Since the pandemic hit, most lawyers are now working from home. And if you’re looking for your next role there’s a good chance that any interview you’re lucky enough to secure will also be virtual. Interviewing for a job is never easy. All the standard advice about how to prepare for and perform during an interview still applies, but there are key differences to prepare for the next time you find yourself interviewing online.
Set yourself up in the best possible circumstances - faulty technology will be detrimental to the process. Some things are obvious: check your internet connection is stable, ensure your device is fully charged and that all other devices are on silent.
It also pays to spend time familiarising yourself with the platform of choice, especially if it’s new to you. Are there any specific features like screen sharing that you could test ahead of time? Do you know how to use the gallery function so that you can see all participants? This is important in picking up visual prompts and cues.
Find somewhere appropriately lit and quiet. Avoid sitting with your back to a window for instance. Ensure others sharing your space (pets, housemates, parents, children) are aware of and away from your interview.
Remember your space now also includes camera angles, so try to elevate the webcam and show yourself from the chest up, look into the webcam and hide anything distracting in the background. A neutral and/or professional background is best for your interview.
Your goal is to look professional. Wear solid colours where possible. And avoid the temptation to only wear professional apparel on top: you never know when you might need to stand-up.
You might also consider standing during the interview. It can actually be more dynamic. Your vocal chords tend to warm up faster so it’s easier to project your voice and influence your audience.
Research the organisation ahead of time. Time may have passed between your application and your interview, so ensure your information is as up to date as possible. Check their website, any newsletters and social media feeds up to and including the interview day. You might also try reviewing what the organisation is doing in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Rehearse your talking points beforehand and do a test run. Try completing a mock interview with yourself on camera before your real interview. Experiment with how you might answer common questions. As you go about practising your answers to common interview questions, think about what technical legal questions you might be asked. And don’t forget those behavioural ones!
Speak clearly and take it slow. Ask and answer questions normally with a controlled tempo. If you’re nervous and/or talk a lot using run-on sentences with no period at the end, practise pausing and breaking your thoughts into short sentences. By making them short, you will pack more punch! And pausing at the right time can really play to your strengths.
Monitor your body language. If you tend to be shy, expand your range of expression (and what you’re comfortable doing) by practising what might feel like even an exaggerated performance - using hand gestures and passion.
Log in ten minutes early to test connectivity and equipment so you can be calm and centred. During a virtual interview, you won’t get the same level of non-verbal information from the interviewer – things like eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, posture and the actual physical distance between yourselves. There’s lots of research that shows when we don’t have feedback, we tend toward a negativity bias and think “this isn’t going well.”
So experiment ahead of time by staying positive and assuming the best is happening. You might have a mantra you tell yourself when you start to doubt your performance. Or you might sit quietly for five minutes before the interview starts and mentally review all the reasons why the interview is likely to go well. Be easy on yourself!
This is one of the biggest challenges of interviewing virtually. Body language is very important in a virtual call. Be animated and emotive in your voice and use appropriate hand gestures, sit tall and smile, nod when listening. And maintain “eye contact” by looking directly into the camera rather than at the screen or at your own picture.
Practise with a friend on video to get some feedback about the setting, your tone, and your body language. Try exaggerating your emotions a bit on the screen. You might record yourself answering a few sample questions and watch how you appear. You’ll want to appear natural and at ease.
There is no doubt the pandemic has made people more eager to connect with colleagues on an emotional level. Your interviewer may have a higher expectation about how much warmth you convey during the interview. Follow the lead of the interviewer on small talk. You don’t need to go into unnecessary detail.
Some say those who ask the best questions are the most likely to win the interview panel over and even win the job. Be curious!
Always go in armed with at least two excellent questions. Time may be limited so ask your two best questions first. Open-ended questions will allow the interviewer to elaborate, giving you more intel and better establishing your connection. And ask questions in the first person so you’re encouraging the interviewer to think about you actually being in the job. This strategy can reveal what the interviewer is thinking about you right there and then.
You can also ask about their on-boarding process in the virtual environment and explore how the organisation is currently helping new hires with their induction process and acclimatising into roles.
Even though you can’t physically shake each other’s hand, don’t be afraid to show your personality. Interviewers are equally interested in soft skills and communication. In-house lawyers especially must strike the right balance between hard and soft skills and demonstrate ability to successfully manage and partner with different stakeholders.
Manners go a long way. Say thank you for setting the time aside. With the shift in work hours and home responsibilities these days, it’s important to acknowledge the effort made.
In closing, some of the tips and techniques I’ve encouraged you to consider and action won’t all necessarily come naturally to you — and that’s okay. By making use of your natural ability and trying new ways to interview virtually, you’re expanding your comfort zone and increasing your repertoire for what is really an online performance. This is how we can further develop in what has become an even more rapidly changing world. And it’s also how you can put your best foot forward to win the job.
Greg Monks is the Head of Orbit Legal Resourcing. He has been in client-facing roles all of his career. Prior to moving into legal recruitment, Greg was a lawyer who practised for 8+ years (ex-Norton Rose Melbourne, London in-house and NSW Government). His global career in legal, human resources, talent acquisition/management and business development roles has afforded him a unique perspective, a diverse skillset and a wide network within the legal industry in various jurisdictions.
If you’re interested in joining Orbit, contact Greg for a confidential conversation on how Orbit can work for you.
Head of Orbit
Phone: +61 3 9672 3187