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9 December 2020

Standing out as a job applicant during the pandemic

How do you stand out in job applications and interviews when the Covid-19 pandemic is causing so much uncertainty?

You’ve no doubt heard the expression, “We’re living in unprecedented times”; the good thing is that you don’t need to take unprecedented action to make your mark as a prime job candidate – but you do need to take some sensible steps.


Video interviews

Do you have a video interview lined up? You’re not alone. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of hiring managers in professional service firms have been hosting online job interviews. Your interview may be live, or you may be asked to attend an “on-demand” interview where you record your responses to a series of pre-recorded interview questions.The most common video interviews are by the videoconferencing platforms Teams, Zoom, Skype or Google Meet. To the recruiter, these interviews by video have the same function and status as those carried out face to face – so you’ll need to be prepared.


Practice makes perfect

The great thing about Zoom is that you can set up a meeting with yourself and give yourself a practice interview observing the following:


Getting the technical stuff right

  • Check your webcam.
  • Check your headset or microphone.
  • Position your camera to eye-level – so you’re making eye contact with the interviewer.
  • Check your sound equipment.
  • Make sure you are properly lit even during daylight hours. Use overhead lighting, table lamps, standard lamps… whatever is required to ensure none of your face is in shadow, something that can happen if you have light sources behind you. Some students use “ring-lights” and “uplighters” placed behind the screen to scatter light across the face. But take care not to over light up your face – try out different forms and levels of lighting until you find the best combination for you.


Getting your background right

Is your background tidy? If not, a recruiter may feel it means you’ll be disorganised at work. Choose a plain wall or anything that looks well-ordered. Depending on the video platform you’re using, you may be able to select a virtual background. If you are using a virtual background, test it and make sure that it functions correctly. Ensure your environment is quiet.


What to wear?

Be smart – from head to toe. There are too many true stories of interviewees looking smart from the waist up and then – owing to circumstances beyond their control – having to stand up, wearing tatty jeans.


While in front of the video

Turn your phone to silent and turn off alerts on your laptop or tablet – you don’t want to be distracted or be thrown off your focus and thoughts while answering the interviewer. Don’t fiddle with items on your desk. The microphone will pick up the noise in the room.Make eye contact by looking at the camera – and not at your image on screen! Avoid hand gestures. Be aware there may be a time lag between what you see and hear. Sometimes you can see someone stop talking but there is a fraction of time before you hear them stop speaking. Give your interviewers a little more time to finish their questions – or you might talk over the top of them.


Update your CV and LinkedIn profile

This is one of the quickest ways to give your application a lift. How current and how relatable is the information on your CV and LinkedIn profile? Are there any prose-heavy sections that would benefit from breaking up with subheads or bullet points? In your CV, think about separating your experiences into different categories such as commercial, legal, and voluntary work.As a lawyer, you’ll be a trusted adviser to clients. How does your CV and LinkedIn profile reflect that role? Is it demonstrating your accuracy, ability to be an expert and your people skills? Does it show you as being observant? Think VERY carefully about which verbs – the most dynamic class of words in the English language – you use.

If you explain how you headed up a team, do you write that you:

  • Led people
  • Managed people, or
  • Guided people?

Each verb is different and implies different things about how you saw your role. Think about how you want to present yourself as a person.


Stand out by being proactive

During a pandemic, in most industries, levels of recruitment go down as do levels of business contracts and services awarded. But when economic recovery occurs, organisations will want to be able to step up to the task quickly. That may mean having talented people on file, waiting to be hired as soon as possible.

  • Target organisations who are advertising
  • Target organisation who are not advertising.

The secret of crafting a great speculative cover letter is to demonstrate that you’ve researched the organisation and how you might play a part in it. Doing this is essential for any application; however, it can be VERY impressive when you do so for recruiters who aren’t expecting it. Yes, it can take a bit of time – so you’ll want to think carefully about which firms are on your target list – but it’s flattering and almost all employers think it’s vital that candidates have some insight into the organisation to which they’re applying. This is a very understandable expectation on the part of those recruiting. To stand out during these difficult times, demonstrate C.R.E.I.D:

  • Commercial awareness
  • Resilience
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Diplomacy


Commercial awareness

Business clients want commercial solutions – which is why law firms make a big deal of seeking job candidates who demonstrate commercial awareness. How you define that varies from firm to firm, so tailor your definition of your own commercial awareness according to your application. Many applicants make a one-size-fits-all statement about commercial awareness; instead, look at the issue from the firm’s perspective.

Is the firm involved in mergers and acquisitions among listed companies or the local housing market? Do its workers need to read the FT or the local press and Builders Weekly?



The ability to bounce back quickly from setbacks is increasingly becoming a must-have skill for a legal career. It’s especially important during these uncertain times.


Emotional intelligence

Clients are there to be heard – and, right now, clients are even more anxious.

Emotional intelligence is more than just the ability to actively listen, empathise, support and to set a constructive tone. It’s also about the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions calmly, constructively and to the benefit of others.

Sometimes in turbulent times such as these, feelings and behaviour can become frayed. Demonstrate to any potential employer that you have the powers of diplomacy. Tact strengthens relationships within the workplace and is invaluable in any type of negotiation.



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