You’ve caught a potential employer’s attention and now they want to get to know you better. So what’s next? There are two ways screening interviews for law firms are generally conducted: it may take place either in person or over the phone.
In today’s’ digital world, phone interviews are more and more common. It’s especially true when it comes to preliminary and some final interviews for law firms if the candidate is located out of town or is not able to attend an in-person interview for whatever reason, however, screening interviews happens for local job applicants too. In Big Law, it’s common to ask for phone interviews in order to quickly eliminate you as a candidate instead of spending the time and resources needed to bring you in for an in-person interview. Thus, phone interviews are often conducted by the recruiting coordinator, rather than a hiring partner.
While it’s easy to underestimate the importance of a phone interview, you’re actually going to have to work harder to make sure you are coming off as the perfect candidate and to stand out from the crowd. There are, however, a lot of advantages to doing a phone interview. You can make a great impression over the phone if you plan ahead. You can have tools and interview aids at your disposal that are not available in a standard interview, and that will make the process much easier.
So how do you prepare for this new age of legal industry employment screening? Luckily, almost all of the standard rules from in-person interviews still apply (check out LAW FIRM INTERVIEW vol.1 // 7 Things To Do Before Your Legal Job Interview), so the basic prep work is essentially the same but there are some tips specific to phone interviews than can really be of help. Give yourself an advantage over the competition with these 10 tips to master the phone interview for a law firm:
1. DON’T Answer Your Phone
That’s right – being too available can make you seem desperate and answering the phone in an inappropriate place may put you in an awkward position too. When employers conduct interviews by telephone they usually tell you this and formally schedule the phone interview in advance, but some may informally do this without warning. If you answer a call from an unrecognized number, it could be game over before it began. Maybe you’re at your desk in your current employer’s office, heading to a company meeting or at the coffee shop with your colleagues during your lunch break. Reduce your chances of being stressed and unprepared. Better let the message go to voicemail, listen to it, prepare for the phone interview appropriately and then call them back within 24 hours.
If the recruiter reaches out to you via email – even better! Respond with your availability to schedule a call. If you get a phone call out of the blue and you do happen to answer the phone unknowingly, let the interviewer know that you aren’t able to speak freely and ask if you can schedule a time for the call.
Clearly, this rule does not apply to scheduled-in-advance phone interviews. When you set a specific time to conduct a phone interview, you are committing to a business appointment and you should be fully prepared.
2. Take It Seriously
Just because you do not face to face with a potential employer doesn’t mean a phone interview is any less important than a standard one. This is an interview and should be treated like one. Until recently, skilled candidates could breeze through phone interviews in 10 minutes or less by answering a few softball questions. These days, legal job hunters need to reserve an hour or more for a phone interview. They may be asked to discuss their full work history, including the exact dates of their job experience in various legal areas or cite examples of the cases they were working on.
Legal job seekers should prepare for a phone interview as seriously as they do for an in-person one. When your interview is first scheduled, make sure you set aside time before the interview to prep for it. If it’s an early morning interview, make sure you’re “going” before the phone rings. If being nicely-dressed positively influences your mood and demeanor and voice, consider taking that step. Ask yourself if you can make yourself sound your best with whatever you choose to wear.
3. Know the Rules
There are some technical details about the scheduled phone interview you should know in advance. If, in setting the phone interview appointment, the employer doesn’t tell you the following, ask:
- Will the employer call you or are you expected to call the employer?
Most likely the employer will expect to call you, but don’t assume; ask if that’s not made clear.
- Approximately how long will the interview last?
It’s reasonable for you to know this before you commit; you may need time to get to a class or a job. You don’t want to feel or seem rushed during the interview because you didn’t know how long it would last.
- Will you be speaking with one person, or more than one?
If more than one person is speaking and listening to you on the employer’s end, this can involve a conference or speakerphone, which can interfere with sound quality.
- Is this strictly a phone/audio interview, or a video interview?
If it’s not strictly audio, then you need to be concerned with all the same personal appearance and conduct issues that are judged in an in-person interview.
4. Review the job description
Prior to calling back, double check the job description you’re interviewing for. Peruse details of the job so you can speak articulately about why you’re a fit. In doing so, review your resume as well to talk specifically about your experiences and how they match the company’s employment needs.
Do some research to learn about the company. If you know who’s doing your interview you can find out more about them on a personal level look them up on LinkedIn. Good research will allow you to tailor your answers when you start getting hit with the interview questions. Tailoring your answers is the best possible way to ensure that not only are you satisfying what the interviewer is asking, you’re positioning yourself to be the best possible candidate for the job.
Do it on your terms. When you are calling back, call from a quiet location like a conference room, your car or after hours at home. Once the call has been scheduled on the calendar, set aside the time to speak without any interruptions and go somewhere where you are comfortable, but don’t get too comfortable.
Find a good spot to sit down and have all your prep materials nearby for easy access. Don’t lay down. Make sure distractions are not going to be an issue. If you’re doing the interview at home and you’re not alone, make sure everyone knows you’re going to be busy for a bit and to give you some privacy. Make sure you’re presenting yourself in the most professional way possible, from the first to the last second.
6. Speak Slowly and Extra Clearly
Many interviewees don’t realize how much easier it is to understand someone when you speak face to face. If you speak quickly or when you mumble it can hurt you badly in a phone interview. For this reason, you should be extra careful to enunciate and speak slowly. Take your time and pronounce your words clearly. Speak slowly enough to be understood. Take a moment before answering each question and pause.
Take a second or two between the interviewer asking you a question and when you start answering it as you don’t want both of you to end up talking at once. Also, as you’re pausing, it gives you a chance to really think about what you’re going to say rather than just rattling off whatever happens to pop into your mind first.
7. Have your Job Interview Survival Kit ready
A phone interview may be as stressful and exciting at the same time as the in-person interview usually is. It is hard to remember everything you need to know, and in our nervousness, we often forget things we later wish we had said. You should also prepare to answer more complex and detailed questions in phone interviews by creating a list of key statistics and abbreviated answers to commonly asked questions.
Print all the relevant documents and notes and have them spread out in front of you. This job interview survival kit should contain things like:
- Your resume and job application
- Writing sample
- The bios of those interviewing you and the brief info of a law firm you are interviewing for
- A personal data sheet with your previous employment information (law firms conduct 3rd party reference checks on your work experience, dates of employment, education and degrees received)
- A list of likely questions and answers (write out all of the answers, and have them spread out in front of you; interviewing is nerve-wracking, and you may forget what you wanted to say. Having written notes will be invaluable)
- A list of items you would like them to know, if possible (try and focus on what you can do for the law firm; the particular practice group, the individual attorney or management; if your strength is litigation, corporate law, aviation, marketing or real estate, make sure you talk about any similarities to your last position to the one you are applying for)
- A list of questions you would like to ask them (ask about the different aspects of the job and express genuine interest and excitement in the opportunity; don’t be afraid to dig for more details about the position and the company)
8. Be enthusiastic
Let your enthusiasm shine even through the phone! Try to build rapport on the phone without coming across as needy or desperate. Express interest in the company, and ask about the next steps and a potential time frame. Also, if you don’t already have it from scheduling the interview, ask for the recruiter’s email address so you can follow up.
You need to have enthusiasm in your voice while you interview and the easiest way to interject that is to smile! Sure, they might not be able to see it, but your tone of voice will reflect it.
9. Direct Them To Your Personal Website
It’s true, having your own personal branding website can be one of the most powerful tools you use as part of your job search.
There are dozens of reasons, but most importantly, a personal website will allow you to impress hiring partners, differentiate yourself from your competitors, increase your visibility online and create a hub for your personal brand online.
Last but not least, it lets you show off so much more of your personality than your resume or cover letter can. And this is absolutely important for someone having a phone interview when your name is standing out and being memorable. All legal organizations want a person with a spark or something that sets him/her apart.
10. Follow up by email
Remember, this stage is about making good first impressions and the fact that you’re doing this all via phone makes the follow up even more critical. Don’t hang up until you know what your next steps are. Make sure you not only end your phone call on a positive note but follow up in a timely manner with a thoughtful thank you email after your interview.
Let the interviewer know you appreciated them taking the time to talk to you and that you enjoyed it and that you are invested in the process. It will help you stand out and reinforce that you’re truly interested in the position. Above all remember that the focus here is on how you add value to the company, not just what your past experiences are and what you’re good at.
These days phone screening interview is often the first hoop in the job interview process and there are several more to jump through before you land your dream job. Sadly, well-qualified legal professionals trip themselves up at this first one way too often. When you give your phone number, you expect to be called. Don’t be surprised. Do be prepared. Be ready for that call. It could boost the interview process or quickly end it. When you keep these tips in mind, you’ll jump through the first hoop with ease, and be prepared for the in-person interview. 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: