AJW Attorney Search

Success with Phone and Virtual Interviews

The days of the standard in-person interview process have disappeared during this COVID-19 pandemic. Firms are turning toward phone interviews and virtual interviews as a necessity, but this is a trend which has been growing for years and is undoubtedly here to stay – virus or no.

At the base level, an interview is an interview and much of the same traditional wisdom applies. However, each medium requires a different skillset. The attorney who wins the job will understand the requirements needed to succeed in person, on the phone, or over video.

 

The Phone Interview
We use the phone every day to conduct business and for our personal lives. This makes the phone the most comfortable alternative to an in-person interview, but its ubiquity can lead to complacency.

In order to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward, pay special attention to the following guidelines:

Location: Using a quiet room without the possibility for distraction is ideal. If you’re at home, make sure to let anyone else at home know when your call is so they know to keep noise and distractions down. Try to find a space at home where you can be alone and close the door to keep out ambient or household noise. Taking a sensitive call with another firm at your office is fraught with challenges. If you can’t be sure you can speak freely there, your car is another ideal place. Cars are built to reduce outside noise and have good acoustics. As long as you’re parked in a spot where you’re sure to get good reception, our cars are often our most private spaces.

Caution:

  • Don’t use speakerphone or your car’s hands-free system.
  • Make sure you have a strong, consistent signal if you are using a cell or IP phone – nothing will derail an interview faster than having to constantly repeat yourself or missing what the other person is saying.

 

Attire: Ultimately you have the freedom to wear whatever makes you feel most comfortable and at ease. For some people, this will mean sweatpants and a t-shirt, for others it will be traditional business attire. There is a school of thought which says clothes influence behavior. Even though it may be tempting to wear pajama pants and a ratty t-shirt, be sure you don’t end up conveying that energy or attitude in your voice if you decide to dress casually and comfortably.

Benefits: Not only do you have home-court advantage to be someplace you’re comfortable, but also because you can’t be seen, you have the freedom to not be strapped to a conference table, desk, or into a chair. You can stand, pace, or walk the room – whatever helps your thought process or energy level.

You can also have prep materials and notes in front of you. Print out or write down questions you’d like to ask, talking points you’ve prepared, answers to anticipated questions, examples of your work, partner bios, anything you feel you may need you can have at your fingertips.

Caution:

  • Don’t read from a prepared statement; notes should only serve as reminders and help you formulate your thoughts.

 

Pitfalls: Phones are inherently harder to communicate through than a face-to-face conversation. Sounds are muffled, and because we don’t have the benefit of seeing lip movements, clarity can suffer. It is imperative that you speak slowly and clearly. Make sure your volume or tone doesn’t drop off at the end or sentences as sometimes happens in natural conversation. Since you cannot communicate a sense of energy and enthusiasm with your body and eye contact, you will need to make sure your voice carries those qualities.

Audible distractions must be avoided. Turn off anything that dings, beeps, or rings. Let every person and animal who could make noise or interrupt your meeting know that you need quiet and concentration for that period of time.

Checklist for Success:

  • Choose a location that is private and has great reception.
  • Wear whatever will make you project confidence and professionalism.
  • Print out any bios, questions, conversation prompts, talking points, etc. you may need.
  • Turn off distracting noises and alert those you share your space with that you need quiet.
  • Speak distinctly and clearly.

 

The Video Interview

Participating in an interview over a platform like Zoom, WebEx, or Skype feels more like being in-person but there are definitely technical challenges to consider and awkwardness to overcome. Under normal circumstances, many firms will utilize a conference room for video interviews if the candidate isn’t able to travel to a particular location and interview in person, or as a matter of convenience. For a variety of reasons, and now particularly due to COVID-19, candidates are sometimes asked to conduct a video interview in their own space, and this is a trend we expect to continue into the future.

In order to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward, pay special attention to the following guidelines:

Location: Not only do you need a private location without distractions, but because your location will be seen, it needs to be uncluttered, professional, and with enough light that you can clearly be visible. Ideally, find a place where you can face a sunny window, or place a lamp to illuminate your face. Look through the webcam you’ll be using to make the background uncluttered and pleasing. Placing a bookshelf behind you filled with books, a personal photo or two, perhaps a diploma or certification you’re especially proud of can be an easy and professional-looking background. As tempting as it may be, don’t use AI-generated backgrounds available with some platforms as they don’t look right, can be distracting for the viewer, and lack a sense of seriousness and respect that should be conveyed.

Attire: You must wear what you would wear if this were an in-person interview. It may be tempting to think that if you’re at home you can wear something casual. Make no mistake, this is still a professional interview, and they need to see that you know how to conduct yourself accordingly.

Caution:

  • Wear pants.

 

Benefits: Nothing builds rapport better than talking to someone face-to-face. Being seen on video allows you to bring all your non-verbal and body language to the interview and let anyone watching clearly see your enthusiasm and interest. You can demonstrate confidence and attention through eye contact using the webcam. Place a sticky-note or two with arrows pointing to the camera as an easy reminder of where to look.

Additionally, because anything outside the frame of your camera can’t be seen, you can have as much prep material at your fingertips as it makes you comfortable. Just like on the phone, have any bios, conversation prompts, questions, etc. ready for quick access just in case you need them.

Caution:

  • Be sure you can seamlessly glance at your notes without taking your focus too far off your interviewer.
  • Again, never read from a prepared statement.

 

Pitfalls: Make sure notifications are silenced on your phone and computer and all distractions are eliminated. Nothing derails a great interview faster than the annoying ding of an email, or someone barging into your meeting space. As much as possible, look into the camera while you’re responding. This makes it look like you’re giving your interviewer eye contact. It’s easy to look at your screen thinking you’re talking to a person, but all that’s seen from the other side is a disinterested gaze.

For most people, this is a newer technology so take time to practice with the platform you’ll be using by having a family member or friend make sure you’re utilizing it effectively. Make sure you look clear and bright in the camera, your microphone and camera are set to appropriate levels and work properly, and place your computer in a position that centers you and frames you so that at least your head and shoulders are seen.

Caution:

  • You must be aware of your frame. If you are too close, you run the risk of bouncing in and out of view. Slight movements and gestures often appear magnified if you are too close to a webcam and be distracting.

 

Checklist for Success:

  • Choose a location that is private with an excellent internet connection.
  • Wear professional interview attire just like you would in person.
  • Print out any bios, questions, conversation prompts, talking points, etc. you may need.
  • Practice with the technology to make sure you frame yourself and your background properly and can be heard and seen clearly.
  • Turn off distracting noises and alert those you share your space with that you need quiet.

Each medium in which you interview requires its own special considerations. Take the time to prepare just as much for the medium as you do for the interview itself and you’re sure to be head and shoulders above the competition for the job.

-Ian Delaney