Be Prepared. Be Confident. Be Enthusiastic.
Business Insider writes, “A successful law firm interview that results in a job has everything to do with your personality and ability to be smart, quick, unfazed, personable, and patient.” In our experience, Insider’s simple and straightforward advice is the bedrock of a successful interview. There’s no doubt that your legal work experience and education are the foremost foundational elements when a firm evaluates your candidacy—but keep in mind: they probably wouldn’t be seriously interviewing you if your experience and education didn’t already meet their benchmarks. Similar to an actor’s audition, the interview (or interviews) is your chance to go above and beyond your CV and degree.
Depending on the candidate’s experience, interviews are conducted differently and that’s a logical reality. A contender for a senior partner position will experience a much different interaction and array of questions than an attorney interviewing for an associate’s position. Nevertheless there are fundamental elements that are inherent and universal to all interviews—whether it’s an initial screening interview or a call-back; and this is true if you’re a seasoned professional or a recent law school graduate.
We’ve studied the process and offer you some well-honed pointers and tips aimed at greatly increasing an attorney’s chance of rocking an interview. It’s all about securing the right position to advance your career.
At the Heart of the Matter
Keep in mind that some of this advice may seem obvious but “obvious” doesn’t negate its importance. Simple truths are at the heart of any strong relationship.
Before you even step through the door (or click on to Zoom), know as much as you can about the firm’s history, their clientele and scope of work, the firm’s various departments, major cases and successes, and possibly their vision for the future. Of course these topics are a sample but here’s the key: be as well-rounded and informed about the firm as possible.
In fact, strong prep will bolster every element of your interview performance. Interviewing can be a nerve-wracking experience even for an experienced attorney. The process itself is a uniquely unusual interaction, much different than other exchanges we have in “normal” life. Preparation and practice will lead to significant improvements in how you interview.
Here’s another very important tip: be a great listener. Using the acting analogy once again—great acting is always about great reacting. How you listen to the interviewer and then respond directly and on target to their question or talking point will go a long way to cementing a positive and lasting impression. Remember, most folks enjoy sharing intel about themselves. Business Insider agrees, “Make sure to give your interviewer the opportunity to share his or her accomplishments. You need to show that you're a good listener if you want to get a job that involves helping clients with their problems.” Bottom line? Listen intently, it will enhance the quality of your responses.
As you prepare for interviews, try to anticipate some questions you may be asked regarding the law. Some interviewers may offer hypothetical queries in order to see how you might deal strategically with an issue. “By asking these types of questions,” writes Harvard Law School, “interviewers are trying to evaluate how well you reason and analyze and how clearly you think and speak.” They suggest that your response is ultimately more telling than coming up with the so-called correct answer. As part of their strategy, an interviewer may initiate a debate on a legal issue. Remember, “arguing” is part of the process. Speak with any attorney who has ever argued a case with SCOTUS. In your case, don’t get too passionate and heated about defending your opinion. Remain composed and calm stating your position—the hallmark of being a professional.
Harvard also suggests that an interviewer may find time to focus on weak or soft areas of your resume, “such as gaps between jobs or schooling, sudden changes in career direction or poor grades.” They recommend that you avoid “appearing apologetic” and that you should address these questions “briefly and openly.”
It’s also important for you to ask engaging questions during the interview. If you’ve conducted solid research on the available position and the firm, you’ll develop a well-informed list of questions that interest you. At many junctures, the interview process should be a constructive “two-way street.” Your questions should be sincere and relevant; questions that rise above what might be considered standard fare—questions that display your ability to think about the practice of law in strategic and perceptive ways. And try to stay away from self-serving questions about salary, hours, and vacation time. The organization will present the time and place to discuss these particulars.
Most experts agree that the strongest candidates arrive poised and prepared, almost as if you’re a consultant ready to share your expertise and valuable information. Body language is of great importance. Again, acting offers us a parallel narrative. Most actors take movement classes to augment their performance and presence. Of course there’s no need for you to take movement classes but the idea of recognizing body language as part of your presentation is imperative. Try to remain as calm as possible (despite any natural nervousness or anxiety). Be yourself and be friendly—this will help you engage and ease the tension.
It doesn’t matter if the interview is an initial “meet and greet” or a final get-together, the interviewer—whether a manager or a senior partner—is focused on confirming that you’re a good fit for the culture of the firm. Engage in conversational dialogue. Stay on topic and share stories about your career and experience that remain relevant to the position at hand. Don’t veer off track. For you, priority #1 is to remain laser-focused on convincing the interviewer (or interviewers) that you’re the perfect candidate for the position.
It’s of utmost importance that you project a controlled and peaceful self-confidence without coming off arrogant. It’s a balancing act that will speak volumes to your prospective employer. They’re asking themselves this question: How will this candidate engage with top corporate officials and/or the press? If you project the right demeanor and self-confidence minus the arrogance, you stand a good chance of indicating that you will represent yourself and the firm well.
The interviewer, as well as the firm, are looking for more than just your desire to work for them. Law firms are looking for individuals with qualities (or a “spark”) that elevates them above run-of-the-mill candidates. From your initial interview on, exuding passion and enthusiasm is essential. If you’re in a bad mood, too bad. Remember the actor. It’s about the performance in the here and now. Your unrelated issues can wait. The show must go on. Keep your level of energy up, even if you think a question is irrelevant or trivial. Your reactions and behavior are under scrutiny. Arrive at the interview engaged and remain engaged through thick and thin. You’re an attorney. How you conduct yourself will offer other legal minds hints as to how you might react to a client, a judge, opposing counsel, or colleagues.
If you’re being interviewed by multiple people, be sure to make friendly eye contact and acknowledge each person. Always remember, there are two main questions going through all interviewers’ minds: How will this person fit in? Will I want to work with this person day-in and day out? Truth be told, you’ll be asking yourself the same questions.
The formula for a successful interview involves many components. We’ve outlined the prominent fundamentals. It all begins with this: Are your skills and background a good match for the position? If the answer is “yes” to both, then it’s the intangibles we’ve discussed that will help support you through the process. Also, remember to—
look your best
know your strengths
promptly send a thank you note (after every interview)
If your interview is virtual, fully test your technology. Situate yourself in a quiet and well-lit environment—and check your Internet connection. No one ever enjoys a “glitchy” conversation. Set yourself up for success and always embrace virtual interviews every bit as seriously as an in-person experience.
Parting shot—be yourself… success and failure of any interview usually depends on the camaraderie you build with the interviewer. An interviewer shouldn’t feel frustrated getting answers and information from you. Remain easygoing. Be receptive and conversational. One more acting reference: Break a leg.