Career Audit

Is That What I Look Like?

Videotape Offers Shock Therapy for Interview-Challenged Applicants

Posted May 1, 2004 11:57 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Sit up straight. Stop drumming your fingers. If only you could see what you look like.

Job applicants will ignore Mother’s advice at their peril; law firm interview­ers are likely to notice. And they are likely to be turned off by habits that signal inattention or a lack of professionalism.

That’s why career counselors are more often videotaping mock job interviews to let lawyers and law students see themselves as others see them—or, more accurately, as potential employers see them.

“You can tell someone, ‘You’re fidgeting.’ But when they see it themselves, it really makes an impression,” says Janet Mosseri, career director at Nova South­east­ern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center in Fort Lauder­dale. The school offers videotaped mock interviews.

“We do video feedback of practice job interviews with virtually every lawyer who comes to us for career counseling,” says Stephen Rosen. A New York City career counselor, he heads Celia Paul Associates, an outplacement consulting business.

When the videotape is replayed immediately after the mock interview, clients are typically surprised to see how they present themselves, Rosen says. Usually, he adds, clients will say something like, “Oh, my god, I can’t believe I look like that. What I am going to do?”

It isn’t only bad habits, however, that videotaped interviews can help solve. Many applicants don’t understand the techniques that can transform an interview from an interrogation into a dialogue between equals, Rosen says. Learning those techniques is crucial, he adds. An interviewer is more likely to hire an applicant who is easy to work with.

“No matter how good somebody is at job interviews, they always get better by these because they get instant feedback,” Rosen says of the videotape sessions.

Florence Rostami agrees. After more than a year of sending hundreds of resumés and achieving only a few disappointing interviews, she heard about a low-cost career counseling clinic that Rosen offers through the As­so­ciation of the Bar of the City of New York.

Rostami credits the clinic with helping her to win a three-month internship with a major New York firm.

The videotaped mock interviews made her realize she had come across as “a bit philosophical.” She says she also gained a sense of how to emphasize her abilities.

THE WINNING EDGE

Rostami prepared extensively for the internship interview and, she adds, at several key points was able to resurrect the hiring partner’s flagging interest—once speak­ing knowledgeably about a case he had worked on, and another time pounding the desk lightly to emphasize her interest in litigation.

“This is something I learned from the clinic,” she says. “The more you are in charge of an interview, the more successful you will be.”

Watching oneself on videotape can also help a lawyer develop tri­al skills and hone the ability to interact successfully with clients, experts note.

And there’s another reason job applicants need to sharpen their on-camera skills. Some legal employers are opting to put the actual interview on camera, considering applicants via live television hook­up or videotaped job interviews.

Mark Brickson, career director at the University of North Dakota School of Law, says the time it takes to travel across his state can make such interviews appealing to employers.

He cites the state supreme court as an example. Just getting from the law school in Grand Forks, at the eastern edge of the state, to the centrally located state capital of Bismarck, where the North Da­kota Supreme Court is headquartered, is a four-hour drive.

Even if the students could make it to their interviews, not all the jus­tices could, so the sessions are often videotaped, according to Brickson.

“That,” he says, “was the basis upon which they may have been hired.”

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