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A guide to video interviews

updated on 27 July 2021

Video interviews have become the norm at law firms, barristers' chambers and other employers since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Although the easing of restrictions may be signalling a return to normality, you can be certain that law firms and barrister chambers will continue to use video interviewing in some capacity for the time being. There are some key differences between interviewing over webcam and in person, so it is important to be prepared.

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 (radio listeners supposedly thought Nixon had won), but because he prepared for the special requirements of speaking to a camera, 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 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 and refused make-up, and went on to look tired and drawn on people’s TV screens. Kennedy’s team paid close attention to every detail, including choosing a blue shirt for Kennedy to wear 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. 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 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. 

1. Check the space you are going to use

Don't worry too much about what the interviewers can see in the background of the room you are using – recruiters understand that many candidates live in shared accommodation where space is at a premium. But you will need a quiet location where you won't be disturbed by housemates, family or pets. 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. And in case you are worried about your background, don’t forget you can blur your background or add a photographic background on most video call platforms.

2. Set up your tech in advance

Make sure your internet connection, speakers and camera are working well in advance of 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. Close any other open applications on your computer and put your phone on silent.

If you lose your internet connection during the interview or assessment centre, don’t panic! We have all experienced technical difficulties during Zoom calls over the past year. 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, use your mobile data to send a quick email to the HR team explaining that you got disconnected – the firm should be able to accommodate you.

3. Wear business dress

Dress exactly as you would for a formal interview. That includes the lower body – it’s unlikely that you will 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 replicate the formal environment of in-person interviews.

4. Prepare just like an in-person interview

Just because an interview is taking place online, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be just as prepared as for a physical 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% focussed and in the moment. Look back at your application, research the firm and remind yourself why you will be a great fit – these are all key to acing an interview.

5. Think about your questions

At some point in the interview, you will be given an opportunity to ask questions. Meanwhile, most assessment centres include a Q&A session – often with recruiters or partners. In both situations, make sure you prepare a couple of good questions to ask and make sure that you speak up at least once, even though this can seem daunting. What is a good question? Something you are genuinely interested in finding out the answer to, and not something that you could have easily searched for online.

6. Use all the allotted time in recorded interviews

Make sure you use all the time available 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.

But don’t rush through the time just because you have it. This leads us onto…

7. Speak at a regular pace

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 are not in the room with your interviewers. Practise speaking your answers beforehand – record yourself and listen back to ensure you are 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 do this.

Lights, camera, action

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 will be rectifiable as you will have caught it in good time.

Bethany Wren is the content and events manager at LawCareers.Net.