Great, you’ve got yourself a video interview!

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The in-house legal market has always been competitive. Legal departments, that are relatively small and rarely recruit, often have a huge number of applicants from magic, silver and US law firms to choose from. During the current health crisis there are fewer opportunities but more people looking, from the privacy of their homes.

Throughout our 20 years in recruitment, we have organised many video interviews, usually due to applicants being based in different locations. Often, we help lawyers looking to return to the London market after spending some time in Asia or the Middle East. Sometimes it will be Australian or New Zealand candidates looking to relocate to London. Some of our roles are based on the continent and looking for UK qualified lawyers. Or it could just be another location within the UK.

They have never really been popular, with either client or candidate.

In the past, many of our clients have decided against interviewing via video conference. Some hiring managers just haven’t felt comfortable using it. They often have enough applicants who are available to attend their offices without needing to extend the search. Often bad past experiences with failing technology put people off. Employers also often assume that the candidate is expecting a relocation package or that there may be visa and sponsorship issues to overcome. And often it takes longer to get relocating employees started.

Historically, video interviews have rarely been successful. Until the lockdown, we had hardly placed anyone via video interview alone, although they are often useful as subsequent interviews. It’s difficult for either party to show personality, meaning that ascertaining a good fit is very difficult. With cultural, personality and team fit being more important than ever in the in-house legal team, how can you possibly make an impression?

But now it’s a level playing field. All interviews are telephone or video, lawyers are embracing the change, and for the short term at least everyone is in the same boat.

What are the obstacles that you should anticipate?

  • No handshake
  • No small talk on the way to and from the interview room
  • Connection issues
  • Poor quality video
  • A delay on the line
  • Talking over each other (especially when being interviewed by more than one person)
  • Talking to a screen
  • Potentially more competition (employers can interview more people in a shorter timeframe via video)

In some ways, lawyers are better prepared than most. As employees of larger organisations with international coverage, if anyone is used to it, they are.

So how can you prepare?

  • If you have the choice of telephone or video, always choose video unless there is a good reason not to. As an in-house lawyer, hiring managers will want to see that you have the confidence to put yourself out there and won’t be hiding behind a screen when we are all back to the office.
  • Be available at short notice, your competition will be.
  • Make sure you have a decent, reliable device to use and plug it in so that you don’t lose power if the interview if it overruns.
  • Eliminate distractions. In this environment, employers are much more understanding, but still make sure your pets and children are in a different room. Make sure that you have a clear, clean backdrop without ornaments or photos and as little clutter as possible, so as not to distract the interviewer.
  • Remember that the hiring manager is getting an insight to how you would work from home too. Check what they are seeing is how you would want them to see you working. Make sure you are showing that you can separate your work life from your personal life.
  • Presentation is still important. Smart business wear but something comfortable would be best.
  • Anticipate technical problems, make sure you log on with plenty of time to spare.
  • Sit up straight. Even if they can only see your head, improving your posture will improve your confidence and performance. They want to be able to see expression on your face but not your blemishes!
  • Think about camera angle and don’t lean in towards the screen. We would suggest that you sit so that your head and shoulders are showing.
  • Avoid putting your head on your hands when sat at a laptop – try to keep your hands on your lap to avoid any kind of barrier between your face and the interviewer.
  • Focus on good eye contact which, with a screen is even harder! Practice on friends and family.
  • Have water close by in case it’s essential, but don’t sit with a cup of tea. You may have been offered tea and coffee in the office but when the setting is already relatively informal already it can send the wrong message.
  • Don’t forget to smile in the same way as you would face to face, but don’t be checking! It is always obvious when the interviewer is looking at themselves rather than the other person. Speak at a medium/loud comfortable volume.
  • Speak slowly and clearly. Make sure you practice if you suffer from nerves. Your voice will be more noticeable, but could also be more distorted by bad connection.
  • Limit your talk of Coronavirus. With the pandemic affecting everyone and so much cancelled it is very difficult not to talk about it but try to limit your conversation to checking that the interviewer and family are well and moving on if possible. Too much will be frustrating to someone who has multiple interviews to get through.
  • You should concentrate on listening and understanding more than normal. Interrupting and not understanding the question will be much more obvious via this more concentrated medium.
  • Don’t write. Whilst we would often suggest taking a notebook and pen into an interview, we wouldn’t advise it for video calls. The interviewer will not be able to see what you are doing and will only pick up the bad eye contact and disinterest. If they are able to see what you are doing it will be distracting.
  • Don’t be afraid to leave some silence before answering, it might feel more awkward on the screen but it won’t come across and will ensure a more thought through reply.
  • Don’t save all your questions for the end. Be careful not to interrupt or takeover, but mentioning relevant points or asking questions during the interview can build the rapport early on.
  • Practice the video interview with a friend and ask them to tell you honestly how you come across.  

And remember, many of the usual methods of making you stand out from the crowd will still work. We’d be happy to share our interview technique guidance if you would like to get in touch.

April 2020

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