How to Excel In Your Virtual Interview
- September 17, 2023
The practice of virtual interviewing has become far more commonplace across the legal industry, especially since the pandemic when it was largely the only option on the table. Forbes highlighted recently that rather than a systematic return to face-to-face, virtual interviews are now providing hirers with a sometimes additional step in their hiring process, helping to screen candidates using tech that is now familiar to all parties.
Despite lacking the obvious physical elements, most legal candidates will agree that any interview, virtual or physical, can be the most daunting aspect of the application process and as such, need thorough preparation. While there are notable upsides to the former that can help ease the nerves, there are also challenges to contend with, such as the added difficulty of figuring out how to make a great first impression without some of the reliable methods a face-to-face interview offers (such as a firm handshake and positive body language), and from an interviewee perspective – assessing whether the firm you’ve applied to is a good cultural fit.
That said, nailing a virtual interview needn’t be as daunting as it may appear.
1. Do Your Homework
Whether an interview is virtual or physical, its fundamental goal is the same – it is an opportunity for candidates and employers to meet, ask questions of each other and demonstrate why you as a candidate will be an ideal hire for the firm in question, while you test their compatibility with your skillset & ability to help you develop your legal career.
As such, there will always be constants present in the interview process and consequently, your preparation for them. Virtual or not, you can absolutely expect to be asked a number of questions about your professional profile, such as your background, career ambitions, reasons for moving into a new role and suitability for the role and firm.
You can and should start by researching the hiring firm, getting to know how it operates and what values and principles guide the business. The best places to get a good idea of these are the firm’s website and social media channels, as well as the kind of content the business posts online.
Remember that the firm will want to be absolutely sure the candidate they’re interviewing is meeting the bare minimum standards at the very least by doing their homework, and will be paying attention to how you tie your answers to questions about your suitability to their own core values, ambitions and culture, as well as your general knowledge of your practice area.
As this largely all boils down to having the basics covered, the hiring manager will be even more interested in what you can do to set yourself apart from the competition and so will be looking for how you can use the opportunity to add to what you’ve said in the interview. This means now is the time to ensure you have up-to-date knowledge of your practice area and the industry in general, and go beyond what is commonly found on the internet, bearing in mind other legal candidates will be thinking along the same lines.
This will often come in the form of the hiring manager asking you if you have any questions for them and this is where preparing questions of your own for the interviewer becomes crucial to making as strong an overall impression as possible. A useful tip for candidates is to spend a bit of into the background of the person you will be interviewed by on LinkedIn.
Although you can’t predict every single question, you can certainly make your answers to ones that you do prepare for foolproof, especially when it comes to competency-based questions. These are questions asked in order to see if the candidate can demonstrate their knowledge and skill in a specific area. Say that is client management for example. You would be asked to describe a situation or scenario where you demonstrated excellent client management skills, and be expected to back it up with the measurable result you achieved. Other competency-based questions to expect include:
- How do you deal with an X, Y or Z situation?
- How would you handle a difficult client? Can you share an example?
- Give an example of a time you handled conflict in the workplace?
2. Have Your Notes Handy (But Don’t Rely on Them)
It will be standard for the interviewer to ask for the best examples of your work, and so a digital document with bullet points highlighting what you wish to share, along with supporting notes should suffice and should be brought with you to the interview to refer to.
It is common for candidates to make the mistake of writing several pages of notes and then during the interview become overwhelmed by them when fishing around for the answer to a question. This misses the point of bringing notes to a virtual interview – they aren’t meant to be a crutch or a ‘cheat sheet’ to rely on, but rather a supplementary document to use only minimally.
Use them to refresh your memory of points you’ve already looked over and need a reminder on.
3. Practice Makes Perfect
General preparation for any interview should involve some element of practising your responses to anticipated questions, verbally and non-verbally.
Although what you say in an interview certainly matters, how you say it is also important– as your tone of voice and inflection should convey an air of confidence & enthusiasm for the role. Despite how much focus is often given to the words spoken in a virtual interview and how little body language is thought to be perceived, the majority of information about a person’s attitude, confidence level and interest in the topic will still come from your nonverbal communication. Just like in a face-to-face interview, this is what hiring managers will be paying close attention to when gauging if you are the right cultural fit for the firm.
Are you eyes darting about as you look at your notes off screen, or worse – your phone? Do you move about a lot on screen or appear agitated? Body language still matters even if you’re not there in person, so be mindful of how you conduct yourself.
Try practising with a friend or colleague, and keep an eye on things like your posture (which should be upright and not slumped forward or lax), eye contact (maintained when you or the interviewer is speaking), hands (gesturing when speaking but not overdoing it or fidgeting) and facial expressions (smiling regularly). Practice active listening when listening to your friend/colleague’s responses, nodding your head to give affirmation of your attention and understanding to them, and asking questions for clarification when necessary.
The practice you put in will be the foundation of your confidence when you hop on camera or send that recording to the hiring manager, and will be your biggest help in keeping the nerves at bay both during and after the video interview.
4. Get Comfortable – And Competent – On Camera
Whilst you may be asked to have a virtual interview on screen as part of the general hiring process, many firms now ask for a piece-to-camera as part of the initial screening process too. This may be to simply introduce yourself and highlight your skills and suitability for the role, or more often than not, to answer pre-set questions by the firm itself.
The obvious advantage here is the opportunity to record and retake as necessary to ensure you present yourself in the best possible light.
Two common cameras used for this purpose are webcams and smartphones but regardless of whichever you prefer, there are a few things to note about both:
When it comes to video technology in general, smartphones do a far better job, but will need to be used in conjunction with other accessories (such as a stand to avoid any shaking when recording, and a lav microphone to better capture your voice and avoid choppy audio) – in order to improve the overall quality of the video. With the use of video technology now widespread, they are a relatively inexpensive investment.
Another thing to note – and this applies whether you’re using a smartphone or webcam – is your background and lighting. Make sure you’re recording in a well-lit room with a plain, clutter-free and fairly quiet background that doesn’t have a window behind you in the frame. If you’re struggling to find a room that ticks the above boxes, you can use virtual or custom backgrounds instead.
Similar principles to the above apply when opting for a webcam, as these can often be plugged onto a monitor screen or already be part of your computer, should the video quality be good enough. Audio quality should be tested ahead of time, whether you’re using wired earphones, wireless ones or a lav microphone. Try to avoid using headphones or gaming headsets if possible, as they don’t give the most flattering impression and can be restrictive when you’re moving.
If it hasn’t been emphasised enough, practice is crucial, prerecorded video or not, as your first video recording is unlikely to be your best version and a rushed or poorly prepared video is easily noticeable. Apply the same tips mentioned above when recording, maintaining eye contact, and adjust your gaze when either you or someone else is speaking to get a good view of the body language they’re sharing. If they seem bored or look like they’re waiting for you to finish, chances are they are, so it’s best to avoid waffling when giving lengthy answers.
5. Don’t Neglect Your Appearance
Treat your appearance as you would in a physical interview and dress to impress, while keeping it polished, tidy and professional. While you can be a bit more relaxed with bottom wear – considering your top half is very likely what will be seen by the interviewer the whole time – avoid wearing anything informal or inappropriate – in case you’ll need to get up to adjust a cable quickly – as you may not be aware at that moment that it will be visible to the interviewer.
6. Sort Out the Technical Details – And Master Your Platform
Lastly, the software you’re using is also something you should be confident in using on the day of the interview, so be sure to verify what that will be with the hiring manager, and familiarize yourself with the platform ahead of time by practising the features you will be using, such as receiving calls, turning on your camera, setting up the virtual background (if you’ll be using one), sharing documents through the chat feature and screen sharing.
Be sure to double-check that your internet connection quality is working perfectly in advance, and notify the interviewer well ahead of time if you anticipate any issues. A thorough quality check can go a long way in calming the nerves before the video interview and minimise tardiness due to any technical difficulties.
That said, the best way of ensuring you show up on time and avoid letting the nerves take over, is to simply arrive early, like you would at a face-to-face interview, about 10 minutes before the set time. That way, any issues you do run into technical-wise, you will encounter while waiting, with enough time to resolve it, rather than at the very minute you’re expected to already be ready to start the interview.
The shift towards virtual interviewing in the industry has brought with it a new and unique set of challenges for candidates to navigate and regardless of the format, interviews remain a crucial and often nerve-wracking part of the job application process. But a confident, well-thought-out and well-practised approach can make them work to your advantage.
If you are using the services of a specialist recruiter as part of your job search, the likelihood is that you will also get the chance to ‘meet’ them on camera too as part of your introduction and registration. Use this as practice for your interview with the firm in question – and don’t be afraid of asking your recruitment consultant for help, advice, and constructive criticism – or even a mock-interview on screen so you can ensure you are fully ready and prepared.
About Clayton Legal
Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability during that time. We have made over 5,000 placements from Partners to Legal Executives, Solicitors to Paralegals and Legal I.T. personnel to Practice Managers.
If you are looking for your next career move, are unsure of opportunities in the market, or need a hand brushing up on your interview skills – we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.