I completely agree with the points Margaret Steen brought up in her recent StaffingTalk article: How to Write Your Way to Success: A Practical Guide. In her essay, she discussed the importance of using good traditional writing skills to show yourself or your candidates in the best possible light.
The same sense of communicating a professional image holds true to candidates who are presenting themselves through video. I would argue that the stakes are even higher for those who choose a video platform, whether it is a video resume, Eyejot email, LinkedIn or Facebook video, personal website posting or even an on-line Skype interview.
You may have all the tools and experience you need to succeed at the job, but if you don’t present well to the camera you could be doing irreparable damage to your career. (Some readers who remember the televised Nixon - Kennedy debate know exactly what I’m talking about.)
A few clicks on your mouse will bring you to hundreds of feeble, laughable or downright obnoxious examples of video resumes. Before you or your candidates decide to send or post a video, let’s take a look at a few invaluable steps you can take to avoid a lengthy list of snarky comments on YouTube.
1. Rehearse your Material. A video resume should never consist of you reading your resume or having an improvised “conversation” with the camera. Equate this with instant death. The tone you establish can be more or less formal depending on your audience, but what you say about yourself should have the feel and length of an “Elevator Speech”, i.e. what you say if you should happen to meet your prospective employer in the elevator going up to your interview. It should be written to be spoken. Practice with a friend so that you sound casual, yet upbeat - conversational, yet engaging - informative, yet interesting.
You know how we all have pre-recorded speeches in our heads that we use to answer questions such as: “Where did you go to school?” or “How did you two meet?” or “How did you adopt such a wonderful cat?” You don’t have to think about what you’re saying because you’ve said it so many times it just falls off the tongue in an interesting, lively and engaging manner. That’s what your delivery should feel and sound like. Nine out of ten people need to practice this skill. So do you!
2. Entrance and Exit. Never walk in to, or out of the shot. The sun rises and sets on YOU and your up-beat demeanor. Video editing software is easy for you or your 13-year-old to edit away that which detracts from your message.
3. Eye Contact. Make sure you are looking at the camera lens, and not at your script, keyboard or screen (if you are using an built-in laptop camera.) Practice speaking directly to the camera. Looking off to the side or at your papers make you look non-trustworthy. Also, if using a laptop or computer camera, please avoid the temptation to look at yourself speaking in the little box on your screen. That looks as if you’re more interested in yourself than in your audience. A definite no-no.
4. Set the Stage. Since you are the focus of the video, make sure the camera is angled on a level with, or slightly above your face, and not looking up your left nostril to the ceiling. Most desks are too low to shoot at a decent angle so you may have to prop your laptop on a few books in order to achieve the proper shooting height. Even if this appears ungainly, the audience will never see it. If you’re using a camera and tripod, make sure to take some test takes and view them before you commit to taping.
Use a neutral or professional looking background, and by neutral I don’t mean standing in front of a shower curtain (which leaves the viewer wondering “How small is this guy’s apartment?”) A blank wall whose color and tone compliment (not match) your skin tone works fine.
By professional looking I mean please clean up all the stuff that’s piled up on the shelf behind you, stick an interesting bookend or potted plant on the shelf, organize any loose files, remove the clutter and generally tidy up. (Tip: You don’t have to actually clean up. Just get the junk out of the shot and you can put it all back when you’re done with no one the wiser!)
5. Lighting and Sound. You don’t need to spend a fortune to look and sound good. Explore different area of your home or office that have good natural lighting. If it needs to be augmented a small lamp positioned just out of camera range can help to illuminate you better. Take test shots to make sure you’re not being over or under-exposed. Experiment and see what looks best. In general, lighting sources should be at or slightly higher than your eye level.
Typically, the microphone on a camcorder or laptop camera is going to pick up lots of ambient sound or echo. Invest in an inexpensive lapel microphone (also called a lavaliere mike) from you local electronics store. A $10 investment will make you sound $100 better.
6. Look and Sound Professional. Dress appropriately. This will vary depending on your audience and market. Facial jewelry and a mohawk may be appropriate for a hiring at a tattoo parlor but probably not as an account manager for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Know your audience and err on the conservative side. Remember that beyond clothing, the most attractive quality you project on camera is your sense of confidence . . . and a real smile.
7. Content. A lesson from the theatre world: When an actor auditions for a role using a monologue, I can tell within 5 to 10 seconds whether I want to hire them or not. Within 10 seconds they either have my full attention or they’re just pouring salt in the wound. In the theatre I have to be polite and let them finish their monologue. Your on-line viewer can just click you away in an instant.
Think of your video resume as a teaser, a coming attraction that will make the viewer want to review your printed, proof-read resume or clearly designed web-site. Grab the viewer’s attention in your opening introduction. Use your key words. Look interested and engaging. Keep it short - under a minute if possible. Thirty seconds is even better. Don’t try to sell them the farm - just give them enough to want to learn more about you. A series of short videos that answer specific questions may be preferable to one long video that risks being clicked away from, or collects a long list of snarky comments.
8. Get Coached. In the interest of full-disclosure and shameless self-promotion: that’s what I do as a camera and presentation coach. I’m not the only one out there, so should take time to find someone with whom you can establish a trusting rapport. Presenting to camera isn’t something you can whip up and look great at overnight. Invest in the process. I’ve been coaching presenters and actors for over 20 years and can honestly say that some people have a natural knack for speaking to the camera - and most don’t. Everyone can use some help, some more, some less; but working with an experienced coach can help you to stay focused, reduce fear, make you look good and reap huge rewards in the long run, especially since these skills work effectively in other aspects of your professional and personal life.