A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a strong resume and sterling qualifications could have easily landed you a face-to-face meeting with a hiring manager. Today, if your electronic resume passes muster with a company's keyword search algorithm, you may find yourself trying to make a good impression not in person, but via Webcam from your living room.
Discouraged? Don't be. With a few tricks drawn from the videographer's trade, you'll be armed with the tools you need to keep your foot firmly planted in the door.
Even before the downturn, recruiters had started using online video interviews as a way to speed up and systematize the hiring process. But what was once viewed as trendy gadgetry is now increasingly seen as a tool for slashing recruiters' expenses.
Online shoe retailer Zappos.com  has been interviewing job candidates via Skype , the free video chat service. Others use an online interview provider such as HireVue, which sends Webcams to candidates and provides a high-bandwidth video link through the companies' Web sites.
"Cutting down on air and hotel expenses, as well as wasted team interviewing time, is a logical place to save money," explains Colleen Aylward, CEO of InterviewStudio , an online interview provider. "You can do it without giving up quality screening, if video is used properly."
There are two basic formats for video cam interviews. The first, the live two-way, is pretty much like a conventional face-to-face or a phoner, with an interviewer asking questions and you responding in a free-form fashion.
But employers are increasingly utilizing one-way video-on-demand, in which you log into a Web site and are presented with a set of questions, to which you record timed answers. Besides saving money, recruiters also like video-on-demand so they can do comparative behavioral analysis of job candidates.
"You can display six candidates side-by-side on the screen, and flip through their responses to the same question," says HireVue  CEO Mark Newman. "It eliminates the worst part of live interviewing — when you're not able to remember who said what. This way, you can pinpoint the exact differences."
If that sounds a bit intimidating, it probably should, because the usual goal of Webcam interviewing is to whittle down a list of candidates to one or two who actually get to meet their prospective employer in the flesh. Here are some tips from Newman and Aylward on how to survive the online video interview gauntlet.
Invest in quality gear: That cheapo, built-in Webcam and microphone that came with your laptop is fine for recording your karaoke version of "Eye of the Tiger," but this is real life. If your prospective employer doesn't provide you with equipment, Aylward recommends shelling out $200 or so for a Logitech Webcam and a Blue Snowball microphone. You'll look and sound way better.
Be sure to follow the interviewer's directions. "Don't be like the IT person who thinks he or she knows everything and comes off looking clueless," Newman cautions.
Create good lighting and ambiance: Too little is obviously bad, but too much is worse, especially if it's a stark spotlight that makes you look like an interrogation subject. Aylward recommends using diffused lamps or wrapping your lights in wax paper or professional soft-tint paper. Make sure you're facing the brightest light source or else your interviewer will see a dark outline sans facial features.
Also, make sure the windows are closed to shut out traffic noise, and that the dog and kids are occupied elsewhere. Pay attention to your background — a bookshelf is good, an Insane Clown Posse poster, not so much.
Practice: Whether you do a live two-way or record a video-on-demand clip on a corporate Web site, you don't get a do-over if you come off like a noob. Aylward and Newman recommend doing a few dry runs on your own to check the equipment, lighting and camera position.
Have someone ask you some potential questions and record your responses so that you can critique your oral delivery and mannerisms. Go over some talking points, but don't memorize a script. "Companies don't like to hear something practiced," Newman counsels. "They want that raw response."
Give maximum content, minimum bloviation: Remember, video isn't like a face-to-face interview, where you might try to establish rapport by spending 10 minutes discussing your prospective boss's favorite NASCAR drivers or collection of vintage troll dolls. Your video responses may be watched over and over and analyzed for substance, so stay relentlessly focused and succinct.
Aylward recommends keeping your answers to two minutes maximum, and suggests concentrating on getting the main point into the first 15 seconds. "Be sure to read or hear the entire question and answer it fully," adds Newman. "When you give an example, always organize it the same way — situation-task-action-results." And be passionate. But not too passionate. That is, unless you want to come off like that "Leave Britney Alone"  guy on YouTube.