Hannah Salton

Some law firms have been using virtual video interviewing for their vacation scheme and training contract applications for years. Now, thanks to the current climate, virtual videos and assessment centres are considered the norm.

Many people – including experienced lawyers – feel nervous about being interviewed virtually. The good news is that virtual job interviews are more similar to face to face interviews than many candidates think.

But what specifically can students and graduates do to help prepare for Skype or Zoom interviews?

Here are seven tips to help you prepare:

Get the basics right

Make sure you have a strong internet connection, a working camera and mic, and that those in your household knows that you have an interview. If you do get interrupted during the call by a curious pet or housemate, don’t worry.  Interviewers understand that we are operating in tricky times.  Do your best to keep disturbances to a minimum, but recognise that some things are out of your control.

Be visible

Try not to be too far away, or too close to the screen. Aim to appear similar to how you would on a passport photo – all your head and the top of your shoulders. Do a trial run with a friend to check your sound and visuals work okay. If you want to raise your laptop to be level with your head, you can do this with books – just make sure it’s stable and won’t topple over!

Remember why you’re interviewing

If we focus too much on our nerves about the technical element of virtual interviews, it can distract us from the main purpose of your interview – to prove your commitment to training with that firm. Remind yourself of your original motivation for pursuing a career in commercial law, as well as why specifically you want to train at that firm. Focus on quality answers rather than quantity – it’s better to fully explain your motivation, rather than reciting a long list of reasons without expanding on any of them.

Dress as you would for a face to face interview

You could argue that as long as you’re dressed smart from the shoulders up, you can wear whatever you like, but dressing fully for the occasion will help you get in the zone for the interview. In the legal industry particularly, making a professional first impression counts.

Make sure you are comfortable, but don’t risk pyjama bottoms – you might need to stand up during the interview – and your potential employer seeing you in your fluffy PJs might not create the best impression.

Think about body language

Body language is still important, even if you’re not in the same room. Use your hands naturally to emphasise what you’re saying – don’t wave them around loosely, or keep them too rigid. Use them to show your energy and enthusiasm for what you’re talking about, and demonstrate your passion for the firm you’re interviewing with.

I would recommend looking at the interviewer on screen to pick up any visual cues you can, rather than eyeballing the camera, but it’s important your eye contact should feel natural too.

Use simple notes, but don’t rely on them

Some dedicated aspiring lawyers think a virtual interview is a great opportunity to have detailed notes or scripted answers in front of them. Extensive notes can cause more harm than good, and be a distraction from being present and connecting with your interviewer.

Print off a copy of your CV, and if it’s helpful – have a few very brief bullet points on it to remind you of a couple of essential points – but don’t rely on them. It’s important to focus on the interviewer, and speak naturally and from the heart. This will help convince them of your genuine interest and motivation.

Be mindful of volume and pace

It’s important you are clear and can be heard, but don’t shout! You could ask the interviewer at the start “can you hear me OK, or should I speak louder?”. Most candidates speak very quickly during an interview due to nerves, which can mean it’s tricky for the interviewer to follow – this can be exaggerated if the internet connection isn’t great.

Speak slowly, with impact and meaning, and try and avoid filler words like ‘erm’ or ‘err’ creeping in. Try practising some of your answers out loud beforehand to get used to hearing the sound of your own voice, but don’t prepare fully scripted answers – you will sound robotic and inauthentic.

Hannah Salton is an executive coach, career consultant and former corporate recruiter. She previously worked in graduate recruitment for companies including BT and Allen & Overy.