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Eirian Whitehead, solicitor with Royds Withy King, reflects on her experience of an interview and joining a new firm during Covid-19

I have always loved L P Hartley’s opening line to The Go Between; “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. It has always seemed insightful, but it was particularly relevant to my experience moving firm during the global coronavirus pandemic.  

I applied for a position in Royds Withy King’s new Compensation Protection Unit in March 2020, at the very beginning of the government imposed lockdown. I remember feeling confident at the time that the lockdown would only be a temporary measure, but it quickly became apparent that the country was entering a long-term period of social distancing and that legal firms would not be going back to their offices for some time.  

It was not therefore unexpected that my interview was scheduled to take place online through Zoom. Interviewing from my studio flat introduced a set of considerations which would previously have held no consequence for a job interview; was the flat tidy enough to show in the background? Should I purchase a clearer webcam? Where would my furloughed fiancé and our dog go for the hour when we were all supposed to remain at home? I expect as the profession adapts to working remotely and enclosed home-offices become more commonplace these concerns will fade for interviewees, but being in the early stages of lockdown it was unfamiliar territory to host a formal work-related meeting from home.

On the day of the interview, we decided that it would not breach the lockdown rules for our dog to be taken for a long walk so that I could have some privacy. Although it certainly felt strange to be sat in my kitchen dressed in formal workwear, it was remarkably comforting to be in familiar surroundings. It struck me that the initial stages of a traditional interview can in themselves often be overwhelming, as you must usually travel to a new location and wait in a strange reception area even before discussions begin. It was clear that a virtual interview had its benefits as it offered a real opportunity to launch into the conversation completely fresh and to present the most confident version of myself. It was great to speak to the partners and although the usual handshakes were replaced by smiling and waving towards the camera, the process still felt pleasantly personable and the interview content was very similar to a traditional in-person format.

I was delighted to be offered the position, and as the firm continued to encourage remote working, I also began my new role from home using a laptop and a mobile. It was intimidating to work remotely on my first day, although I received lots of emails and phone calls welcoming me to the team which helped to calm the first-day nerves. I found that it was necessary to adopt a different mind-set to try and make a good first impression without a physical presence in an office, and I made a conscious effort to send out emails introducing myself, rather than simply waiting for introductions to occur naturally as they would in an office environment. I feel strongly that there is still merit in spending at least some time in an office as a new starter where possible; there is, after all, no better way to meet new colleagues than by wandering through corridors, and no way to make a better first impression than offering to make your team a round of tea!

I was also lucky that cafés had opened shortly before my start date so, although my first day was spent working entirely remotely, I was able to meet some new colleagues for a coffee on my second day whilst observing social distancing rules. It was lovely to meet people in person for the first time, and also a good reminder that virtual meetings cannot entirely replace face to face conversations.

It is incredible how quickly the legal profession has adapted to the new virtual ways of working, and it is currently difficult to imagine firms returning to their former recruitment practices of handshakes, office tours and large team meetings to welcome new starters. As social distancing restrictions are gradually lifted however, it will be interesting to see how many of the changes remain.

Miss Eirian Whitehead

Solicitor – Royds Withy King, Compensation Protection Unit

September 2020