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Master the Dos and Don’ts of Interviewing

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Finals are over and you’re looking forward to a well-deserved break between semesters. But, as always when striving to succeed in law school, you know planning ahead is essential. For those who have done their homework and sent out resumes, this means gearing up for interviews for summer internships or, in the case of graduating students, for full time jobs. With competition for plum positions intense, how do you prepare to stand out from the crowd during the interview process and win a coveted spot?

How do you prepare to stand out from the crowd during the interview process and win a coveted spot?

Before Your Interview…

  1. Do Your Homework
    Depending on your career interests, you may be interviewing with a mix of law firms, public interest groups, management consulting firms, and investment banks. Before you can sell yourself to a future employer, you need to know what’s important and of value to their specific firm or organization.

    Start by combing through the corporate website to determine mission, scope of services and specialty areas – after all, you don’t want to talk about your interest in criminal law if the firm doesn’t take on this type of work. Next, perform a quick Google search to take the pulse of the company’s public facing profile. Finally, network among friends and fellow students who have had past relationships with the firm to learn from their experiences.
  2. Create the Perfect Elevator Pitch
    Now that you’ve done your due diligence it’s time to match your interests and accomplishments to your target employer’s requirements. This will allow you to create a winning “elevator pitch” – a short, chunky paragraph -- that you can practice in advance of your interview to sell them on you.
  3. Review Your Social Media Footprint
    From your Facebook wall to your LinkedIn profile to your Tweets, your social media postings reveal much about you. Scroll through past postings to ensure that the impression you leave is a good one. Be sure to scrub your accounts to remove anything that might cause offence or undermine your character. You may want to consider restricting access, if appropriate.

The Day of Your Interview…

  1. Dress to Impress
    Dress appropriately – you want to be remembered for yourself, not for what you wear. Women should dress conservatively; avoid low necklines and pair appropriate-length skirts with stockings (even on hot days). A well-tailored suit and tie is the best choice for men. Remember, your interviewer is free to relax the fashion rules and shed a jacket or wear funky jewelry – you are not.
  2. Practice Radio Silence
    Turn off your cell phone and keep it out of sight. This is not the time to accept calls, respond to texts, check your emails, or engage in any other distracting behavior. Your interviewer deserves your undivided attention.
  3. Arrive Prepared and on Time
    Simply stated, your interviewer’s time is more precious than yours, so be punctual. Your interviewer also will appreciate it if you make their job easier by bringing a copy of your resume, unofficial transcript (if available), writing sample, and references. That way, your interviewer will have everything s/he needs close at hand.
  4. Watch Your Language and Manners
    Your goal is to appear confident and capable of doing the job throughout the interview. Include a firm handshake as part of the introductions and make continual eye contact to gauge your interviewer’s interest. Throughout the interview strive to stay conversational in tone, avoid slang, and ignore the impulse to pepper your language with “um,” “uh,” and other vocal tics. Nervous? A quick way to compose yourself before answering a question is to take a sip of water to soothe your throat and buy a few seconds of precious time.
  5. Manage Your Time Wisely
    Your first in person interview is likely to run 20-30 minutes. Use your elevator pitch to walk in with an agenda of three to four key points you wish to make about yourself regarding the opportunity being offered, being as specific as possible. (Stay on topic; this not the time to ask about salary and benefits). Show your interest by asking thoughtful questions relating to the position.
  6. Handling Hot Potato Questions
    “Are you planning to have a family?” and “What religion do you practice?” may be questions that are illegal to ask, but that doesn’t mean you won’t encounter them during your interview. Law students are often advised to reply that they are not comfortable answering that type of question and to report the incident to the director of recruitment following the interview.

    While this approach is certainly within your right as a candidate, you may want to follow the excellent advice offered by Nancy B. Rapoport and Jeffrey D. Van Niel in their informative books Law School Survival Manual From LSAT to Bar Exam Law School Survival Manual From LSAT to Bar Exam and Law Firm Job Survival Manual From First Interview to Partnership. Instead of taking offense at the question being asked, consider what information the interviewer is trying to uncover in relationship to the position, then reply to the unasked question. Say the authors, for example, when responding to a question about faith: “I see that you might be interested in whether I’d be able to travel on Fridays. Here’s what I’m able to do….”
  7. Be Prepared to Address Negatives
    Do you have a spotty track record that could raise some red flags? Interviewers will notice gaps in education, changes in career direction, and less than stellar grades. Anticipate these questions and have prepared responses to overcome potential objections.

After the Interview…

  1. Be Appreciative
    Send a thank you note to your interviewer. Call or email the Human Resources Department to ask about the decision timeframe, or if you can provide any additional information that might be helpful.
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