By Matthew Lab, Assistant Director of Career and Professional Development Office
Let’s face it: law job interviews can be stressful, especially for the uninitiated. Now that the spring recruiting season is upon us, many of you have already or will soon interview for legal internships or post-graduate positions. So, why do employers interview? Isn’t your brilliant cover letter and resume enough to convince them that you are the perfect candidate? Not likely.
Employers interview simply because the information presented in your application materials only presents a “snapshot” of the candidate, which by its nature cannot accurately reflect the entire person. Meeting a candidate allows the interviewer to confirm his or her initial impressions as to your qualifications and to evaluate how you will perform tasks, respond to clients, and how well you will fit in and work with the rest of the team. Keep in mind that an interview is nothing more than a focused “conversation.” As such, students need to express their value and indicate what sets them apart from other candidates. The following tips should increase your chances of a successful conversation.
1. Be prepared. Be on time.
Bring a resume, list of references, writing sample, grade sheet – anything the employer could ask for. Be prepared to discuss your resume and writing sample. Be sure to have questions to ask the employer. Asking questions demonstrates that you are interested in the position. Be flexible in setting interview times. Be early, bright, proactive and appreciative.
2. Look professional.
While is it very important to distinguish yourself, it is not advisable to express your individuality with your wardrobe, hair or adornments. This is a professional interview, not an evening out with friends. The legal community is conservative and you do not want your wardrobe to be a topic of later discussion for an employer. Although employers may have different dress codes, err on the conservative side when interviewing. Think black, navy blue or dark grey for suits. And remember, “hold” the onions (as in “none”) on that sandwich before the interview!
3. Have a plan before you apply.
The last thing an employer wants to hear from a candidate is “I am exploring my options.” This sends a message that you don’t know what you want, which they will interpret to mean that you may or may not like the work you will be assigned, and thus, might be a less than productive intern. Even if you have not yet identified your ultimate career path, for the purpose of the interview, demonstrate that you have an identified career plan in mind, preferably, a specific type of work environment and intended areas of practice. This will convey a message of confidence and purpose, which translates to “productive intern.”
4. Sell yourself.
At its core, the practice of law is about selling something, although we call it advocacy. Litigators sell arguments to judges and juries, while transactional attorneys sell their client’s (advantageous) posture to opposing counsel. Now is your opportunity to sell yourself and show the interviewer that you have the ability to advocate. You’ve worked hard in school and in life; share your accomplishments! Pick a few skills, attributes or accomplishments you want the employer to know about you before you leave the interview. Find examples from your resume or other life experiences that support each of your attributes and make sure you speak about them.
5. Research the employer.
In short, conduct your due diligence. Know the employer (and interviewer(s)) and what they do. With all the information available on the Internet today, there is simply no excuse for a candidate who lacks this knowledge. One of the most important and common questions an interviewer will ask is, “Why do you want to work with our organization?” If you do your research, you will be able provide a rockstar response to this question.
6. Tell stories.
Back up general statements with a short anecdote. Stories are effective sales tools because they are memorable and demonstrate a skill that lawyers need in practice. Think about compliments your previous supervisors gave about you or the work you did that was special or interesting. When you tell the story, you are engaging the interviewer, and you feel more confident and relaxed. The best interview is one that flows like a conversation.
Interviewing does get easier with practice. While thinking about what you will say is a good first step, to be best prepared, you must practice responding to questions out loud in a setting that simulates some of the nervousness you will feel at the real interview. A mock interview should accomplish this, and we can help you through it. We will prepare practice questions for you that are tailored for each particular employer, and a Career Advisor is happy to schedule a mock interview with you.
8. Focus on transferable skills.
Many students fear if they pick one type of law or specific opportunity for an internship, they will be stuck in that field or have closed off other options down the road. This is untrue. You will build transferable skills no matter where you work. The key is to find an opportunity that genuinely interests you, but even if you pick an internship in criminal law this trimester and decide later that you want to practice civil law, at that interview you will tell the prospective employer about the transferable skills you gained (court room experience, advocacy, research and writing) instead of the substantive criminal law you learned.
9. Follow Up.
Make sure to ask for a business card from all of your interviewers. The next day, follow up with a quick email to thank them for their time. If the job is more traditional in nature (big law firm, judge), sending a handwritten note is also recommended.
For more interviewing and job application advice, contact Matthew Lab at firstname.lastname@example.org.