surprised. Get to know a couple of different staff by email.

Ask Not What You Can Do For Us… Just kidding. Please do! Once you’re packing, bring cheetos! Or M’n’m’s! Or taco mix! Or ponytail holders! Or Reese’s cups! Or fresh lettuce… We’re not American-food-obsessed here at all. And we do look forward to getting to know you. Really. We’d just be delighted to look forward to a fresh jar of peanut butter as well…


Photo credits to 1. Spreadsheet email, by Christopher S. Penn, 2. Misti and Bike, by IrishEyes, 3. Friendly face at the Reference Desk, by NJLA


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