can I turn down a Skype interview and suggest a phone call instead?

A reader writes:

I am long-distance job hunting. I’ve been very fortunate to have two interviews with two different companies, both via Skype. Although I did fairly well in both interviews (one resulted in an offer, which I turned down), I found Skype incredibly awkward. The video didn’t align well with the audio, there were awkward silences, etc.

I’m wondering, if I am lucky enough to score additional interviews, is there a graceful way to suggest a phone interview instead of Skype? I am concerned that a white lie such as “I don’t have Skype” or “I don’t have access to a webcam” would make me seem like a technical neophyte, which is unacceptable for the types of positions I am applying for. What is the best way to suggest a phone interview instead?

I so empathize. As I wrote earlier this week, I hate Skype for all the same reasons you do — that slight time lag is just enough to make things awkward and cause conversational cues not to work the way they do when you’re in person or even just on the phone. I don’t use it when I interview candidates.

The tricky part here, though, is in suggesting an alternative without implying that you want to override their interviewing process, since they apparently like Skype just fine. I do think you could say something like, “My web camera hasn’t been working very well; would a phone call work on your end?” (And really, this is true because your web camera is not working well; it is causing you that awful lag.)

However … while I think this is reasonable for initial interviews for positions where you will eventually be meeting in person, you’re in a long-distance job search. Are these situations where you’re relying on phone or Skype exclusively and not flying out at a later point in the process?  If so, eliminating Skype may put you at a disadvantage, because few employers want to hire someone based only on phone calls. In that case, Skype may still be your best bet, despite its flaws.

(By the way, there were some great suggestions about making Skype more bearable in the comments on this post … suggestions that I am stealing and compiling into a column sometime soon.)

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    Oh, how I wish all of the phone interviews I had last year had been on Skype rather than telephone. I’m the other way around: I hate phone interviews, because I can’t see the interviewer and get valuable feedback from their facial expression/gestures. I find it harder to “connect” with the interviewer and establish rapport.

    If your video didn’t align well with the audio and if there were awkward silences, check your internet connection. Try using the LAN cable rather than wifi. Check the Skype website for other tips on improving your connection.

    I currently work with a lot of my clients on Skype, and I know that if we both have a good internet connection, the conversation is fantastic: no problems at all with audio, video, delays, etc. Do try improving your connection in any way possible for the interview. Since I speak with clients on a regular basis via Skype, I ended up upgrading my internet connection last year to the fastest one possible in my area, and it greatly increased the quality of my Skype calls. I also use a LAN cable rather than wifi for Skype. It makes a big difference.

    Good luck!!

    If I had a candidate tell me “I don’t have Skype” or “I don’t have access to a webcam” they wouldn’t so much seem like a technical neophyte, but rather someone who isn’t interested enough to ensure the best possible format for an interview. If the interviewer prefers Skype to phone, it’s obviously because they think that’s the best way to do it.

    1. Jamie

      “If your video didn’t align well with the audio and if there were awkward silences, check your internet connection. Try using the LAN cable rather than wifi.”

      This X1000. I use Skype all the time and hated it when I was running off the wifi (which is fine for everything else). Once I dropped a cable into the conference room it cleared up all those issues. ymmv – but it is definitely something to consider.

    2. Vicki

      Same here. I did some Skype interviews with a company. I went onsite, met with the first interviewer locally, then with two intervieres in NY (I’m in SF), then two more locally.There was no lag. The only issue was that the second Skype interview required someone from IT to come in and unmute the connection because the previous interviewer and put it on mute and the next guy didn’t know how to turn that off.

      Having also had
      * a Skype interview where my end had video but the interviewer didn’t) so she could see my and I was staring at her photo),
      * phone interviews where neither party sees the other
      I wish every remote interview had a webcam.

  2. Doug

    Speaking of Skype interviews, do you find it appropriate for the interviewee to wear headphones for it? The last skype interview I had was incredibly awkward and I had a tough time making out what they were saying (there were three interviewers; the camera was wedged in the upper corner of the room so I couldn’t even make out their facial expressions) even though my macbook was almost at max volume. And if so, should I stick with the iPod earbuds or can I use my big noise-canceling Bose headphones?

          1. Sandrine

            Besides, if you get “intra-auricular” ones, you do hear just as well as you do with big earphones.

            It’s just that the big ones give you this illusion of being in your private peaceful place haha :P .

    1. Ali

      The problem may be with their microphone (kind of hard to tell them that though unless they figure it out themselves). I had a hellish Skype interview once where to fit both people in the screen at the same time, they had to place the laptop out of the built-in microphone’s range. At one point, one of the interviewers had to go find a mic to plug in and use.

  3. Sophia

    I spend about 6-7 hours most days on skype video call. (Long story)

    Some tips:
    -Good internet is ESSENTIAL to a good call. If you have lag, someone’s internet isn’t good. I recommend a library or even better a college campus with free good internet if you don’t already have high speed, wired internet.
    -Have a nice clean background.
    -Aim diffused light towards yourself. Think nice summer day rather than a spot light. If you can get an open window to be in front of you that works well. A lamp that’s 6 feet in front of you works well too. A too bright light in front of you should be covered with cloth or something.
    -Have something white in your background or have a blank piece of computer paper. If you are a funny color (blue, orange, etc), hold up the paper. This helps balance the white.
    -Earbuds are useful and usually needed because: It’s easier for you to hear your interviewer and you don’t have to worry about them hearing themselves echo. I would use a pair of black ones for an interview.
    -Squeaky chairs suck over skype call – if you can, sit in a chair that doesn’t make sound.

    1. fposte

      “If you are a funny color (blue, orange, etc), hold up the paper.” I really had to think about this for a few minutes before it stopped sounding like you were interviewing blue people.

  4. Josh S

    You could also legitimately blame a slow/laggy/inconsistent internet connection for your desire to do an initial phone interview. This wouldn’t seem anti-tech–you have Skype and the ability to use it, but prefer not to because of the latency on your connection.

    In short, blame the ISP!

    1. Sophia

      Yes you could. An interviewer might wonder though why you couldn’t go to a library or something like that.

      I would carefully word it.

      “I’ve found that my internet provider has been a bit slow for skype and it caused voice and video lag on our last interview. I’m happy to drive to the local library but I was wondering if a phone interview might work better for both of us.”

      This shows you’re willing to go the extra mile and they may think it’s not worth putting you through the trouble. If they stick with Skype you can always let them know you decided to give it a try once more on your home connection (and then use a wired connection and shut off anything else that may be using bandwidth.)

      I’m sure Alison could come up with something a little bit better sounding.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I like that wording. Lots of employers suggest Skype without giving it too much thought and aren’t totally wed to it, and would gladly respond to this by telling you the phone is fine.

        1. Simple Simon

          I work in international development and work in a tiny village in a developing country. In order to access skype I have to travel 13-14 hours by bus.

          I was just offered a skype interview for a position that I really wanted. They wanted me to interview the next day. I told them I would have to travel 14 hours to access skype and asked if perhaps a phone interview might be better. They said that I shouldn’t worry and that they were flexible – the interview would be the day after tomorrow so that I could take one day to travel. Frustrating.

          Anyway, I got on the bus, traveled 13 hours to the capital city, got a new headset, organized childcare, set up my computer, followed tons of the advice from the post the other day and called at the appropriate time of the interview. Turns out that one of the interview panelists in England was having trouble with her skype connection so we just had a phone interview instead. GAH!

          This meant that I had to pay for a ticket to the city and a ticket back, accommodation and food while there, childcare, a headset, and credit for my pre-paid phone for a 1.5 hour international call (we all had to call into a conference call since everyone was in different locations).

          I really hope I get this job…

          1. Ali_R

            I read this with my jaw dropped! I wish I had something useful to add, sadly I don’t. I am just compelled to write solely to offer sympathy on having to travel 14 hours each way.

            I cannot imagine the frustration you felt when they defaulted to the phone. Kudos to you for persevering! I am so astounded that the scheduler thought nothing of expecting you to travel 14 hours by bus when clearly a phone interview was acceptable.

          2. Josh S

            That is the most inconsiderate company I can imagine. Simply inexcusable to do that to a candidate.

            1. simple simon

              It is so good just to have some people recognize what a terrible situation this was and empathize. The people on the call seemed to not get it at all, which was really frustrating.

              I have worked for this organization before and I really respect the work they do in this field and I believe this was their way of trying to get the best person for the job. Will update when I find out if it was all worth it or not!

              1. Josh S

                And you’re still considering them as an employer?!

                You are a better person than I am. (Or at least you have a higher tolerance for other peoples’ crap.)

      2. Tim

        How would an interview in a library work? Libraries are supposed to be quiet spaces – I’m not sure other patrons would appreciate your chatter. Also, the fact that so many people are around, passing behind you and possibly interrupting, would make for an awkward interview environment. Excepting group interviews, interviews are supposed to be intimate, otherwise the in-person ones wouldn’t be held in an office room or another closed-off setting.

  5. Ariancita

    There are other platforms (but not free) that can be used that adjust the frames/second on video to your actual bandwidth (since the lag is a problem with the bandwidth, and not the camera) so that the video always looks good and is well aligned to the audio. I wouldn’t normally recommend a job seeker outlay a cost for a service, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of long distance job seeking, it may be worth it. One of the best platforms is FuzeMeeting (Fuze Box). I think there’s a fairly cheap monthly payment for basic web meetings. Although you do run into the same problem with changing their interview process and worse, adding some new technology to the mix (since you’d pay, they wouldn’t have a cost, but they’d have to use the new technology, which I wouldn’t even know how you’d approach suggesting).

  6. SC in SC

    I manage groups both in the US and Europe and my boss is located overseas so you can imagine that we make use of skype on a regular basis. We also conducted the majority of our interviews for our last re-organization via skype so I can sympathize with the OP. For me, I can live with the choppy video but the voice drop-outs are the deal breaker.

    Considering this is an interview I would say that clear communication is an absolute must. When we’ve been in the same situation, we actually use both phone and skype. I know it sounds ridiculous but I prefer to see the person I’m speaking with even if it occasionally lags by a second but I still want good, solid voice with no interruptions. If you do this, just be sure to turn down your computer speakers or you will go into an infinite echo loop and your head might explode. Well…that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration.

  7. OP

    Thanks for answering my question, Alison! I actually just got a call to schedule another interview this week (Your advice makes my phone ring!) I got lucky and skipped the entire Skype issue before it came up:

    Them: Hi, I’m calling from X, we’d love to schedule an interview with you!
    Me: Oh, great! I’m available by phone at these times, and I will be in your city on these dates…
    Them: Fantastic! We’ll call you at 9am next Thursday!
    (I guess I got lucky on that one! )

    I’m moving to the city where the job is in 2 weeks. I’m hoping if I get a second interview (after the phone interview) the organization will be able to wait until I’m in town.

  8. Kim

    I work at a public library. The public computers (wired) will be noisy, and if you use our wifi in a study room, you will have lag. But no one really wants to hear your job interview, the library isn’t the place for it.

    1. Kate

      I was surprised at the library suggestion for this reason. A public library seems like the opposite of the undisturbed environment you want for an interview. And talking in the library is so rude!

      1. Tim

        Exactly. Also, not only would *you* be playing the part of the loud, invasive library patron who disturbs everyone else, you might even find yourself on the receiving end of distracting, talkative patrons having open conversations within earshot of you and your microphone.

  9. Some Guy

    The one way Skype interviews are awful.
    The interviewers cannot be seen, but the candidate is. For the job seeker, there is no way to use visual cues to answer questions most effectively, and furthermore it’s just obnoxious that they’re emphasizing the asymmetric power dynamic of it all by having this one-way street.

    Judgmental, holier than thou HR jerks that I cannot see are staring at me. Awesome.

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