I did a Skype interview the other week for my third-choice business school, and as you can tell from the title of this blog, it went well.
Let me preface this by saying that Skype interviews are totally acceptable if you’re an international student. It’s even understandable if you live on the opposite US coast from the school you’re applying to. But even in these situations, it would be better to request an alumni interview close to your home rather than leaving your business school fate to the strength of your internet connection.
So what was my excuse? Distance was a relatively minor consideration. I could have flown there and back in a single day. In retrospect, there’s no great reason for choosing Skype, but here’s how I rationalized it: (1) This was my last interview of four and I was a little low on money and vacation days; (2) I visited the school last month so there was no great reason to go see it again; and (3) the interview invitation stated very clearly that Skype and in-person interviews would hold the same weight.
That last point may or may not be true (only the admissions officers know for sure), but Skype and in-person interviews are certainly not the same experience. Let me tell you how mine went down.
One hour to go:
I get dressed the same way I have for every other interview: Full suit, even down to the dress socks and shoes. Feeling good.
30 minutes to go:
I sit down at my desk to test my webcam, then scurry to move all visible clutter out of the shot. I start to wish that there was some way to mask the fact that I’m in my bedroom.
15 minutes to go:
I log into Skype, test my sound, and wait for the interviewer to add me. This is analogous to sitting in the lobby of the admissions office, clutching a paper cup of water in one hand and your resume in the other. Ordinarily, you’d be warming yourself up by exchanging small talk with the receptionist (“Traffic is pretty bad out there, am I right?”). But I’m alone in an empty house so I sing to myself to see how badly my voice is warbling from the nerves.
The hour comes and goes. The interviewer is one, two…five minutes late. I realize that I have no recourse if he doesn’t show up… no phone number, no email, not even a Skype ID I can ping.
The interviewer finally shows up. He seems to be standing above his webcam so all I see is the white wall and ceiling behind him (ah, THAT’s how you mask an unmade bed). It’s weird, like he’s peering down at me through a fish bowl.
There are no surprise questions, but somehow it feels different than my other interviews. I’m distracted by the stacks of books and unfiled papers in my periphery. The video lags behind the audio so I can’t react to his facial expressions in real time. This is unnerving. I’ve just managed to coax a teensy smile out of the interviewer, when the unthinkable happens.
The connection dies.
Oh no. Was it me? My wireless connection shows full bars, but it could be lying. I wrack my brain – do I have an ethernet cable sitting around? Can I find it and connect it quickly enough? Do I even know where the wall jack is?
He calls me, I answer, the connection dies. Call, answer, die. This is bad, very bad.
Finally the connection holds. “I don’t know if that was you or me,” he says, “but I took my computer off wireless just in case.”
Well, we have no more connection issues after he plugs into the wall, so it sure as heck wasn’t me. But does it really matter? The seed of doubt has been planted. “She wasn’t professional enough to make sure her internet connection was dependable.” Ding.
Am I over-reacting? Perhaps. But in the cutthroat world of business school admissions, every little interaction – good or bad – can mean a great deal. It’s important to make that personal connection with the interviewer, and I think that is more difficult with the constraints of a video interview. Sure, it’s convenient. Sure, it’s cheaper for the applicant and for the school. But there’s something to be said for that first sweaty handshake, for that nerve-wracking walk through the halls of the admissions office, for that total sense of focus as you sit in a sparsely furnished room and tell the adcom why you’re the best applicant they’ve got – and seeing that sparkle in their eye as though they believe you. Those are the moments you can’t recreate, no matter how strong your internet connection.