Virtual job interviews became the norm following the nationwide business shutdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Legal industry employers learned, by necessity, that virtual working and hiring was effective and, perhaps, even preferred. With law firms and corporations spanning the nation and the globe, interviewing via videoconference will remain an important part of the hiring process even after in-person meetings are possible, as it saves significant travel time and money. Therefore, you need to be camera-ready.
While most of the rules for in-person interviews remain the same, here are some tips for maximizing your effectiveness via video chat.
As with an in-person interview, dress professionally. Standards have become somewhat relaxed with lawyers working from home, but you must remember that this is an interview. Avoid tees and sweatshirts, and—even if you don’t think your interviewers will see your lower half—wear appropriate bottoms (not shorts, sweats, yoga pants or leggings)! Check with your recruiter or the person arranging the interview for a heads-up on the appropriate level of formality. Even if your interviewer is wearing a hoodie, you are auditioning for a role in their organization and should project a professional appearance.
On camera, you need to consider the color and pattern of your clothes, as well. Stay away from white which reflects too much light, black which can cause your face to be overexposed, and red which “smears.” Also avoid small prints, stripes, and plaids, which create a dizzying effect on camera. Best is a blue, medium gray, brown or other deep colored jacket, with a blue or other solid-colored pastel shirt and, when appropriate, and a subdued tie. Good tailoring is important, as baggy or bulky clothing adds weight on screen. Tip: Pull down the back of your jacket and sit on it to prevent it hunching up around your shoulders.
If you wear glasses, avoid tinted lenses as it interferes with eye contact. For women, makeup should be natural, but you might want to add a touch more color to cheeks and lips. High gloss lips and dangly or glittery jewelry are no-no’s, however, as they reflect light and are distracting. Hair should be neat and out of your face. For examples of how to dress for the camera, study top national newscasters.
Download the appropriate videoconferencing app ahead of time. You want to make sure that everything is working properly and that your computer, table, chair, and microphone are set up to your advantage. Center yourself in the screen. You should appear from about the middle of your upper arms and not have an excess of screen space above your head. Sit up straight; don’t slouch or lean to the side. Leaning forward slightly towards the camera helps increase eye contact. Conversely, leaning back can create a feeling of distance. Look into the camera, not at the monitor, to give the impression of eye contact. Have the camera as close to eye level as possible so that you aren’t looking up or down at the interviewers. It is best to position your computer so that you can glance at the other participants in the monitor briefly, without breaking your gaze at the camera too often.
If possible, arrange the lighting so that you’re not in unflattering shadows or washed out, and your coloring is as lifelike as possible. Avoid sitting where a window is directly behind you, as you might appear shadowy in contrast to the light streaming in. Watch for reflection from your glasses. Have your notes, pen, water, and reading glasses accessible but out of camera range.
Remember that everything within camera range can be seen by your interviewers. Virtual backgrounds are not recommended because your outline tends to “shimmer” and body parts disappear and reappear randomly into them. Part of the fun of watching socially-distant news broadcasts and video chatting with friends and colleagues is seeing everyone’s home environments. (I love checking out their artwork and the books on the shelves behind them.)
Make sure anything visible is neat, uncluttered, non-controversial, and minimally distracting. You want to be the center of attention and, while seeing your personal space can make the meeting feel more friendly and intimate, you don’t want to give away too much of your private life. Do your best to keep curious children and pets quiet and out of your interview space. After months of working virtually, your interviewers probably are accustomed to the realities of at-home distractions. However, you should strive for the most professional setting possible.
Set up a practice session with a friend on the same video chat app you will use during the interview. Wear your interview outfit and carry on a two-way conversation so you can experience what your remote interviewers might see and hear. You may be surprised at how your body language, voice, and facial expressions translate on camera. Check your voice modulation and pacing, and whether your facial expressions, body language and gestures are distracting. Do you play with papers or your pen, rock or swivel in in your chair, or touch your hair or face? If necessary, practice in front of a mirror by yourself, and schedule further practice video sessions until you are comfortable with your presentation on camera.
At the beginning of the interview or anytime a new participant joins the session, everyone should introduce themselves (and state their location if there are multiple offices involved). Jot down this information so you can use your interviewers’ names during the interview and address your questions and comments as appropriate. Be aware of any delays in sound transmission so you can pace yourself accordingly. You must take care not to interrupt or talk over another person. Pause before answering each question to be sure the speaker has finished, and again when you complete what you have to say so that the other participants know that you are done. Speak clearly and listen carefully.
Videoconference interviews also differ from in-person meetings in that there is no opportunity for a handshake or elbow bump to begin or end the session. Pay attention to the time without obviously glancing at your watch and follow the interviewers’ cues that the session is drawing to a close. To wrap things up, just as in any interview, summarize your main points, thank the interviewers for their time, let them know you’re interested in the job, and ask about next steps.
Once you’ve followed these suggestions, try to forget about the camera and focus on your purpose. Be yourself and don’t forget to smile for your close-up!