Calming Your Nerves for a Virtual Job Interview

Calming Your Nerves for a Virtual Job InterviewThis week we welcome back guest writer Tiffany Lo to talk about staying calm and in control during a virtual job interview.

Job interviews themselves are nerve-wracking enough. This year, law students seeking a job, whether for the summer or after graduation, face the additional challenge of interviewing over the internet. No shaking hands, no direct eye contact, no walking around the office space in between interviews.

Having done some of my 1L summer interviews online and experienced two remote summer programs, I am familiar with the challenges of connecting with strangers over a computer screen. It is entirely normal to feel nervous and stressed.

Here are my tips for calming your nerves for a virtual interview:

Before the interview
Test your technology: connection, lighting, and background

Ahead of your interviews, anticipate and fix any connectivity issues. Does the audio or video lag during your online classes, or have you had issues during a virtual one-on-one conversation? If so, try to find a spot with the strongest connectivity, or consider investing in an ethernet cable. Test the connection during virtual meetings at high traffic times of day. If it doesn’t work, contact your law school or local libraries to see if you can find an alternative interview space.

Some other tech issues that might not be as obvious: lighting and background.

For lighting, the main goal is to ensure that your face is the center of attention – you should not be washed out by light or hidden in the dark. In the day, find a spot in your interviewing space where the windows are in front of you. As the sun sets, position the lights in your room so that your face is well-lit, instead of a silhouette. Sway back and forth and side to side to see if the lighting on your face changes. For any spectacles-wearers like me, the glare on your glasses might be an issue. Try to reposition your lights, consider going glasses-less, or use an external webcam.

I consider background a “technology” issue because it can pose a distraction to your conversation partner. Ensure the visible space behind you is clean and uncluttered. In the alternative, you can opt for a background picture; using one with white or brighter colors is great for lighting purposes.

Before every interview, double check your internet connection. You might want to click out of any windows or tabs that might be using up bandwidth.

It’s not the end of the world if your connection cuts off in the middle of the interview. Don’t panic, and (depending on your interviewer) feel free to make light of the situation. I’m sure your interviewer will not mind.

Wear what makes you comfortable and confident

Interviewing virtually means the luxury of dressing however you please from the waist down. Some advice insists dressing as you would for an in-person interview, but I disagree that you have to wear a full suit. Some people feel powerful in formal wear, but others feel constricted. My rule of thumb is to wear whatever makes you feel comfortable—not-lounging-on-the-couch-watching-movies comfortable, but at-ease-for-a-setting-in-which-you-want-to-highlight-your-strengths-and-interests comfortable.

For the top half, I would err on the side of formal wear, unless the employer indicates that casual or business casual dress are acceptable. Given that the law is a more conservative profession, I suggest sticking to a dark-color blazer with a plain blouse or shirt. Avoid patterns, as they can create distractions over the computer screen.

Research and prepare questions

How do you show interest in a specific employer? By demonstrating your knowledge about their practice areas, office culture, and recent matters. The press release section is a good place to find recent information. If you are interviewing for a specific office location, try to find out what the lawyers there specialize in. You want to avoid the awkwardness of expressing your interest in an area that is not handled at that office. To the extent that you can find this information, whether by browsing online or talking to former and current employees, you should make an effort to do so. And if you know your interviewer’s name ahead of time, look up their bio or Linkedin profile to familiarize yourself with their education, practices, pro bono interests, affiliations etc. You might find something you have in common or get inspiration for questions!

Speaking of, do prepare a list of questions you want to ask the interviewer. Again, no hard and fast rules here (although some sensitive topics like compensation, billable requirements, or the employer’s financial situation should be left until you are comparing offers)—ask questions that will help you understand whether the employer is a good fit for you. You can ask about recent projects, training opportunities, or your interviewer’s likes and dislikes about a practice area. Questions also allow you to “sell” yourself: you can mention your past experiences or accomplishments and tie them in with a curiosity about the employer or the workplace.

Consider what you want to highlight

Likely, the interview will start out with “Tell me a bit about yourself.” Even if not, you will have opportunities throughout the interview to talk about qualities that you want your interview to take away: your interests, abilities, experiences, strengths, and goals.

Don’t forget to reflect on your weaknesses and areas of improvements as well! This will show your ability to implement feedback and grow professionally and personally.

Practice!

No one is born a perfect interviewee. Seek out opportunities to rehearse your answers with friends and family, with your career services advisor, or through mock interviews provided by firms or mentorship programs. Upperclass students who have gone through the process are also a great resource.

During the interview
Maintain eye contact

This is definitely difficult to do. The instinct is to look at the interviewer’s face on the screen, but this translates to your looking down instead of “straight into their eyes.” One tip is to stick a picture of something you love – your family, your pet, a happy memory—near your webcam. That way, you are not staring at a black hole or an inanimate webcam.

Be attentive to your presence on camera

Apart from eye contact, be mindful of how you are reacting to your interviewer. Acknowledge them by nodding, smiling, and not speaking over them.

Listen actively and minimize distractions

Silence your phone, turn off your notifications on the computer, and if you have roommates or family in the house, let them know that you need some privacy.

Use your notes

A perk with virtual interviewing is that you can have cheat sheets nearby! Especially with a full day of interviews, it can be easy to forget about the specific employer or your interviewer’s background. Distill your research and planned questions (and even your answers to common questions) into handy notes and refer to them as needed. Do be mindful that you don’t seem like you are reading off a page.

I wish you all the best on your interviews. Armed with preparation and confidence, you will absolutely crush it!

For more tips, check out this podcast episode and blog post.


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About Tiffany Gee Ching Lo

Tiffany Gee Ching Lo is a student at Stanford Law School. She spent her 1L year at the New York University School of Law, where she was involved with Alternative Breaks, Women of Color Collective, and Law Revue, and worked as research assistant. Tiffany received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley, graduating magna cum laude with double majors in Political Science and Rhetoric. Tiffany developed an interest in the law from a young age, and have worked in law firms and courthouses in Hong Kong–where she grew up, around the San Francisco Bay Area, and in New York. In her spare time, Tiffany enjoys painting, playing the piano and cello, trying out new recipes, and watching late night talk shows.

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