Here it comes! You have an Initial Legal Job Interview on the Horizon. You got your resume noticed, secured an interview and did all the necessary pre-interview preparation. So far so good! Now you have to handle the Interview itself.
There are basically two kinds of interviews for a law firms: the screening interview which may take place either in person or over the phone and the callback interview at an employer’s office. Screening interviews usually involve a 20-30 minute conversation with one or two interviewers. Those conducted by law firms are usually handled by the hiring partner of the firm or by a member of the recruiting committee. Callback interviews usually are a series of interviews with several attorneys, which may last several hours and include lunch. A second callback interview is also possible after which a decision is typically made.
Demonstrating your worth through one or more rounds of interviews can be a nerve-wracking, but it can also be an exciting adventure. To help you get through the legal job interview process in its initial phase we have compiled a list of items that you should keep in mind on the interview day. Give yourself an advantage over the competition with these 8 tips for a successful initial interview for a law firm.
1. Make a Great First Impression
Getting a good position at a law firm is not easy even if you have stellar credential. In fact your resume and credentials are only a small part of the whole process. The good news is that you can make up for any perceived weakness on paper by making the strongest possible impression when you’re face-to-face with the partners.
The first few minutes of the interview are very important because they set the tone of the interview and have a major impact on how the recruiter views the applicant. A firm handshake, good eye contact and winning smile is important. It is your first chance to show confidence.
Sit down where the recruiter indicates and sit up attentively. Place your hand on the arms of the chair or in your lap. Avoid playing with your hands, your watch or jewelry. As a rule, you should not take notes during the interview. Better spent your 20 minutes with the interviewer concentrating on his or her questions.
Keep in mind that the interviewer is not the only person you should be thinking about. Be polite and courteous the entire time you’re on the company’s premises. Try to impress everyone you meet at the firm — the administrative assistant, potential colleagues and other staff too. They often have the ear of decision makers and will not hesitate to provide informal feedback on you, especially if you are not respectful.
2. Connect With Your Interviewer
The best interviews are back-and-forth conversations, not inquisitions. Rather than simply answering the questions asked, engage the interviewer in conversation and look for common points of interest. Many legal employers interview dozens of candidates within a short time frame. By establishing a personal connection with the interviewer, you can break the ice and help the interviewer recall you from dozens of candidates.
Mirroring the interviewer will help you feel more relaxed. Take your cues from his or her demeanor, posture and tone. If she wants to chitchat before the actual interview begins, use the time to become more relaxed and allow the interviewer to see you as a real person. If she’s all business, skip the big game recap and get right into why you’re the right person for the job.
During the interview you should be natural and likeable but fairly serious. Avoid being too informal. Use the interviewer’s name while answering and asking questions only in “Mr./ Ms. so-and-so” manner. Do not use his or her first name unless you’re instructed to do so.
3. Don’t be Negative about Your Current or Past Firms
In addition to your skills, accomplishments and experience, employers will be assessing your attitude and how well you relate to others. You should never bad-mouth your present employer or boss or say anything negative about any of your former employers, past work environments or former co-workers. This mistake can make you appear both disloyal and unprofessional while the people may think you will also badmouth them one day if they hire you. Even if you have had negative experiences, always remain positive in discussing your work history and background.
If your interviewers ask why you want to leave your current company, be honest but first of all try to phrase your answer in terms of why you will be better off adding value to their team as opposed to citing negative points about your current situation. Turn it into a positive. Say that you want increased responsibility with a firm that offers growth or a firm that is a match with your personality and skills.
As a legal professional you definitely shouldn’t get into detail about previous work. Revealing too much about old jobs, clients, or cases will make you seem untrustworthy. You need to come across as professional who can be trusted and who views confidential matters seriously. Your interviewers want to know that you will protect the confidentiality of their clients’ secrets.
4. Be Positive and Show Enthusiasm
An interview, especially the initial-stage interview, is the time when you should crank up the enthusiasm and energy level as much as possible. This is especially important for litigators, where you are being evaluated very much on your presentation and not just on the substance of your responses to questions.
All legal organizations want a person with spark or something that sets him/her apart. The tendency of all of us is to be circumspect and cautious during interviews but you must exude serene self-confidence without appearing arrogant. Regardless of your age, your employer expects you to be able to talk with high-ranking corporate officials and the press. When you project the right demeanor, you are indicating that you can do the job.
Smile and keep a positive attitude during the interviews. Personality matters when firms make hiring decisions. Your positive attitude can even help the people interviewing you feel at ease and good about themselves. This is also your opportunity to make a great first impression on attorneys who may become your future colleagues.
5. Look Your Best
In this age of casual dress codes and casual work atmospheres, relaxed dress is a trend that is infiltrating many career sectors. However, the legal industry remains a conservative field and employers expect interviewees to wear proper attire.
The way you dress will reflect to the law firm how you will present yourself to clients and others. You should be neat and clean, and your hair should be nicely cut. Male interviewees should wear a suit, a tie without any stains on it, a clean and pressed shirt, and shoes that have been recently shined. Men need to be sure that they have recently shaved or carefully trimmed their beards. Women interviewees should also wear business suits. They must wear hose and carefully choose blouses that are appropriate for the workplace. Only shoes or pumps with modest-sized heels should be worn.
Before you go to an interview, look at yourself in the mirror. Be sure that you are as presentable as you can be. While your appearance itself won’t get you the job, it can help you start out on the right foot.
6. Be prepared
Come into the interview knowing what you want to get across and ready to take on some tough questions. Know what’s on your resume, give the answers you have practiced if relevant and ask the questions you have prepared.
Preparation is the key to success. In order to ace your interview make sure you did your homework. Check the LAW FIRM INTERVIEW VOL.1 // 7 Things To Do Before Your Legal Job Interview for a complete list.
Please bring a few copies of your resume and transcript with you to the interview day just in case your interviewer misplaces them. It happens. If you have a transcript or a writing sample, put them in a portfolio and bring them out when necessary.
7. Rehearse Your Expression of Interest
You should let the interviewer run the interview and never interrupt him or her but remember it is your job to leave the interviewer with a clear sense of your abilities, even if he or she fails to direct the conversation accordingly.
Keep a mental checklist of things you want to make sure you mention. If there is time remaining, take a few moments to mention anything of importance that was not discussed.
At the end of the interview, briefly reiterate your skills and background in a way that emphasizes how you are the best fit for the position. Rehearse your expression of this interest, aiming for enthusiasm tempered by professional restraint.
8. Don’t Forget Your Thank-you Note
The thank-you note is an important little piece of the interview process you shouldn’t skip. As soon as possible after the interview, send a thank you note to everyone with whom you interviewed.
In writing thank-you letters, the goal is to confirm your interest in their firm and to elicit a response. Remind interviewers of some concrete fact about you that you want to highlight, or refer to some part of your conversation that will help them remember you.
Your thank-you message is actually a marketing letter that highlights your skills, emphasizes your desire to work for the firm. It’s a good place to reiterate briefly what you admire about the company and its mission. It’s also the ideal time to review your strengths as they relate to the position. Keep it simple and make sure to proofread. Don’t write you think you’re a ‘perfect fit’ in a thank-you note after an initial interview. It’s too early and questions your sincerity.
After you leave the interview, take a few moments to make some notes about the interview, your reaction to it, what was said, and your impression of the interviewer(s) and the firm. These notes will help prepare you if you are invited for a second visit. Good luck!
For help with any question Legal Job Interview may pose stay tuned for The Law Firm Interview — a series exploring all aspects of the legal job interview process: