Your ability to demonstrate that you have the skills and experience to succeed in a new role is the single most important aspect of performing well at interview, and it shouldn’t be affected by whether you attend the interview face-to-face or virtually.
But as we all know, succeeding at interview is about much more than just skills and experience. Building rapport with your interviewers is crucial, as is demonstrating that you have the right soft skills.
It would be a big mistake not to consider how the virtual environment affects these aspects of the interview process.
At NQ Solicitors we’ve been prepping candidates for virtual interviews for the last year and anybody that attends an interview through NQS can expect to hear the following:
1. Arrive Early
For traditional, face-to-face interviews I would advise that you aim to arrive 15 minutes early – just in case you encounter any delays in getting there. Although I wouldn’t want you to put the interviewers under any pressure by actually reporting to reception until five minutes prior to the interview slot (at the earliest).
The problem with the virtual interview is that it can lull you into a false sense of security in this regard. I know you only have to click on a link to be ‘in the room’ but you can still experience delays, so I still advise that you plan to arrive early.
Depending on what platform you’re using, you may or may not be able to check that the meeting link is working in advance. If you can, great! If you can’t, then why wait until the exact start time before seeing if it does?
I would strongly advise you to click on the link five minutes early. That way, if you do experience any technical issues (and they do happen) you’ll have a few minutes to try again, restart your PC/laptop or contact the interviewers.
Technical issues DO occur, and while interviewers are generally sympathetic when delaying the start of the meeting, it will put you on the back foot and your heart rate will be much higher than it needs to be during the crucial first few minutes.
2. Consider your backdrop
It’s a good job that most celebrities had nothing to do during the early stages of lockdown, as it’s clear they spent an inordinate amount of time rearranging their studies, polishing their awards and going through their bookshelves with a fine toothcomb.
While you certainly don’t need to aspire to perfection, it is worth spending a few minutes considering your backdrop and getting it right. It doesn’t need to be a plain wall, but it shouldn’t look cluttered or untidy, and you don’t want anything else to be taking the attention away from you.
During the interview, you’re going to be selling yourself as an organised and capable individual. Your backdrop should be on message!
3. Are you sitting comfortably?
This shouldn’t be an issue for those of you living by yourselves, but if you share your home with a few rowdy flatmates, you may be concerned about where’s best to conduct the interview.
A short time ago we arranged a virtual interview for a candidate who shared a house with three other young professionals. Concerned about the potential for disruption during the interview, he set himself up in the quietest room in the house, which also happened to be the coldest room. The candidate wore a smart shirt, but no jumper, and after a short while he found himself shivering.
The feedback we received from the client was that, while he came across as a credible candidate, he seemed to be overcome with nerves and they didn’t progress him to the next round.
While we definitely don’t want you to be lounging on a sofa, we’d advise that you’re comfortable in your surroundings and have taken a little time to consider heat, light and sound.
4. Dress for the occasion
I’d still advise that for most law firms, a suit (including a tie for men), is the right choice if you’re attending an interview in person, however, it’s certainly not needed for a virtual interview. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that it won’t look quite right if you’re wearing a suit jacket in your study, front room, kitchen (delete as appropriate).
Having said that, it’s still an interview and you want to look like you mean business, so I’d strongly advise that a formal shirt is the best way to go, and if you’re not warm enough, I’d rather you wore a smart sweater on than shiver your way through the interview – see tip 3.
By the way, there’s nothing wrong with asking your target firm how the interviewers will be dressed. I’d suggest something like ‘I am planning to wear a smart shirt for the interview but I’m more than happy to wear a tie/jacket if the interviewers are planning on doing so. Can you please advise?’
5. Look at the camera
Building rapport with your interviewers is almost as important as demonstrating that you have the skills and experience to take the job on, but it’s generally harder to accomplish during a virtual interview.
There are so many factors that come into play when looking to build rapport and, in a virtual setting, even more of these factors are out of your control. However, maintaining good eye contact – essential if you want to build rapport – is still very much within your command.
If you take just one piece of advice from this blog, let it be this: look at the camera, not at the monitor!
Candidates often say to me that they like to look at the monitor to gauge the interviewers’ reactions to their answers, but I think they often read too much into these reactions and in a virtual environment, where we might be dealing with slow connections, reading body language and reactions can be wildly inaccurate.
Also, if the interviewers react negatively when you’re answering a technical question, it’s probably best that you don’t see it as you’ll still be dwelling on it while answering the next question.
You don’t need to stare at the camera throughout the interview, but you should spend the vast majority of time (especially when you’re talking) delivering your message directly to the camera.
Maintaining good eye contact with multiple interviewers is actually far easier during a virtual interview. Instead of having to switch eye contact on a regular basis, the camera allows you to maintain eye contact with multiple parties at the same time.