how to create a video cover letter

A reader writes:

I am being confronted with a novel situation. I’m a career counselor at a government agency (after finding this site, I feel the need to apologize for the horrendous experiences people have had. I’d like to say I do give out your website to my clients and colleagues).

A couple of my clients have started coming in asking about video cover letters. Not because they want to make one to stand out, but because job postings are asking for them. (This might be a function of my location in a high tech city with lots of start-ups.) What should I tell them to do? I know video is all kinds of a bad idea in the hiring process, but what how do I help clients when it is specifically requested?

Ick, no, terrible! I know you already know that, but it must be said again anyway: Terrible, awful idea. There is absolutely no reason for this, and it’s opening the employer up to allegations of racial discrimination — as well as making it more likely that it really will introduce unconscious bias into the initial sceening, because that’s a real thing even in well-intentioned people and even when we don’t realize it.

But that doesn’t help you or your clients, who can’t help the fact that awful employers are asking this of them. So you might pass on the tips that I have here on doing well in Skype interviews, most of which would apply here. Beyond that, I’d also say:

* Structure it around 60-90 seconds of “here’s why I think I’d be great at this job,” with a focus on specific concrete evidence of that. 60-90 seconds sounds short, but it’ll actually allow for a lot of talking.

* Write out what you want to say beforehand and practice saying it. You don’t want to sound overly rehearsed or like you’re reading from a script, but you also don’t want to wing it.

* Look happy and upbeat (but not to the point of looking deranged).

* Similarly, pay a lot of attention to your tone of voice. You want to sound warm and enthusiastic; don’t use a monotone.

* Make “eye contact” by looking into the camera so you don’t come across as distracted or unpolished.

* Skip applying for these jobs, because they don’t know how to hire well and they’re overly hung up on a gimmick of the moment.

(I get that not everyone has the luxury of following that last tip. But I feel spiritually obligated to include it anyway.)

{ 168 comments… read them below }

  1. YandO*

    I did a one-way interview one time. My first and last time.

    It was awful. They allowed me to re-record as many time as I wanted, which was supposed to make it better. It turned into me re-recording it so many times, I could sound natural anymore. I hated every single thing about it and when I was not moved forward, I could not even be upset about it. A company that wants to judge my ability to do my job based on my ability to perform well on camera is not a company I want to work for.

    My advice? Skip the stupid video cover letter and focus on other opportunities.

  2. LBK*

    Ugh, I can’t imagine who wants to sit and watch these things. Plenty of written resumes are cringe-worthy enough and that’s without having to sit and watch the candidate read it to me.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      And you can’t skim! Given that most candidate reviews start with a very quick skim before you decide if you want to read more closely, I just can’t understand why anyone thinks this is a good idea.

      1. LBK*

        Seriously – huge time commitment. I’d say conservatively you’re committing yourself to a full day of work just spent watching videos, and that’s assuming they average about 5 minutes and you only need to watch each one once.

        I suspect most of them don’t get watched for more than 10-15 seconds, if at all, which lends itself towards your suggestion that there’s tons of unconscious bias that goes into requesting video cover letters/resumes. I don’t know any other way you could get through all of the applications in a reasonably efficient manner.

      2. Artemesia*

        Amen — the idea of watching these in real time is truly depressing. I guess people who think this is a good idea deserve to have to sit through them.

      3. Windchime*

        I really think it’s a way of winnowing out people based on appearance. There, I said it. I can’t see any other reason why an employer might do this, other than to sort out people who look different from what the interviewers have in mind for the role.

        1. James M.*

          Don’t forget winnowing out people based on their speech patterns/accent. Video resumes are perfect for satisfying an employer’s wanton bigotry.

          1. simonthegrey*

            Yup. Sound “hick” or “inner city” or whatever speech patterns the employer believes is a mark of lower intelligence? Weed it out. Sound “arrogant” or “cold” because you’re from the north and the employer is southern? Delete.

          2. Tau*

            I have a speech disorder and let’s just say I’d be highly surprised if doing a video CV didn’t lead to much, much fewer callbacks for me. At least when it reaches the telephone interview stage they are at least a *little* invested in me as a candidate, you know?

    2. Jillociraptor*

      Yes! I helped with the selection process for a fellowship I had participated in the past, which required a video. I hated it, and hated having to replay the video a bunch of times to make sure I was getting all the evidence. Total waste of time.

      1. OP*

        This is good to know. Would you have been able to just look at a regular cover letter that was enclosed? Or did you have to only look at the video?

        1. Jillociraptor*

          The video actually responded to a specific question (and was the only place that information was asked for) so no, but some candidates did share their script/transcript which was super helpful. I don’t want to encourage you to encourage your clients to break the rules…but that was definitely preferable for me.

    3. Allison*

      I can’t imagine why this company is asking for videos, unless they’re looking for people who are going to be on camera as part of their job, or people who would be making a ton of presentations and thus would need to be charismatic. Otherwise it just seems like they’re making people jump through hoops, hoping to weed out applicants who don’t actually want the job.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Even in those cases, I think asking applicants to make a video should be a second-round kind of hoop to jump through. Maybe if you’re hiring something like a news anchor you could ask for a video up-front, but unless being on-camera is 90% of the job then start by weeding out the people who don’t make the cut for other reasons.

        1. LBK*

          For most video-related jobs, you’d just ask someone for their reel if you wanted evidence of their work (either behind or in front of the camera). It would still be really weird and onerous to ask them to make a totally new video just for your hiring process, at least (as you say) until later in the process when you might ask a candidate to do a work exercise as you might with any technical position hiring.

          1. AW*

            I love this: even for jobs where asking for video makes sense it’s still weird to ask someone to make a new video to get hired. I am tucking that info away in case I’m ever asked to do this.

  3. NickelandDime*

    Mmm. I was asked to submit a video interview for a job I applied to. I agree with Allison’s last statement. It took me around two hours to put together a 10 minute clip for them (Ten questions, one minute to answer each question. They weren’t good questions either). This included computer set up, testing the equipment and sound, writing out and practicing answers to their questions, etc. They wanted it two days before Christmas. I never heard one word from them after submitting the video, not even a rejection letter. If I apply to another job that asks this of me in the future, I will decline to go any further.

    A couple of months later, I saw the job re-posted.

      1. A Minion*

        Rejection videos! Oh my gosh, I’m now seeing these in my head and they’re quite hilarious! Now I wish I could send out rejection videos for all rejected candidates.

  4. Blamange*

    Video cover letters!

    This is so weird, are these employers taking tips from acting jobs? This is generally what you have to do if you apply for acting gigs, you send a video with your CV before audition.

  5. Lizabeth*

    I think video resumes should go in the same bonfire as asking for salary history and your high school grade point average.

    1. TheExchequer*

      Or which high school I went to at all! I have a bachelors and am coming up on my 10 year reunion. Nobody needs to be asking that question any more.

          1. Stephanie*

            I vaguely remember like McKinsey (or a similar firm) asking for my SAT score (for like a lowish level experienced hire job).

            1. LucyVP*

              I had a marketing firm ask for my SAT score during an interview and I couldnt remember it! Super embarrassing. My answer was something like ” Ummmm I think it was 1260? or maybe 1280? I know it started with a 12!”

            2. potato battery*

              Yeah, they asked for mine, too. I think it’s common for consulting firms (at least the top ones) but I’ve never had to use it for anything else since applying to college.

        1. katamia*

          I have, too, but only for tutoring jobs that involved test prep. In that situation, I consider those fair game. :P No one in any other industry has wanted them, and even though mine were good enough that I have tutored SAT prep, I’d never supply them without being asked because it’s so unnecessary.

      1. neverjaunty*

        A lot of companies think it’s a clever way to hide the fact that they engage in age discrimination.

        1. Joey*

          How’s it different from seeing your college grad date. They can still get a fairly good guess at your age

          1. bridget*

            Slightly more reliable, I suppose? There are enough college students who aren’t on traditional timelines to skew the data, but if you are much older than 19 and want to graduate from high school, most school districts shuffle you off into a GED program or alternative high school. If you list a regular-sounding high school like “Springville High School, Class of ’03,” the chances that you are 30 are pretty damn good. But it seems like unnecessary lengths to go to in order to make an accurate age inference, so I’m not sure I buy the explanation of purposeful-but-hidden age discrimination. I’m more inclined to believe that someone created an application with very little thought behind it, and figured that if some info was good (college), isn’t more better? Sure, why not!

      2. Tau*

        A-levels, definitely.

        I have had *so* much trouble with this because I went to high school in Germany and it’s a very different system. So many attempts to explain how an Abitur works to very confused Brits. So many headscratching moments of “how do I get my high school results into this online form that was clearly not designed for them?”… and sometimes they ask for GCSEs and there’s no good equivalent to that under the German system and it’s just such. a. headache.

        Also, I can’t help but feel the whole thing is absurd since I have three degrees, including a PhD.

  6. ExceptionToTheRule*

    Unless your job is in video, video anything is plain stupid. Just because anyone with a smartphone can record themselves doesn’t make them good at it.

    If you decide this is something you want to proceed with, a word of advice as you script your answers: write the way you talk, don’t talk the way you write – it’ll sound more natural.

    1. hayling*

      “Write the way you talk, don’t talk the way you write.”

      This. This a thousand times. And the reverse is also true.

    2. Kyrielle*

      If I were going to jump this hoop at all, I’d be tempted to record myself answering the questions for my first pass at them. Then transcribe what I said, adjust it where I didn’t like my answer or to cut out any answers I started and abandoned (not to mention all the long pauses, uhs, etc.), and work from that. It would sound a lot more like me as I speak than trying to answer on paper and then use those answers, I suspect.

  7. Ali*

    I had to do this too! A couple of jobs I was interested in didn’t require a written cover letter and instead, they had outsourced the hiring to an organization who thought these video one-way interviews were a good idea. It was a split of recorded answers and essays. I’ve also applied for jobs where you have to write a cover letter and do a video pitch.

    I now refuse to apply to any of these places that want elevator pitches, video cover letters or anything else that required being on camera to apply, but not for the job. I’ve ben rejected every time, so clearly, I don’t have a good webcam presence.

    1. NickelandDime*

      I’m so confused about their purpose. What are you going to get, other than sound static and bad lighting, that you can’t get from a traditional face to face interview? Why is this a better screening process than a phone screen? I want to see and interact with someone, not watch a video! It doesn’t make much sense.

    2. Sy*

      I recently had to do a one way video interview (the 3rd party company they used was Spark Hire) and it was terrible. It took much longer than a phone interview would have and I felt like an idiot doing it. Must have looked like one too because I was rejected not long after. Or I looked like a 30+ year old mother, which I am. Then they had a different 3rd party company contact me to ask for feedback on their hiring process. Applying at start ups in the Bay Area is rough these days.

  8. Al Lo*

    My husband works for a small film company, and his boss has been trying to convince him to do “video resume” sessions. Much like a headshot session (where a photographer will book a full day of 45-minute slots), they would book a day of 25-minute slots. The client would come in, get makeup touched up and be prepped to look their best, have a professionally produced 90-second video, and in the 25 minutes, have the opportunity to do a handful of takes to get the best one. At the end, they walk out with their video on a stick, and it’s ready to go. For them, it’s a great money-making day (individual fee, post-production can be done in 15 minutes, so there’s no after-work), but so far, my husband has managed to talk his boss out of it as a very, very bad idea.

    So, stemming from that, I’d also say that the most important non-content things are to think about your lighting, background, and wardrobe. If you’re doing it at home or with a friend, make sure it looks as professional and non-distracting as possible. Poor lighting, poor sound quality, or a distracting background will just detract from what you’re trying to say. Think about production quality to whatever extent you can.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Good for your husband!

      But what you husband’s boss is missing that some of these video interviews comes with a set of questions to answer and need to be longer than 90 second video. Thankfully there’s no standard video interview format, but your husband’s boss sounds like he think there is one.

      1. Al Lo*

        He’s talking more about the video resume then a video interview. Something where you create a video highlight reel of your accomplishments, and then send that to an employer in lieu of a regular resume. In this case it wouldn’t be answering interview questions, that would be a standard resume that you would then send along with a customized cover letter.

    2. the_scientist*

      This just seems like a class project to “make a video on X topic” where the group that got the best grade was the one with the A/V club member who had decent equipment and the ability to do post-production editing, not the group that did the best research. I am having serious grade-school flashbacks.

      The point being that production ability requires skills and software (and time- my boyfriend produces movies in his spare time and will spend literal hours editing a small section of film). Hiring practices like this are automatically going to favour the people who either have those resources or can afford to pay someone to do it for them. If your job isn’t to be a producer or production assistant, why is it important that you own a high-quality camera and video-editing software (and know how to use it)? The OP says she works with a lot of minorities, many of whom don’t own a smartphone and have no other means of recording themselves, let alone doing any editing.

      1. JMegan*

        Hiring practices like this are automatically going to favour the people who either have those resources or can afford to pay someone to do it for them.

        OP, if you have any opportunity to push back at the employers, this is exactly what you want to tell them. (Although it sounds like you know that already.) Good luck!

        1. AW*

          You could tell them that but they know that already. Trust me: anything that weeds out people with less money and fewer resources is being done *deliberately*.

          1. bridget*

            This seems like an oversimplification to me. Sure, there may be some jerks out there like that, but there are just as many (and probably more) people who take their relatively privileged lifestyles for granted. They were either never in a position where they didn’t have a smartphone or webcam (or had friends or family who would let them borrow one), or it’s been so long that they’ve forgotten. I’ve inadvertently done that when I suggest a restaurant among some friends, forgetting that some people are on much tighter budgets than I am (even though five years ago, I was on a similar shoestring restaurant budget). I’m embarrassed when it happens, and it’s really inconsiderate of me, but it’s not deliberate.

          2. Connie-Lynne*

            I doubt that they’re weeding people deliberately. They’re just oblivious to their privilege.

            Which doesn’t make it any less inappropriate.

    3. Fellow Government Agency Person*

      Great tips on the non-content aspects. I had to film a small piece on our mission statement for our government agency and they sent me a tip sheet for shooting my 2 minutes of fame, and these were their big points:
      – you should only be waist up or higher in your frame
      – plain backgrounds can actually be distracting, they suggested filming in my ‘natural setting’ of my cube/ desk so the audience can gather what I do during my day to day
      – no on the fluorescent lighting if possible, they make everyone look sickly apparently

      The most interesting one they listed was shifting the frame over so that you in are 1/3 of the frame, instead of dead in the middle. That probably worked well because of the filming in a non white background tip too.

      Just some things to chew on. And btw, though it was a fun way to spend the afternoon, having to film a video cover letter is Not Cool knowing my employment is dependent on it (well partially)!

    4. JMegan*

      Do you mean they’re thinking of offering this as a service to job seekers? So at the end of the day they walk out with a USB stick that they use to apply to jobs outside his company? (Because I’m hoping he’s not suggesting requiring it for his own hiring, right?)

      I actually think this could be a great idea! A lot of people don’t know how to do something like this well – or if they have the skills, they may not have the equipment, the quiet time or space, etc. If that’s something that your husband’s film company can provide, they might be able to make a few dollars out of it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But it makes people think it’s actually a thing they should have, when it’s not — very, very few companies would want to receive such a thing (and if it’s sent unsolicited, it’s going to make them look out of touch).

      2. Al Lo*

        Yeah, that’s exactly it. Reading these kinds of trends, and offering the service.

        On the one hand, I’m a stickler for excellence production value in every presented performance or presentation . I’m torn on this because I like the idea of offering high-quality products, but if it helps to perpetuate the idea that a video resume is necessary, it becomes problematic. I definitely see the value and offering something like this for performing arts auditions or interviews. It’s the same as having professional head shots for an actor. Absolutely necessary, and a part of the industry.

        1. Al Lo*

          I should clarify. I’m not torn on whether this is a good idea for a regular job application. I’m a little torn on whether my husband’s company should offer it as an advertised service. However, just because they don’t advertise it as a package, doesn’t mean that somebody couldn’t call them up and book them to film an audition reel or on camera audition. However anyone who pulling together a reel needs an editor, not a videographer. Hopefully they’re pulling footage from existing performances.

    5. ElCee*

      Agreed. My husband is a sound recordist for TV and several of his jobs have been booked as “the cleanup crew” after a disastrous in-house filmmaking attempt.

  9. alter_ego*

    It’s important to remember to look into the camera to feel like you’re making eye contact, not at your own eyes, which feels far more natural. If you look at your own eyes, when someone else is watching it, you’re going to look like you’re looking down.

    1. Spondee*

      In a previous job where we shot a lot of video, we used to place a mirror over the teleprompter or ask an assistant to stand behind it to solve this very problem. At home, you could place a mirror behind the camera, or ask a friend to stand by it and smile at you.

      1. Nancie*

        I’m pretty sure that 90% of the friends I might ask to stand behind the camera for me, would end up giving in to the urge to make funny faces and try to make me laugh.

        Thank goodness I have no intention of doing this!

    2. Connie-Lynne*

      You can mostly solve this by positioning your video self-view window directly underneath your camera.

    3. Marcela*

      I saw today a great suggestion: buy cheap plastic eyes, the type teddy bear have, and glue them to the side of the webcam in your laptop. It looks very cute, it can be done with just pen and paper and at least when I tried to talk to my parents, it worked.

  10. Thinking out loud*

    Yep, there’s one company that I wanted to work for (until I heard that everyone there worked 80-100 hour weeks), and they ask for (but don’t require) videos with all their applications. I applied to a couple of jobs, didn’t submit videos, and never heard back. Their loss – my job has literally nothing to do with video creation, and I’m just not that desperate for a new job right now.

  11. PEBCAK*

    Ugh, not to even mention the opportunities for discrimination, conscious or unconscious, that this presents. Ugh.

    1. Stephanie*

      Well that and you’re ruling out people who don’t have access to a web cam for no real reason. (I’ve had laptops sans webcams in the recent past.)

      1. Fuzzy*


        I haven’t seen a public library computer with a web cam. And even those that have them for Skype interviews may not have recording software. Not to mention the amount of time someone would have to sit there for to finish it, the cost of a flash drive… this is so icky.

    2. Joey*

      think about that for a minute. How’s it any different from unconscious bias based on resumes/interviews?

      Because folks already see or deduce sex/race/age anyway.

      Ultimately if someone’s going to discriminate based on those things it’s going to happen regardless of whether there’s a video résume or not.

      1. LBK*

        It’s definitely possible to discriminate just based on a resume but it can be hidden more easily, mainly if you don’t have a notably ethnic-sounding name. It’s less likely that someone won’t be able to tell your race on camera. Plus it brings in other potentially discriminatory characteristics that you definitely can’t get from a resume, like weight and attractiveness (which I know aren’t necessarily legally protected categories, but they’d still add bias into your hiring process).

          1. Kelly L.*

            It lets you weed out more of the people you’re prejudiced against before you even bring them in for an interview.

            1. Joey*

              Sort of like LinkedIn? Or weeding out folks who apply in person at an application kiosk?

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s been well demonstrated that a ton of unconscious bias takes place at the initial screening stage. It happens at the interview stage too, of course, but at least at that point the person has a much greater opportunity to demonstrate their fit for the position than less-than-one-minute they might have with just a resume and cover letter.

            There’s no reason to see people on video at that stage, for the vast majority of jobs.

      2. neverjaunty*

        As we’ve seen from prior letters, sometimes they don’t (at least until the in-person interview). A video resume just offers that many more opportunities to get it wrong.

        1. Joey*

          But it’s still no different from applying in person and that was never an eeo concern?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The EEO is far more active these days than it was in the days where applying in person was common; they’re far more concerned now with how potentially discriminatory application requirements truly relate to the needs of the position.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I really can’t figure out your comments on this post and whether you’re playing devil’s advocate or what. Do you think video interviews are a good idea and if so why? I’m having trouble understanding your stance.

                1. Joey*

                  I don’t think they’re a good idea because it’s inefficient but I dont see any eeo concerns that you are seeing. To me it feels like it’s being thrown out there because it sounds like better justification but I don’t think it holds up when you consider the points I’m making.

                2. Joey*

                  i kind of feel like it’s easier to justify it to ourselves and as an inherently bad practice when we tie it to eeo. Eventually I think videos will be a huge part of the application process for most jobs. Hell, companies are already selling it as a way to automate the interview process.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’m not throwing it out there because it sounds like better justification; I think the other reasons for opposing them stand on their own and are hugely compelling regardless of the bias piece.

                  But of course introducing additional, earlier opportunities for bias is a real concern too. We know that unconscious bias is real and that the blinder we can make our evaluations, the better; I can’t think of any reason to not note that this provides additional early opportunity for bias, without any corresponding value that would trump that concern.

                4. Joey*

                  The blinder we can make ourselves the better?

                  That’s just not realistic unless you advocate for anonymizing names, addresses, interviews, colleges etc.

                  It’s much more realisitic to be proactive about having a diverse workforce and be comfortable defending your choices to the Eeoc and in court.

                  In fact you could probably make the opposite argument also- that you’re doing it as a way to have some evidence of a diverse applicant pool

      3. AW*

        How’s it any different from unconscious bias based on resumes/interviews?

        Or the photo you have on LinkedIn, if you have one. I think I said this on another thread a while back, but fear of bias prevented me from having a photo up for a long time. After a few particularly miserable interviews I put one up because you’re right: delaying the reaction to your race/gender/etc. until the in person interview doesn’t help you at all.

      4. Tau*

        I mentioned up-thread that I have a speech disorder and think I’d be at a real disadvantage if video covering letters caught on in a way that I’m not right now.

        The reason for that is that the video covering letter would allow a potential employer to turn their first initial reaction of “WTF??” into an unthinking rejection really, really easily. A telephone interview means more investment on their part and a better chance for me to talk them through that initial reaction so that it doesn’t eclipse everything else I bring to the table. This is also the reason I never tick “yes” on the “do you have a disability?” checkbox I’ve run across a few times. I know it’ll become obvious I do during the process, but I’m most worried about discrimination at the initial screening stage.

        Make sense?

  12. MsChanandlerBong*

    The only good video interview ever recorded is the one Elle Woods used to get into Harvard.

    1. Doy*

      Oh Yes!

      And even then, she also studied the be-jeepers out of her LSATs. (One of the great what-should-I-do-with-my-life movies)

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Lets face it, she already had what it took to be a good lawyer. She was already into activism (no scratchy tp!). She also had the ability to connect with people. Getting dumped was a fortunate happenstance.

  13. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

    I also feel it’s worth saying that if this is totally beyond the realm of comfortable for you, skip this application even if you feel you don’t have the luxury to do that. I’m an introvert and even though I do presentations for a living, I would hate this. I would not apply for a job with this kind of application because I’d be pretty sure that there would be aspects of the job itself that would make me super uncomfortable and not be a good fit for me. So that on it’s own is reason enough to skip it. Spend the time on a job better suited to who you are.

    1. Nutcase*

      Exactly the same here. Just the thought of doing this is making me feel nervous. I know I would be terrible at it and I’d have to do so many takes before finally reaching peak anxiety, giving in and pressing submit just to make it all go away and then going back to freaking out about what I just sent to a bunch of strangers. Argh horrible flashbacks from a school project that made me do something like this.

  14. OP*

    Thank you for all of your feedback and stories! Several issues I’m facing with my clients are: 1) they do not have a way to record themselves (many do not have smart phones), 2) those who do have smart phones aren’t video aficionados and don’t have quiet/private places to record, and 3) I work with a lot of minorities and this just opens so many NOPE gates for EEO complaints that I have no idea what to do!

    1. LBK*

      Not sure if this is ever remotely feasible for your office, but would you be able to get a couple digital recorders you could sign out to people and/or a conference room you could let them use if it’s free?

      It just kind of emphasizes how discriminatory these practices are from the get go; starting from the assumption that everyone has access to the kind of technology you’d need to create a video resume cuts out huge chunks of your potential workforce (and I’d be willing to be a disproportionate amount of them are minorities).

      1. OP*

        This is a great idea, some of us have laptops with webcams but no actual software for video producing (they are company property). Do you know of any quality free video editing software? These are PCs (and have insane amounts of virus protection software that sometimes hinders me from doing my job).

        1. LBK*

          Windows Media Maker isn’t great but it’s probably serviceable for something relatively simple like this (free download off the Microsoft site). At the very least it will let you trim the video to clip off dead air at the beginning/end and export it into a usable format.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Libraries/library computers maybe? I wonder if there is a place that might rent out webcams or laptops (which usually come with built in cameras) or video cameras for a couple hours for a small fee. Not ideal since I’m assuming you work with low income job seekers as well, but maybe worth investigating.

      The problem is, when you start with something awful, it’s hard to give good advice. Like trying to tell people the best way to hide a dead body. There are bigger issues at play.

      1. OP*

        The library doesn’t have webcams in this part of town (not sure if they have them in other locations though, I will find out).

    3. JMegan*

      See, that’s where something like what Al Lo’s husband’s boss was suggesting (at 2:27 above) could come in handy. I assume they were thinking of a for-profit model, which may not work for your clients, but there does seem to be a market for it!

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Spitballing a bit here off Megan & Al Lo’s comments…

        You might be able to work with a local college that teaches video production and see if their students would be willing to take on a project like this with your clients for a class project. Lots of community colleges and even high schools teach video production. The teachers I know are big on community outreach projects and would jump at the chance to have their students work on something like this.

        1. OP*

          This is a fantastic idea! I’ll run it by my boss (we work extremely closely with the local community college so this is feasible)! Thanks!

      1. LBK*

        I think it’s similar to discussions we’ve had before about recording someone’s religion or other potentially protected characteristics in hiring materials – it’s not inherently an EEO violation just to have that info available, but it opens a door to the question of whether discrimination occurred when it could otherwise stay more firmly shut. Given that there’s no real benefit to it, the risk vs. reward of having to deal with a discrimination claim just isn’t worth it.

            1. Joey*

              surely many folks know not putting up a picture is a disadvantage and therefore an implied requirement.

              1. Us, Too*

                I don’t have a photo on Linked In and don’t think it’s a big deal. I can’t imagine anyone thinking it is “required”.

      2. Melissa*

        Because people sometimes have unconscious biases and stereotypes against minority racial/ethnic/nationality groups. They are unintentional, and not directly the fault of the person doing the screening – sometimes they’re simply a result of living in a world that privileges certain racial/ethnic/nationality groups over others. But they still exist; there’s a wealth of evidence showing that they exist and that they disadvantage people in hiring processes. Moreover, there’s evidence that when humans have to make quick decisions and judgments, they rely more heavily on heuristics and stereotypes to make decisions.

        Yes, the disadvantage might still exist at the interview stage, but at that point you’ve at least gotten through an initial screen – the hiring manager is spending a lot more time on your package, more time that they can engage the conscious part of their brain and override any stereotypes (conscious or not) that might exist. It could be that much more damaging in an initial screen, in which the hiring manager is only spending a few minutes on your package and that heuristic part of the brain kicks in and makes some kneejerk assumptions.

        Besides, even if we have a perfectly unbiased manager who doesn’t make those kinds of decisions, this process still opens up the company to accusations of biases.

          1. Elizabeth*

            I think the idea is that, yes, they provide the same info, but the hiring manager is spending more time on it and has more invested, and so may be able to cancel out some of the unconscious bias simply by thinking about it more. Especially with in-person interviews.

            1. Elsajeni*

              Yes, exactly. People with the intent to discriminate are going to find ways to discriminate; sadly, there’s probably no way to eliminate the possibility altogether. People who are really, really dedicated to not discriminating can find ways to conceal information from themselves as much as possible (have someone anonymize resumes before you screen them? use an image-blocking extension when you look at people’s LinkedIn pages?), if they feel like that helps, and also very consciously focus on giving a fair hearing to each candidate and not yielding to any unconscious bias. But most people are somewhere in between — they don’t set out wanting to discriminate, but they aren’t super aware of whatever unconscious biases they might have — and those are the people for whom the difference between “I’m instantly turned off by this candidate, but he came all this way for an interview, so I’ll be polite and hear him out” and “I’m instantly turned off by this candidate and he has no way of knowing how much of his video I watched, NEXT” could be a big deal.

  15. Amber Rose*

    I am an extremely competent person and generally get along with everyone, but I’m not conventionally attractive (and don’t even try to tell me they don’t judge looks, at least on some level) and there is no way I could videotape myself without looking ridiculous.

    I would never even bother with something this awful. It would feel too demeaning.

  16. Naomi*

    I applied to a job (teaching English abroad) that required this. I put off doing the video, and then they called me for a surprise phone interview at four in the morning (they knew from my application where I lived but I guess they didn’t look up the time difference). After that I decided not to pursue the job.

    1. LBK*

      I hope they were at least sufficiently mortified that they’d made that error, but I’m going to sadly guess that instead they were indignant that you weren’t available.

      1. Naomi*

        I don’t think they knew what time it was. The phone woke me up and I just did the interview (it was a phone screen, not an in depth interview).

    2. AW*

      I had a friend who had a horrific experience with a job teaching English abroad (he was able to get home, thank goodness). This does not surprise me.

    3. Stephanie*

      My friend got a rejection call for a job while she was in Japan on vacation. But in that case, the recruiter realized she was calling at like 4 am Tokyo time and apologized profusely.

  17. Labyrinth*

    Have a clean background! Don’t record yourself in the bathroom or in front of an unmade bed covered in laundry. No distractions, definitely no mess or garbage.

    Check your appearance. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to wear interview clothes, but you definitely should brush your hair, look basically groomed and wear a neutral shirt.

    1. CanadianDot*

      And if you’re going to do it bottomless, make sure there’s no reflective surfaces behind you…

  18. hnl123*

    Ouch. I think video resumes open up a whole can of worms.

    One thing I would add (as I was into vlogging for a hot minute) is that you have to put on 120%.
    Meaning, speaking upbeat in real life translates to flat on camera. I had to give it more “oomph” and “pizzazz” into my voice than was comfortable but on camera made it appear normally upbeat (not over the top).

    Also, when I’m talking, I don’t particularly notice my speaking habits (trailing off at end of sentences, vocal fry, certain times I don’t enunciate the ends of words) but those were painfully apparent on video.

    I would definitely practice recording yourself, and watching yourself speak. It’s cringe worthy and time consuming but the finished product will be better.

  19. sunny-dee*

    I work in the tech field, but not with startups, but I have *never* heard of this. As an example, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft don’t require this. So, that should probably raise some red flags.

    The other question is, aside from being gimmicky, is there some reason or skill they are trying to screen for? Like, my husband is DO for a healthy / natural foods local chain. They require associates to be able to interact, describe the menu and the concept effectively, and answer basic nutrition questions. So, people who are super shy, overly familiar, or otherwise have poor communication skills simply won’t succeed in the job. Maybe they’re trying to screen for the ability to communicate verbally or present a professional image?

    That’s an absolutely horrible, horrible way of doing it, but maybe if there’s a way to determine what they hope to gain from it, you can come up with a less terrible way of conveying that information / skillset.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Oh, just to say, my husband screens for good communication skills by, you know, talking and doing an in-person interview. Because he is not insane. ;)

  20. Nancie*

    Borrow a large, fluffy white cat to sit on your lap while you record the video, y/y?

    1. Allison*

      Bahahaha oh man, I would totally do that. And wear a suit, sit in a fancy chair and have a martini in the hand that isn’t petting the cat, and talk like a bond villain. “I’ll bet you’re wondering why you should hire me . . .” Maybe I’d wear an eye patch too, just for effect. They want a production? They’ll get a production. I may not get the job but it would be fun as hell.

  21. Althea*

    A long time ago, I was at a job where we received an unsolicited video cover letter for an open PR position. It was… the worst disaster of a video.

    – the camera was positioned so you saw his head and almost as much space above his head for some reason (no shoulders
    – the interviewee looked to one side of the camera the entire time like he was on a 60 minutes interview
    – the lighting was terrible and made him look ill
    – he did not smile
    – he tilted his head up a ridiculous amount (a coworker claimed she thought it was because he was heavy and was trying to disguise a double chin)
    – mostly… it was over 30 minutes long
    – despite the length, he STILL didn’t manage to list specific accomplishments, and instead sounded like boilerplate nonsense

    I didn’t really care for it when my coworkers turned it on in the lunchroom and proceeded to watch it and make fun of him, but presumably they ended up sending a polite rejection and he never knew.

  22. sittingduck*

    Do the application specifiy ‘person talking to the camera’ video cover letters?

    What if you make it like a presentation – and use powerpoint to highlight the important parts of your cover letter – and not show your face at all. You could choose to voice over or just put some nice music in the background for ambient noise. (Not endorsing this as a good way of hiring, but if you HAVE to do it….)

    Or perhaps just take a video of your actual cover letter -as in the paper version of it, or the digital version, just sitting on the screen for 60 seconds –

    Not really likely to gain you any points in hiring, but might help to make the point that video cover letters are dumb…..and it would be pretty funny.

    1. Melissa*

      If for some reason I decided to apply for a job that required a video cover letter, I would probably go with what you suggested – do a voice-over of some relevant video clips or something (like recording a Prezi version of my cover letter with my voice in relevant parts).

    2. OP*

      I don’t know if faces need to be included…I could definitely help clients with the PowerPoint movie thing. Not really sure about the voice over part…

  23. Cristina in England*

    Is there anything the OP can do to push back to the employers? Like, let them know that they’re opening themselves up to a discrimination problem, or anything else? Is that something a government careers service could do?

    1. OP*

      Certainly not at my level. :-/ All I can do is point out the video cover letter requesting ads to my supervisor and explain why this is a horrible idea (I have already done this).

  24. Melissa*

    I’m actually looking for jobs mostly in tech, but I don’t think I would apply for a job that required a video cover letter. Sounds terrible!

      1. AW*

        I would actually cite LinkedIn as a reason to decline doing the video. “If you need to know my race, age, and gender before interviewing me, I have a photo up on LinkedIn.”

        1. Joey*

          It’s not an efficient method for sure but I’m sure they’re doing it more for speaking skills, presentation and energy.

        2. NickelandDime*

          I agree AW. Because there is no good reason for doing this unless it’s specifically related to the job – and the people in those types of jobs have plenty of clips for people to watch.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Photos on LinkedIn aren’t required; they’re optional. This is required.

            And I’ve seen lots of stuff from HR people expressing discomfort about photos on LinkedIn for this very reason.

            1. Joey*

              HR people are by profession risk averse.

              This is no different than what most staffing companies do- see you at the application phase.

          2. Lalaith*

            Because LinkedIn is *entirely optional*. You can apply for a job without having a LinkedIn profile at all.

    1. Myrin*

      This is actually the norm in my country. (Like, it’s not even asked for, it’s just a thing that’s done.)
      I think it’s horrible and don’t really know what purpose it’s supposed to achieve.
      (I can still imagine I was rejected from a super part-time-y part-time job specifically for uni students years ago because it was in a boutique and I’m not particularly attractive. They were super enthusiastic about my initial application through email [without photo] and then were still looking long after I’d been rejected. Obviously there could be a number of reasons for that and I wasn’t disgruntled about it or anything but a part of me couldn’t help but wonder if my appearance played a role.)

  25. Patty*

    Be careful about your background and be sure not to get interrupted.

    Also, be sure to check for quality, lighting, seeing your face full in the frame etc.

    1. CanadianDot*

      From off screen: “Chuckeeeee!! Do you want me to bring you up a snack? You know that if you don’t eat, you’ll get all grumpy-pants, and my little man doesn’t want that, now does he? I’ll bring you up some juice and cookies!”


      And black screen.

  26. Bekx*

    My friend was working as tech recruiter for awhile. I can’t remember if they did pre-recorded video interviews or if it was a skype interview, but they had a big problem with the person they spoke to on the phone/skype/video not being the person who showed up to work on the first day.

    That’s why they did video interviews, so they could prove it wasn’t the same person….but I still think they are icky.

    1. Delyssia*

      WTF? Who gets someone else to interview for them?

      Also, why was this company not doing any sort of in person interview prior to hiring?

      So many questions…

      1. Bekx*

        A lot of their hiring was overseas for really technical programming positions. So they would have a video interview and it would be one person who shows off his or her talents in programming. Then they hire the person and find out it’s NOT the right person.

        They also had people forge their university degree, but I guess that the background checking took so long since it was international that people would work a week or two, get paid, and then be found out to be fraudulent.

  27. It's not love ... but it ain't bad*

    I can easily see how these “video interviews” could be misused.

    On the other hand – I think the entire process of developing and putting together a short video “interview” can be a valuable experience. I made some tutorial videos back in grad school and learned a lot of things that serve me well to this very day, for all manner of speaking gigs.

    That said, one of my pet peeves is inappropriate use of video for content that would be better presented via text or even PPT. Also, it’s rather more difficult to index video content for use by a search engine.

  28. Elizabeth West*

    I’m going to bookmark this advice, because it is relevant for certain activities that may not be work-related. So thanks, Alison, for giving tips along with the ick. (I do think it’s ick for cover letters.)

Comments are closed.