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A guide to video interviews

updated on 15 October 2019

Video interviews are a popular assessment tool among hiring employers, and there are some key differences between interviewing on camera and in person. Read on for advice this stage of the process.

Video interviews are now part of the application process at many top law firms and it is important to appreciate how different the medium is compared to talking with someone in person.

Talking to 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 (the story goes that the smaller audience of radio listeners thought Nixon had won), but because he and his team prepared for the special requirements of performing on screen, while Nixon thought it would be just another debate.

Kennedy practised, prepared and rested beforehand, while Nixon did little preparation and spent most of the day leading up to the debate campaigning hard, even though he was still recovering from an illness which had recently hospitalised him. Just before the debate started, Nixon paid little attention to his clothes and refused make-up, and went on to look tired and drawn on people’s TV screens. Kennedy’s team, meanwhile, had paid close attention to every detail, one of their more well-known calls being the decision for Kennedy to wear a blue shirt because they believed that this would show up better on black and white TVs.

When the debate started, Kennedy appeared relaxed and confident, while Nixon, having not rehearsed as extensively, sweated and fidgeted uncomfortably under the glaring lights. The lesson is obvious – never be like Richard Nixon! Which in this case means that it pays to prepare if a law firm invites you to complete a video assessment.

There are two types of video interview that employers use when hiring – a live, Skype interview with a recruiter or recording your answers to questions that appear on screen for the recruiter to view later. The latter pre-recorded form is by far the most widely used type of video interview among law firms, so this is the one on which you should focus.

Rehearse before the interview

The preparation you do beforehand will determine whether your performance in the actual video interview is good or bad.

It is crucial to take this stage seriously. It can be tempting to think that you don’t have to do much research for a 10-minute interview, but this is the point at which recruiters make a second ‘sift’ of their remaining applications. A video interview is just as important as an interview in person.

Your preparation should begin as soon as you know that you are going to have a video interview. The first thing to do is to get into the habit of checking your junk folder so that you don’t miss the invitation email containing the crucial link to start the interview itself and information about the deadline. Bear in mind that there is often a tight turnaround between the invitation being sent and the deadline, so check daily.

If you are in a situation where you have been sent the link to complete the video interview, but are unable to do so within the given timeframe for whatever reason, email the firm immediately. Recruiters will probably view your situation kindly if you have a genuine reason for not being able to do the video interview at that time, for example, being out of the country with poor internet access. However, if you leave it until after the deadline to email, this is likely to be viewed as an excuse rather than a genuine reason.

Plan the structure of your answers and practise them out loud. Don’t read out your answers during the interview.  and make sure that the pace at which you talk is measured and clear. Make sure that the points you are making genuinely answer the question and try to make your wording as clear as possible.

This also means taking timeframes into account. You should practise competency questions (eg, “What are your key skills?”) until you can fit your answer into one minute, while still speaking at a calm, measured pace. Remember that if you rush what you’re saying to fit a longer answer into that one minute, it will be much harder for the recruiter to hear you.

Prepare your environment and tech

When the date of your interview has been set, you will need to make sure that the room and computer you are going to use are all set up well in advance. Don’t worry about much about the background, but do ensure that you are in a quiet environment where the interview is not going to be disrupted. You should also pay attention to your camera setup. Place the webcam just above your eyeline if possible – the shot will look better, whereas shooting from below is what horror movie directors do when they want an actor to look creepy. Preparing beforehand will also allow you to adjust your posture and the room’s lighting to get a clear shot. And when the interview is about to start, make sure any distractions are out of the way – that means your phone on silent mode and pets settled in another room until the interview is over.

It probably goes without saying, but it is important to dress the part as if you are going to an in-person interview. See this previous Oracle question for more advice on what to wear at interviews.

If a technical problem does occur, the important thing to do is not panic. If the connection cuts out, just send a calm email to the graduate recruitment team, who will reset the link and will know that a connection problem has occurred.

During the interview

Look directly into the camera when you are speaking. If you are put off by seeing your reflection on the screen, cover it with something for a few minutes or turn it away from you once you are set up.

The rest of your body language is important, too. Try to stay still and not fidget when sitting in front of the webcam.

Opinion is divided on whether having notes or a ‘cheat sheet’ to hand during the interview is a good idea, but LawCareers.Net advises caution because it provides a big temptation to read during the interview. Use all the allotted time to answer each question. Just as law firms place word limits on questions at the application form stage to assess your written communication skills and whether you pay attention to instructions, they also give a certain amount of time to answer each question at the video interview stage because they want you to use it.

Lights, camera, action

Once you take the above information and advice on board, you will be all set for future video interviews. The key to success at this stage is twofold and very simple: taking it seriously enough to prepare beforehand and staying calm. A calm and measured approach will help you concentrate on what you’re going to say, and if anything does go wrong during the process, it will be rectifiable as you will have caught it in good time.