Be kind, be calm, and be safe, are the wise words of Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s Health Officer and COVID-era household name across Canada. While acknowledging the seriousness of our current public health emergency, we also wanted to have a little fun by using Dr. Henry’s catchphrase and the grace with which she carries herself to inspire and frame our tips for virtual “on-campus” interviews (aka Zoom CIs) that take place on Zoom or other video conferencing platforms.
One of the key takeaways from the pandemic is to be more gracious with ourselves and those around us. We are all doing our best in extraordinary circumstances, so be gentle with yourself and others. That said, there are some key lessons we have learned on the law firm and law school side over the past several months (including successfully navigating our first ZoomCIs).
Be Calm--Prepare & Practice
A common mistake (other than speaking while on mute!) is hopping on a Zoom meeting the moment it starts, only to find the link doesn’t work, your com- puter needs to be restarted, or you’re rocking major COVID hair. Follow this preparatory checklist to be interview-ready for your ZoomCIs:
Camera Set-Up: Consider your lighting, camera angle, and background. A few small tweaks can make a big difference in how you appear on screen.
Lighting: Face a window, angle a lamp to bounce light off of one side (your “good side,” if you take selfies), or invest in a ring light to go pro. Regardless, avoid sitting with a window behind you or harsh overhead lighting.
Camera Angle: Angle the camera so that it is slightly above eye level looking down. If you don’t have a riser, simply place your device on a stack of books or empty box. Be visible from the chest upwards--think the top third of your body, with your face clearly visible. No need to keep six feet apart on Zoom!
Background: Use a neutral, tidy, and professional background. Many Canadian law schools are provid-ing their students with free, school-branded virtual backgrounds.
Sound Check: A virtual interview is only as good as its audio! We recommend a headset or earbuds with microphone, which tend to allow for the clearest sound (and prevent speaker feedback).
Practice Makes Perfect! Do a mock interview to get comfortable with the virtual platform(s) being used, including slight delays and lack of direct eye contact. If you’re distracted by seeing your own image, turn off the self-view after properly situating yourself in the camera frame.
Good Enough Is Perfectly Fine: Remember an interview doesn’t have to be perfect to be a success. If a child, pet, or technical issue interferes, know that you will be able to reconnect shortly and everyone is dealing with similar issues. Which leads us to our final top tip…
Be Safe--Plan for the Best…and Worst
In-person or virtual, having an OCI plan (including what to do if things go sideways) reduces anxiety and helps students and employers focus on getting to know each other-- the raison d’être for screening interviews in the first place! At a minimum, your plan should include:
Virtual Conferencing Information: For each Zoom CI, the school, employer, and students should all know the name of the virtual platform being used, download/login instructions, and applicable interview link(s). If the virtual platform has a waiting room feature, it should be set up so students cannot “Zoom bomb” other interviews; alternatively, each Zoom CI should have a unique link or login.
Emergency Procedures: Establish and communicate to students and interviewers a protocol to be followed if the Zoom CI starts late or there are technical difficulties. Share the contact information (e-mail and phone) for an IT person for day-of technical issues. Have students and interviewers exchange phone numbers in advance as a “Plan B.”
Assign Roles: Interviewing in teams? Even experienced interviewers should still have a game plan on who will lead the interview. We also recommend assigning an individual to be responsible for monitoring time, any virtual waiting rooms, and generally keeping the Zoom CIs on track.
Day-of Protocol: Sign-in to the virtual platform at least 15 minutes before the interview start time. Check the sound, turn on your video, and enter your full name to display on the screen (if possible). Cell phones should be turned off or silenced, as should any distracting applications (e-mail, social media, web browser, etc). For everyone’s privacy, turn off any virtual assistants (Alexa, Google Nest, etc).
In Bonnie We Trust.
*Zoom CIs: Best Practices for Schools, Employers and Students" By Pamela Cyr and Chira Perla is reproduced with the permission of NALP, the National Association for Law Placement, Inc. from November 2020 issue of NALP Bulletin at https://www.nalp.org/bulletinhome.