Editor's note: This is the sixth article in a series providing interview tips and techniques for attorneys. Links to previous articles in the series follow this article.
Videoconference interviews are becoming more common as law firms and corporations expand geographically, and as travel becomes more expensive and time-consuming. Increasingly, law firms are organized by practice or industry groups, with matters being staffed with lawyers from offices around the globe. Therefore, candidates may need to interview with practitioners in other states or countries with whom they will be working if hired. And, especially in this down economy, prospective employers are cutting costs, so many may utilize their on-site videoconferencing capabilities rather than fly interviewers or candidates to meetings in far-flung offices.
While most of the rules of in-person interviews remain the same, there are some techniques you can use to maximize your effectiveness on video.
As with an in-person interview, dress professionally. On camera, however, you need to consider the color and pattern as well. Stay away from: white, which reflects too much light; black, which can cause your face to be overexposed; and red, which "smears." Avoid small prints, stripes and plaids, which create a dizzying effect on camera. Best is a blue, medium gray, brown or other deep-colored suit, with a blue or other pastel shirt and, when appropriate, 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 will interfere with eye contact. For women, makeup should be natural with a matte finish, but you might want to add a touch more color to cheeks and lips. Avoid high-gloss lipstick and dangly or glittery jewelry, 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.
You may be surprised at how your body language, voice and facial expressions translate on camera. Therefore, it is advisable to see and hear yourself on video beforehand, to gain confidence and not be distracted by your image on the screen during the interview itself. Ask a friend to record you in your interview clothes, carrying on a two-way conversation, so you can experience what your remote interviewers might see. Look for nervous habits such as playing with papers or your pen, rocking or swiveling in your chair, and touching your hair or face. The camera tends to magnify any nervous habits or fidgeting. Sudden movements may appear as a blur to the viewer.
Check your voice modulation and pacing, and whether your facial expressions, body language and gestures are distracting. 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.
Be aware of any time differences and be sure you understand the interview schedule in your time zone! Arrive at the videoconference site early to get comfortable with the equipment, make sure that everything is working properly and that the table, chair and microphone are set up to your advantage. If the equipment malfunctions or the connection crashes (which rarely happens), it is important to remember that it will not reflect poorly on you. In fact, the firm may be more concerned about the negative impression this will give you about them. Don't be anxious about the technology and lose focus on your presentation and goals during the interview.
Position yourself so that you are looking 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 are not looking up or down at the interviewers. Position the camera and the monitor so you can glance at the other participants in the monitor briefly, without breaking your gaze at the camera too often.
Center yourself in the screen and at a medium distance rather than at the end of a long conference table. 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; do not 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. Avoid bending over the microphone when you speak. Some systems will allow you to have a "picture-in-picture" of yourself on the screen, so you'll be able to monitor your body language and see what the interviewer sees.
Set up your notes, pen, water and reading glasses so that they are accessible but out of camera range. Keep background objects and movement to a minimum to reduce viewer distraction. Remember to refrain from shuffling papers or tapping a pen during the interview, as background noises will be picked up and magnified by the microphone.
If possible, arrange the lighting so that you are not in unflattering shadows or washed out, and your coloring is as lifelike as possible. Watch for reflection from your glasses. Don't forget, however, that the camera catches everything while it is on. Therefore, do not use it as a mirror to fix your hair or makeup before the interview. Likewise, do not relax or comment inappropriately after the interview until you are absolutely sure the camera is off.
As you begin the session, ask the interviewers if their reception is good and let them know immediately if there is any problem on your side. Be prepared for synchronization problems. With a slow connection speed, facial expressions and the speaker's voice can occasionally be off by as much as a second so 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. Nod, rather than making brief comments such as "yes" or "uh-huh" to indicate that you are listening. Such verbal listening cues may be lost or may interrupt and confuse the speaker because of an audio delay.
Participants in the videoconference should introduce themselves, and state their location if there are various offices involved, at the beginning of the interview or any time a new participant joins the session. Jot down this information so you can target your questions and comments as appropriate. Since you cannot "turn towards" or make direct eye contact with one of several interviewers to indicate which of them you addressing in particular, it's important to use names to indicate who you are focusing on at any point during the interview.
Keep your comments short and to the point. Don't talk for too long at any one time. It's bad "live," and can be worse later on videotape when fast-forward is available.
IT'S A WRAP!
Be aware of the time without obviously glancing at your watch and make sure you can cover your agenda within the allotted interview time. Follow the interviewer's cues that the session is drawing to a close. Since there is no opportunity for a handshake to begin or end the session, to wrap things up you can summarize your main points, thank the interviewers for their time, let them know you are interested in the job, and ask about next steps.
Valerie Fontaine and Roberta Kass are senior legal search consultants with Seltzer Fontaine Beckwith, based in Los Angeles. Valerie Fontaine is the author of "The Right Moves: Job Search and Career Development Strategies for Lawyers" (January 2006, NALP). They can be reached at (310) 839-6000, or visit www.sfbsearch.com.
Read previous articles in the "Interview Strategies" series: