updated on 13 February 2024
Video interviewing is a great way for law firms and chambers to get to know candidates before inviting them to an in-person interview or assessment centre. There are key differences between interviewing virtually and in person, so it’s essential you’re prepared.
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Talking on camera changed the world forever during the 1960 US presidential election, which saw the first televised debate between candidates – John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon.
Kennedy famously won the debate, which proved decisive in that election, not through the power of his arguments (radio listeners supposedly thought Nixon had won), but because he prepared for the special requirements of speaking to a camera, while Nixon thought it’d be just another debate.
Kennedy practised, prepared and rested beforehand, while Nixon did little preparation and spent most of the day before the debate campaigning hard, even though he was still recovering from an illness that had recently hospitalised him.
On the day of the interview, Nixon paid little attention to his clothes, refused make-up and ended up looking tired on people’s TV screens.
Kennedy’s team paid close attention to every detail, including choosing a blue shirt for Kennedy to wear because this looked better on black-and-white TVs.
When the debate started, Kennedy appeared relaxed and confident, while Nixon, having not rehearsed as extensively, fidgeted uncomfortably under the glaring lights.
While an online interview is no presidential debate, the lesson still stands – preparation is key.
There are two types of video interview that employers use when hiring. The first is a traditional face-to-face interview conducted over a webcam. The second is not 'live'; instead, the candidate records their answers to questions that appear on screen for the recruiter to view later. Some firms may require you to complete a recorded interview first and then a live interview if you get to the next stage.
Don't worry too much about what the interviewers can see in the background of the room you’re using – law firm recruiters understand that candidates live in shared accommodation where space is at a premium. But you’ll need a quiet location where you won't be disturbed by housemates, family or pets.
It’s always good practice to let other people know when your interview or assessment centre is taking place, and that you need to have a room undisturbed for a set amount of time.
Ideally, the space should be well-lit so that interviewers can see you clearly. Try to avoid sitting directly in front of the light or in a dark corner. If you’re worried about your background, remember you can add a blur or photographic background on most video call platforms like Teams or Zoom.
Close any open applications on your computer and put your phone on silent to prevent any distractions.
Make sure your internet connection, speakers and camera work well before the interview or assessment centre. Set up the computer so the camera is slightly above your eyeline if possible – avoid a low shot that has recruiters looking up your nose.
If you lose your internet connection during the interview or assessment centre, don’t panic! We’ve all experienced technical difficulties at some point so recruiters will understand. If you can't reconnect, you may be able to dial into the meeting on your phone, so keep this charged and nearby.
If problems persist, and you’re able to, use your mobile data to send a quick email to the HR team explaining that you lost connection – the firm should accommodate you.
Dress as you would for a formal interview. That includes the lower body – it’s unlikely you’ll need to move during the interview but if you do, the decision to wear pyjama bottoms will have backfired. Dressing for the occasion will put you into a professional mindset and help to replicate the formal environment of in-person interviews.
Read more on what you should be wearing to an interview in this Oracle.
Just because an interview takes place online, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be as prepared as you would be for an in-person interview. Don’t think that you can get away with looking at your phone or frantically googling answers during the interview itself – recruiters will notice if you’re not 100% focused and in the moment.
If you want to ace your interview, it’s important to prepare effectively so you can approach it with confidence. So, look back at your application, research the firm and remind yourself why you’d be a great fit.
Read LCN’s ‘26-step guide to training contract applications and interviews’ for more advice on how best to prepare.
At some point in the interview, you’ll be allowed to ask questions. Meanwhile, most assessment centres include a Q&A session – often with recruiters or partners.
Have a read of our Meet the Recruiter profiles to gain insights into what makes recruiters tick.
In both situations, make sure you prepare a couple of good questions to ask and ensure you speak up at least once, even though this can seem daunting.
What’s a good question? Something you’re genuinely interested in finding out the answer to – not something that you could’ve easily searched for online.
Make sure you use the allocated time available to answer each question. Law firms give you a certain amount of time at the video interview stage because they want you to use it, much like they place word limits on questions at the application form stage to assess your written communication skills and whether you pay attention to instructions.
But don’t rush through the time just because you have it. This leads us onto…
Controlling your nerves and speaking at a good pace is difficult during in-person interviews, but it can be even easier to get carried away and speak quickly when you’re not in the room with your interviewers.
Practise speaking your answers beforehand – record yourself and listen back to ensure you’re as clear and intelligible as possible.
On the day, remind yourself to talk slowly and take a deep breath before you start answering a question. You may even like to put a post-it-note on your laptop to remind yourself to slow down.
The key to success at this stage is twofold and very simple: taking it seriously enough to prepare beforehand and staying calm, which is much easier when you feel prepared.
This way, if anything does go wrong during the process, it’ll be rectifiable as you’ll have caught it in good time.
Olivia Partridge (she/her) is the content manager at LawCareers.Net.