By Robert Rodriguez The Fresno Bee.
In the digital age, preparing for a job interview can begin with the simple step of powering up your computer.
With tight budgets, nationwide searches and the ease of connecting through the Internet, job interviews increasingly are being redefined by the use of webcams and software applications like Skype.
Nationwide, the use of digital interviewing rose by 49% over the last two years, says Paul Bailo, a digital marketing/technology expert.
Bailo, author of the book "Essential Digital Interview Handbook," says employers like using digital interviews because they can increase their candidate pool as well as reduce their costs for bringing in promising candidates. It also can be a test of sorts for companies looking for tech-savvy employees.
"Digital interviewing has become a new filtering tool to help human resource managers find the candidates they they want to meet in person," Bailo says. "It is never going to replace the face-to-face meeting, but it is being used more as an extension of the whole interview process."
Fresno employers say Skype is an effective way to filter through a large number of job candidates.
"It is as close to interviewing someone in person as we can get," says Kathy Bray, president of Denham Resources, a recruiting and staff firm in Fresno. "And luckily, the technology has greatly improved."
Bray recalls using the technology about 10 years ago to interview someone in another city. This was before the advent of high-speed Internet connections, and the interview resembled a badly dubbed film.
"They would open their mouths to speak, but it took a few minutes to hear their words," Bray says. "It didn't work very well."
These days, Denham Resources uses Skype and FaceTime on iPhones for digital interviews. On average, about 10% to 15% of the company's job interviews are done digitally.
Digital interviews are a boon for multinational companies that must cast a wide net to fill positions that require technical expertise. Take, for example, Olam; its Fresno office is the headquarters for its spices and food ingredients division.
"We don't want to limit ourselves when looking to fill some of these niche positions," says Andrea Gaitan, marketing coordinator for Olam's office in Fresno. "So we look globally."
The company did about 20 Skype interviews last year, Gaitan says.
Experts say that while the technology makes it easier to interview more candidates, it's also important that job candidates remember several key guidelines to prevent a digital disaster.
Bailo includes a list of tips in his book.
For starters, make sure you know how to use the software, whether it's Skype or some other tool. Invest in a high-definition camera, make sure the lighting is sufficient and remove anything distracting in the background.
Bray continues: "If you are sitting in your college dorm room, make sure you take down the beer posters. Even though you are in your room, treat this like you were sitting in someone's office. Dress appropriately. And no gum chewing."
Also, look straight into the camera and try to avoid moving around in your chair.
And despite what many may think, younger job candidates sometimes fail during digital interviews, Bailo says: "Younger people are so used to just flipping open their Mac and talking to their friends or family, and that is not the way to conduct a digital interview."
Older workers who are not as familiar with the process often seek advice from experts on how to use Skype correctly.
Image and style consultant Jennifer Maddern of Bakersfield says most of her recent clients who needed Skype training are in their 40s.
"There is a bit of a learning curve, but it doesn't take much to become comfortable with the process," Maddern says. "It really isn't as scary as it may seem, and sooner or later people realize that if they are looking to move up or move on, someone will ask them to Skype for a meeting or an interview."
Lisa Bodrogi, a land use and public policy consultant in Santa Maria, is a recent Maddern client. Bodrogi wanted to sharpen her digital interviewing skills after a previous Skype interview did not advance her in the hiring process.
Bodrogi admits she made some mistakes, including cluttering the background with posters that showed her interest in wine. The prospective job was with a wine industry organization.
"I thought it would show my personality. But it did not come across well, and it was a distraction."
For a recent interview, Bodrogi practiced using Skype with Maddern's help. She got rid of the busy backdrop, wore bright and vibrant-colored clothing and made sure she looked at the camera.
"This time, I was much more confident and was asked to continue with the interview process," Bodrogi says. "Now, I have this Skype process down."
Image and style consultant Jennifer Maddern of Bakersfield shares some of the tips she gives clients who are Skyping a job interview:
For women: Makeup doesn't show up as well online as it does in person. "Don't go crazy, but if you wear a little makeup, add a little more," Maddern says.
For men: Don't be "shiny. It can come off as being nervous or insecure." Maddern recommends using a translucent powder; dab a little on your nose, forehead and top of your head if you are balding.
For everyone: Put a sticky note with a humorous reminder or a photo that makes you smile near your Web camera; it reminds you to look at the camera and helps you relax.