7 Video Resume Failures That Make Employers Press “Pause”

My very first video resume was embarrassing.

At the time, I thought it was pretty good.

I had some music going in the background because it seemed like a way to add personality.

Bad idea.

After reviewing my recording, I noticed there was also a dog barking somewhere in the background.

On top of that, the lighting wasn’t very good in the room where I filmed myself.

I had shadows on my face, and it made my eyes look a little sunken…

However, this seemed fine to me – after all, I was applying for a PhD-level position not a scholarship to do a documentary 

I didn’t want to re-film the whole thing as I had a ton of work to do (I was in a postdoc at the time).

So, my potential employers ended up with a bad music video featuring a creepy-looking woman who might have lived near a dog kennel.

I did not get the job, and I received a short LinkedIn reply from the recruiter, who said I needed to “up my video resume game.”

At the time, I felt angry at the rejection because I knew I was qualified.

Wasn’t a written resume enough?

Why did I have to shoot this whole video of me talking awkwardly?

It felt like my candidacy for the job was being judged by an irrelevant lack of talent in videography.

But the recruiter was right.

A video resume is a first impression (not including a cover letter/written resume). 

Like it or not, you have to know the rules of industry to get a job in industry.

The traditions and rules may feel foreign and needless to you, but you still have to play by the rules if you want to win.

You may be a talented, hard-working scientist, but no industry employer will care about that if you don’t go about your job search the right way.

And trust me – having transitioned into industry a long time ago, it’s worth it.

Why You Should Prepare (Or Be Ready To Prepare) A Video Resume

Video resumes are becoming common. 

I have talked to a lot of employers/recruiters and they are seeing more video resumes every day.

With the outbreak, quarantine, and recession, most people are stuck at home.

But the job market is still very active for PhDs right now, and that means resumes need to be sent and read.

Now, employers have a certain mindset in recessions like this one. 

Thanks to the challenge of a difficult economy, employers feel cautious and risk-averse.

This means that they are going to take some precautions here and there, and they will be extra sensitive to the things you say and do as a job candidate.

They don’t always want to jump into a phone or video interview right away – they want to see you in action first, and the way they do that is by requesting a video resume.

They might ask for it after seeing your written resume, but they might also jump straight to the video resume without seeing a written one first.

Video resumes are definitely not replacing live interviews, but they are helping employers to make good judgments about a candidate before interacting in person.

Maybe you’ve seen this in academic admissions as well, but it’s taking over industry now. 

Does this sound intimidating?

Here’s the good news: If you have used the Cheeky Scientist “gold standard” resume template, you already know the order in which you need to communicate things in your video resume.

7 Parts Of Your Video Resume That Need Close Attention

Video resumes should be short. 

This is the first of many rules you have to follow when recording your video resume.

Employers are not going to watch your video for more than 5 minutes, and the last thing you want to do is make them feel bored the first time they see you on camera. 

Of course, if the job posting or the recruiter/hiring manager you’re talking to says they want a certain length, give them whatever they ask for. 

That said, most employers just want to get a sense of how you carry yourself. 

It’s very possible that you might be asked to record a video resume by an employer—and soon.

Below, I will discuss 7 things you need to consider when creating a strong, professional video resume that will land you the job.

1. How you express yourself.

You’ve heard of smiling into the phone for a phone screen.

The same applies here – when you start your video, you want to smile. 

Make sure to at least have half a smile on your face as you’re talking. 

Look like you’re really enjoying being there—like you’re enthusiastic. 

You can’t have a scowl or droopy eyes.

In fact, even a neutral expression is only okay for a couple of seconds here and there.

This makes a big difference, trust me.

No monotone speech either.

Don’t overdo it, but realize that in a video, your energy is really hard to read. 

In person, you can experience somebody else’s energy level and mood pretty easily. 

You can see all their mannerisms, for example. 

But when you’re on video, it will be more difficult for people to read you, especially if they don’t know you. 

In your video resume, elevate your energy levels to about twice their normal intensity. 

Be lively, yet professional.

2. The setting and background.

When recording, use a stable surface. 

Don’t hold your phone in front of your face like it’s a family Zoom call – it’s too informal.

Approach your video resume with the same professionalism you would a video interview. 

Use your desktop or your laptop. 

Camera lighting is also crucial. 

Most people don’t have proper lighting in their home for a professional video. 

For example, your face has to be well-lit enough to prevent the appearance of dark circles under your eyes due to shading.

The easiest solution is to face a window as you record your video resume. 

Dress like you would for an interview, even though it’s just the resume stage.

You will also want to test the audio to avoid excess noise like neighbors, animals, cars, etc.

The ideal spot should be well lit, yet quiet.

Fortunately, it’s not live, so you can do a few audio/video tests before confirming that everything works as it should. 

It’s also a good idea to show your video resume to a couple of people and get some feedback.

3. The camera style and frame.

As far as the angle and shot of the video, it should be done on a typical horizontal screen (no vertical shots like you’d get with a phone).

The picture should span from the top of your head to the bottom of your thorax. 

You don’t want to be a floating head.

If you look at newscasters, notice that they’re always in the shot at the angle I’m describing: from the middle of the chest to the top of the head. 

This is the optimal frame of view for the maximum expression of positivity and strong energy through body language.

Make sure you’re sitting up straight with your shoulders back and your eyes looking around the camera on your device.

You want to simulate really being in the room with them by providing as many good human social cues as possible. 

This way, they will be thinking about you instead of the fact that you’re on a screen.

4. What you say (and when to say it).

Your video resume doesn’t have to be a master-crafted script.

Start by introducing yourself, describe some professional qualities, and then go into your 3 biggest career highlights. 

This is important though: Mention those career highlights, but make them more conversational.

On your written resume, everything should be completely professional and formal.

But that kind of communication doesn’t sound right in a video resume – you will sound like a robot if you try to read directly off a written resume.

Your video version should sound something like this:

Hi, I’m so and so. My background is in XYZ. I have XYZ transferable skills and XYZ technical skills from [career highlight], and this led to XYZ results. 

And so on.

You should use the standard industry resume bullet point structure, but make sure that it’s shorter and more conversational. 

5. How you communicate information processing skills.

One transferable skill that you absolutely must mention is your ability to do research—to  quickly find, collect, and synthesize data. 

Mention your ability to analyze data and information, and your ability to learn quickly. 

Information processing is an essential transferable skill, and as a PhD, you have it.

You should especially mention information processing if you don’t have industry experience yet. 

This will make up for it. 

Don’t just mention the skill, though. 

Relate it to your work experience and talk about where you’ve actually worked.

If you don’t have industry experience yet, create your video resume in the functional format.

Essentially, a functional resume emphasizes what you took away from your time as a graduate research assistant or postdoctoral fellow.

Instead of relying on job titles, you will focus on the skills and the results that your work produced. 

6. Mentioning your education.

Next, you can introduce your education. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t mention your PhD upfront – I would actually mention that you’re a PhD at the very beginning. 

Employers can’t see the “Ph.D.” after your name like they can on a piece of paper, so it’s worth noting upfront.

You could open by saying:

I’m Sarah Smith. I have a PhD in XYZ. I have these transferable and technical skills that have led to result XYZ… 

After your education, list anything that you haven’t mentioned yet—anything that’s relevant to the position. 

7. Expressing more personal content will add a human touch.

Finally, you can end with who you are personally, just like on your written resume.

Now, if you’re feeling confident, you could mention this personal info upfront.

Sometimes, this works very, very well: 

I’m Sarah Smith. I have a PhD in XYZ, and I specialized in XYZ. I really enjoy [a couple of hobbies that make you sound active and engaged with life].

Don’t go overboard with the personal info – a couple of hobbies or interests will do.

In particular, list anything that humanizes you.

Especially if you can relate it to the job you are applying for.

Remember to keep things professional, yet conversational—a little bit more narrative. 

This whole video resume process is similar to that of the professional summary on your LinkedIn profile. 

Make sure you close by telling them why you’re really looking forward to working at their company. 

Video resumes are getting more common every day and they provide an amazing opportunity to make a first impression that will guarantee you move to the next stage of the hiring process. Just make sure to smile on the camera, have a professional background and attire, and keep a conversational tone while selling your previous experience and transferable skills. Don’t be afraid to share some personal details. In summary, showing portraying yourself as approachable yet professional will help you convenience employers that you are the right fit for the position. 

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Sarah Smith, PhD
Sarah Smith, PhD

Sarah Smith, PhD, holds a degree in Biochemistry. A tireless science consultant at large, her rigorous pursuit of pristine labwork is unflinching. Yet Sarah’s keenest passion--guiding emergent academics into the business world--stems from personal experience with the transitional struggles she would have no PhD face alone.

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