The Covid-19 pandemic has up-ended a lot of traditions, including the (in)famous law firm recruit across Canada. For 2020-2021, on-campus interviews (OCIs) and in-firm interviews are being moved online.
You might be wondering what you can expect with virtual law firm interviews. You’re not alone—I bet the lawyers interviewing you are wondering the exact same thing. A virtual recruit is uncharted territory for everyone involved. No one really knows what to expect.
The Basics of a Virtual Law Firm Interview
You should treat a virtual interview like a normal interview, but with a layer of technology added into the mix. In most respects, the same rules that apply to in-person interviews also apply to virtual interviews.
Wear Professional Attire
Interviewers will expect you to wear the same professional clothing in a virtual interview that you would wear for an in-person interview. For men, this means that you should wear a suit with a tie. Women should wear the equivalent dress wear.
The lower half of your outfit will be off-camera, so you could get away with wearing sweatpants or the like. But to be on the safe side, you should wear your full professional outfit. You never know what might happen during the course of an interview, and you don’t want to be caught only partially dressed.
Avoid “loud” or “busy” clothes, which can be exaggerated or distorted by the camera.
Be wary of wearing jewellery at a virtual interview. Your necklace, earrings, or other jewellery could reflect light and distort or blur your image. Larger pieces of jewellery risk appearing over-enlarged on the interviewer’s screen.
If you need to wear headphones or earbuds, wear them. After months of working from home, the lawyers interviewing you will be used to seeing all manner of home office set-ups. Earbuds, earphones, and headsets are all fair game. No one is paying attention to this aspect of your appearance as long as the interviewer can clearly hear you and you can clearly hear them.
Speak and Move Slowly
Video conferencing technology can insert a delay between when you speak and when the interviewer hears you. The inverse is also true. This means it is important to briefly pause before speaking.
Computer microphones can distort your words, so speak slowly and articulate each word. Also be aware of any ambient noise, which could be picked up and amplified by your microphone.
You should avoid any sudden movements, which could end up looking like a blur on the interviewer’s screen. Be slow and deliberate when moving, but for the most part you should be sitting stationary at your desk. If you have a tendency to fidget or tap your feet, make a conscious effort to avoid doing so. Such movement is distracting and any related noise could be picked up by your microphone.
Pick the Right Home Office Setting
Your home office should be professional, but “professional” is a low standard in this case. Your interviewer will understand that when working from home, you might not be working in an ideal location.
Wherever your home office is, make sure that you selectively position your camera to capture a presentable background. Your background should be plain and static. There shouldn’t be anything behind you that might distract the interviewer, such as any sort of movement or a messy bed. Try to pick a relatively uncontroversial background like a windowless wall with a neutral colour.
If possible, avoid virtual backgrounds. They usually look odd and cut off parts of your body if not done right.
Do not forget about lighting. Good lighting is crucial to a good video call. Too might light, and you’ll look washed out. Too little light, and you’ll be hard to see. Try to get a soft light coming down on you from above you, but not aimed directly at you. That light should be coming from behind your camera. You don’t need expensive equipment to achieve this sort of lighting. A few well positioned lamps or flashlights should be sufficient. Depending on the time of day, you might be best off by setting up your desk to face a window.
Don’t Forget the Technical Details
In addition to your normal interview preparation, virtual interviews also require technical preparation.
First, you need to choose the hardware for your virtual interview. Use a desktop or laptop computer rather than a mobile phone or a tablet. Phones and tablets make for unprofessional video calls. They usually lack widescreen camera lenses, they have difficult-to-position cameras, and they are hard to keep steady. Phones and tablets also have small screens, so you may not be able to see all of your interviewers at once.
Your computer monitor and webcam should be on a solid surface that won’t shift or vibrate. The webcam should be aimed straight at your upper body and face. It shouldn’t capture an angled or side view of your face. Your webcam should be placed immediately above your computer monitor so that, when watching the monitor, it appears that you’re looking straight into the camera.
Consider getting an external mouse if you don’t already have one. An external mouse, as opposed to a laptop trackpad, makes it easier for you to move your cursor without making any big movements. This can be helpful if you have to regularly mute and unmute yourself.
You’ll need to decide whether to use a headset or your computer’s built-in microphone and speakers. Choose whatever option has the best sound quality. When you aren’t talking frequently, you should mute your microphone.
Finally, you’ll need to figure out what software the interview requires. Download it ahead of time, if a download is required. Get familiar with the software and make sure that you meet the technical requirements for running the software.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Very few people have experience with virtual law firm interviews. If you are one of the many people without experience, then you need to practice ahead of time. Figure out what software the law firm is using for its video interview and get yourself a copy. With a friend, do a trial run. Test your microphone, camera, lighting, and general ability to have a conversation so that you know what works and what doesn’t work.
Your practice run should help you avoid technical difficulties during the actual interview. But keep in mind that technical difficulties are a staple of working from home. By this point in the pandemic, lawyers working from home are used to people on a video call cutting out, freezing, or forgetting to mute or unmute their microphone. Don’t stress too much if you have a technical difficulty. Your interviewer should be understanding.