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Top video interview tips from law recruiters

The use of video interviews is gaining momentum in training contract recruitment. We asked graduate recruiters at Clifford Chance and Bristows why they’ve introduced digital interviews into their hiring process and for their top video interview tips and techniques.
Remember: you can stick post-it notes to your computer screen. Graduate recruiters can’t see them!

Video interviews are no longer a graduate recruitment tool used only by a few tech-savvy law firms; they are an increasingly popular part of the process to secure a training contract. A 2017 survey by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE, previously known as Association of Graduate Recruiters or AGR) of its members taken in September 2017 revealed that 53% of employers across all sectors now use video interviews, up by 11% from 2016.

What will happen in your Skype or automated video interview with law firms?

There are two types of video interviews used by legal recruiters – live interviews using Skype or Facetime, and automated, recorded on-screen interview questions via third party software from companies such as SparkHire. Firms such as Clifford Chance use the latter: ‘Everyone who submits an application form to our firm is sent the link to the video interview. We look at the video interview alongside the application form to complement it rather than replace it,’ explains Jackie Trench, graduate recruitment manager at Clifford Chance.

It’s important to understand the difference between this kind of interview and a live conversation with a recruiter over Skype, the telephone or face to face – once you’ve started a recorded video interview you cannot rewind or review your answers. Be prepared to feel under time pressure. For example, you might be given a set amount of thinking time and, say, 60 seconds for your answer, with a timer on screen indicating how long you have left. ‘All our interview questions are pre-recorded,’ explains Toby Horner, graduate recruitment specialist at Clifford Chance. ‘A question will pop up on screen and you will have a minute to prepare your answer and then a minute to respond. Candidates should also practise answering questions in that time so they can gauge how long a minute is.’

That set amount of thinking time is often more than you would have in a face-to-face interview – imagine how awkward it would feel to take 60 seconds to prepare your answer in a panel interview! Use that time well, advises Jackie: ‘Video interviews are different to any other type of interview so use these differences to your advantage. Use the thinking time to construct your answer so always have a notepad and pen to hand. Remember, you can stick post-it notes to your computer screen; we can’t see them!’

Practice, techniques and research: the best preparation for a digital interview

The advice for video interview preparation is similar to all types of job interview: do your research and practise, practise, practise. ‘Many people worry about video interviews but, by practising your answers beforehand, you can use them as an opportunity to bring your written applications to life,’ reassures Toby.

Recruiters will be looking for evidence of the research you have done into their firm and their training contract offering. ‘Preparation is key,’ adds Toby. ‘Prepare for video interviews in the same way as any other element of the recruitment process – do your research on the firm and then practise answers to anticipated questions (in the mirror and using the practice test on the video interview website).’

‘We realise that it can be a little unnerving when you undertake a video interview for the first time,’ says May Worvill, graduate resourcing and alumni manager at Bristows. ‘But don’t be phased by the fact that it’s online – treat it like you would any other interview. Video interviews can often be less stressful than a live interview as you are typically given some time to prepare your answer – a luxury you wouldn’t have in face-to-face or telephone interviews. But most importantly, remember that you’ve already made it through the application stage so we see potential in you for the job role – go into your interview with confidence!’

Why do law firms use video interviews to test training contract applicants?

Video interviews are a useful way for legal firms to assess whether a candidate and firm are a good match before inviting that applicant to an assessment centre. ‘Some candidates are brilliant on paper but unless they can express themselves verbally, then they are unlikely to be a successful lawyer at the firm,’ points out Toby.

Replacing telephone interviews with video interviews has resulted in more applicants being interviewed by Bristows, which is good news for aspiring solicitors interested in the firm. ‘We started using video interviews as part of our vacation workshops and training contract recruitment process in 2014,’ explains May. ‘They replaced telephone interviews as we felt that video interviews allowed us to get a better sense of each candidate, and the qualities and skills they could bring to the firm. The technology has also enabled us to invite through more people to the interview stage of assessment because of the time saved in conducting and reviewing the interviews. We can now consider a wider pool of applicants at the interview stage.’

Securing a training contract or vacation scheme is a competitive business – both for aspiring solicitors and for law firms. Each stage of the recruitment process is included for a reason – to test one or more key skills: ‘We’ve introduced video interviews to our recruitment process to test a hugely important part of the skills set for lawyers: communication skills,’ explains Toby. ‘We use strengths-based questions in the video interviews and this style gives candidates an opportunity to articulate their strengths at an earlier stage prior to the assessment centre.’

What if I make a complete mess of my video interview?

As with all interviews, video interviews take practice so don’t give yourself a hard time if it doesn’t go according to plan. Chalk it up to experience and remember: ‘Nobody is screened out purely based on a poor video interview performance,’ clarifies Toby. ‘It is a test, however, and it will contribute to our decision making.’ It’s worth noting that law firms use video interviews across all recruitment, not just for trainee recruitment. Both Clifford Chance recruiters interviewed for this article told us that they had to go through a video interview in order to secure their roles in graduate recruitment. The experience will stand you in good stead for future video interviews.

Top tips for video (including Skype or Facetime) interview success from Clifford Chance and Bristows

We asked Toby and May for their top tips for doing well in video interviews. This is what they told us:

  1. Practise! Either using the online practise question or by recording yourself on your laptop. Keep doing this until you feel comfortable to start the real interview.
  2. Be professional – dress as you would for a face-to-face interview and try to make your surroundings as neat as possible. Remove any distractions (such as your phone).
  3. Don’t leave your video interview until the last minute. Technology can sometimes fail and you should make sure you’ve left plenty of time to allow for any unexpected hiccups.
  4. Make eye contact: try to look at the camera rather than the picture of yourself on the screen, which can be rather distracting. If necessary put a post-it on the screen where your image is.
  5. Use the preparation time wisely. Jot down the key points you want to cover so you can refer to these when delivering your answer if necessary.
  6. Answer the question – it’s easy to say a lot about nothing when under pressure.
  7. Think about the content of your answers – we’re looking for substance as well as style.
  8. Don’t state the obvious or just use phrases from the firm’s website.
  9. Be passionate about the firm and role.
  10. Treat it like any other face-to-face interview – do your research and prepare.
  11. Try to relax and be yourself.
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