Interviewing in the time of COVID-19
In these uncertain times, with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) being a national and global issue, things are changing by the minute. Since news recently broke break that the first known Big Law partner contracted the illness in the United States, questions around remote business have become more pressing. Individuals and companies are adjusting their day-to-day business practices to minimize exposure and risk. The list of law firms which are creating internal and client-facing task forces, limiting travel, conducting more business remotely and canceling participation in large-scale events is growing. As a company, we at HCMC Legal are taking many steps internally and externally to ensure continued health and safety, while continuing to serve our candidates and clients during the COVID-19 crisis.
Recruiting is certainly an area which is feeling the effects of this crisis, with all parties involved adjusting to this “new normal.” We are seeing an uptick of Mestel clients changing all meetings and lateral interviews to video or phone interviews. We expect more law firms will follow suit. In addition, several clients are taking steps to preliminarily screen candidates on travel and potential exposure, prior to any in person meeting taking place.
With that in mind, we felt it would be helpful to offer some counsel on this development and as processes adjust, so opportunities are not compromised. To that end, this piece is the first of a three-part series of articles Mestel will publish in connection to best practices and tips on recruiting in the age of COVID-19. Below, we will counsel candidates who learn that the firm interviewing them has requested that all interviews be conducted remotely. The second article will offer guidance on how best to prepare for interviews conducted by videoconference and the third piece will focus on best practices for telephone interviews, to ensure you are positioned for fruitful discussions and positive impressions, notwithstanding the attenuation of not sitting face to face.
If you have been invited in for an interview, keep these practices as you move through the process:
- Don’t take it personally
This pandemic is constantly evolving and is fluid. As the situation develops, try to maintain perspective: there is something much larger at play disrupting our day-to-day general business practices and schedules; therefore, it isn’t just about you. Law firms may pump the breaks on the lateral process, reschedule meetings, ask for pre-screen information, or opt for video or phone Interviews. This is not a reflection of your merit as a candidate, or a firm’s interest level, but, rather, a result of systemic changes being implemented by the firm. Firms wish to limit exposure both to their employees and to firm visitors – including prospective lateral hires – as health and safety are the top priority. If, in their estimation, specific steps will further that goal, it’s the right way to go. Ultimately, access to virtually the same information about a prospective hire without increased risk is everyone’s preference.
- Be accommodating
Years ago and early in my recruiting career, someone advised me that candidates demonstrate interest when they “talk with their feet.” This has always held true but is particularly relevant now. Showing flexibility and willingness to bend to the demands and scheduling particularities of a prospective employer is one way to demonstrate your interest. An attorney who is rigid and offers limited scheduling options, or backs out of the process all together, might think they are sending the message that they are busy and therefore an attractive hire, but what they are actually telegraphing to a prospective employer is that the job they are being considered for is not a priority. All other things being equal, an equally qualified candidate who is willing to engage, albeit in a modified way, provides ranges of time to meet, and maintains flexibility in the process stands a better shot of getting the job. By the same token, showing an interest in a position even if the firm does not allow you into their office due to health concerns gives you a competitive edge.
- Do not be afraid to propose alternatives
There will be a full spectrum scale of how firms take precautionary measures in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. While we are experiencing more video and phone meetings, we also still see many of our clients requesting and conducting in person meetings. If a firm that has invited you in for an interview plans to proceed with an in person meeting, you are well within your rights to ask that the interview be conducted via video conference or by phone. Further, it is not incumbent upon you to disclose any protected information you would not otherwise have to share at this stage in the interview process (e.g., that you or a member of your household is immunocompromised or otherwise particularly vulnerable to Coronavirus); it is enough to say that you would feel more comfortable not interviewing in person at this point in time, given the uncertainty about the risk posed currently.
- Conducting in person interviews
As we mentioned, in person meetings are certainly still taking place across all our offices. Consider the following steps to alleviate stress and to erase potential question-marks. If you are going in for an in person interview, reach out before, directly or through your recruiter, to address your lack of personal exposure and to confirm lack of exposure of those you are meeting. A simple quid pro quo email addressing your international travel and lack of exposure, requesting a confirmation of the same for the individuals you will be meeting is perfectly acceptable. (If you potentially have been exposed, we strongly urge you to opt to reschedule or propose an alternative method of meeting.) Consider a request that you be brought directly to the conference room for the meeting(s) to minimize interaction. Once in person, forgoing a hand-shake as a greeting will also be considered perfectly acceptable. Avoid any discomfort by leading with a disclaimer – “I would shake your hand – but I am trying my best to follow the new recommendations.”
With worries rampant both about the health risks posed to their staff and those with whom they come into contact, law firm leaders will not cease activities, but may be tapping the brakes on lateral hiring and proceeding with caution. If you remain interested in a firm that has invited you in for an interview, the changes that are occurring should not be a barrier to making a good impression or gathering information to see whether there is mutual interest. It is well worth your while to remain engaged, flexible and to take precautionary measures to ensure you interview safely and successfully.
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Valerie A. Phillips, Esq.
Senior Director, Associates, Counsel, Partners
Mestel & Company, New York