Preparing for the Interview
Preparing for an interview is the key to presenting yourself persuasively and effectively to a potential employer. The following is a method to prepare oneself effectively for interviewing. For detailed instruction, make sure to attend the Interviewing Seminar and sign up for a mock interview with one of the directors at CPD.
- Self Assessment
- Research Areas of Practice
- Talk to People
- Review and Revise your Approach and Materials
- Research Specific Employers and Interviewers
- Preparing for the Actual Interview
- Common Pitfalls to Avoid
To begin the process of preparing for an interview, it is important to review what you will be bringing to the table. This means beginning with a self-assessment exercise. Having a sense of your strengths will help direct your search for places that you will want to interview with. Further, beginning with self-assessment will be of tremendous assistance in preparing the materials that will help you land that interview, i.e., your resume and cover letter. Further, you can prepare your “infomercial” or a 60-90 second list of your accomplishments around a theme.
I suggest brainstorming for about 30 minutes all the things that you have done well, enjoyed doing and were proud of when you were done. These ought to be specific things you have done, i.e., “I did the research for 200 footnotes for Prof. X’s law review article over the summer”, rather than “I like to research.” Include a few personal accomplishments in the list as well, it can help provide an employer with a more complete picture of who you are and what you find is important. I suggest shooting for at least 15, that way you will have some material to work with. Once you have completed the list, let it rest for a few days (or hours, depending on your level of urgency), return to the list and group your accomplishments into 3-5 strong areas. For example: people skills, research and writing and decision making. These areas will form the core of what you will present to an interviewer as your strengths, and you will be able to offer specific examples to illustrate each area, in fact more than one. This is both more compelling and more persuasive.
You have completed your self-assessment and you have a few areas that you have evidence that you are strong in. Use this hard-won insight to identify areas of practice that you are interested in. One way to start is to review descriptions of what legal practice areas actually are like. Guerrilla Tactics For Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams by Kimm Walton has a section on the nuts and bolts of 31 practice areas. Another resource to review is NALP’s The Official Guide to Legal Specialties, An Insider’s Guide to Every Major Practice Area by Lisa L. Abrams or simply visit Practice Areas. Both are good guides to helping you to sort out what area of practice you might be interested in. It can be difficult, particularly during and immediately after your first year of law school to be able to articulate much more than “I’m interested in Property or Contracts or, I know I don’t like Torts.” While these are substantive areas of law, they are not practice areas.
Once you have narrowed down your interest areas to a few, you must continue your research. Get out and talk to people in the field that you want to practice in. Who else can give you better feedback about the joys and pitfalls of a particular practice area than someone who is actually doing it, right now. How do you meet those lawyers? There are a number of easy ways to begin the networking process, attend the networking seminar to learn the most effective methods. But, for a start, join the King County Bar Association, www.kcba.org (which you may do for free) and join sections that you have identified an interest in. Join student organizations that have to do with your areas of interest. Don’t forget to talk to your parents/siblings/doctor/dentist/hair stylist/manicurist, et al. It would be highly unlikely that you don’t know someone who knows a lawyer. For example, if you come in and talk with someone in Professional Development, we all know a number of practicing attorneys, and we may know someone who is either doing, or has done what you are interested in.
Once you have talked to a few people about what interests them about the practice area, what qualities they look for in a potential intern/associate, now it is time to review your resume and cover letter, in light of what you have discovered. You may have found out that something that was prominently displayed on your first resume has absolutely no value to a potential employer in a particular area. Similarly, something that you did not think was important enough to include in your resume may be of great interest to a practitioner. A resume should always be in flux, there is no such thing as a perfect resume, just a resume that will be the most persuasive to a given person. Now that your materials are prepped and polished, you can be more confident that you will be able to get an interview with a firm that will be doing what you think you would like to do. And you can make an informed judgment about the size and style of firm that you are interested in.
You ought to have done a little research before applying for an employer, and the following ideas apply equally before you submit materials as before you go into interview. Research the specific employer with whom you have an interview. Obviously, begin with a check of the employer’s website and Google both the firm and the interviewer (if you know who that is.) Check with your classmates and see if anyone you know has worked for that employer, talk to the people that you spoke with before and see if they know who it is and what the firm’s reputation is like. You can also ask us if we know the person, know about the firm or know someone who worked there that would be willing to share their experiences. You should also conduct research on the clients that the employer represents (or services for non-legal jobs).
The goal of this research is to gain an understanding of the legal issues that an employer deals with, what are the issues faced by the firms’ clients so that you can craft intelligent questions about the practice. Another goal is to learn what the culture of the firm is, and whether you will fit in with the employer’s culture. “Fit” is a buzzword for employers, and if you can discover what the firm’s values are and what traits the firm values, you can craft materials and your interview responses to demonstrate how you will fit. Good questions can be what will set you apart from all the other candidates, it shows not only that you are interested in what they do, but you are interested in the area.
You should also research the interviewer. Lawyers have a great deal of information about them available on-line. You can check the firm bios, Martindale.com, and LEXIS/NEXIS and WESTLAW. Most firms have bios of attorneys available on the firm’s website. Further, many firms pay to have a listing in Martindale Hubbell, found at Martindale.com, which can include attorney bios as well as firm bios. The major legal search firms allow you to search for attorneys of record in published cases, law reviews and other legal journals. Further, you can search newspapers for information about a firm or an individual attorney, to see if they have had any cases that were news worthy. You want to use this information judiciously, DON’T CYBERSTALK! While it is true that all this information is available about attorneys, it is very disconcerting to have it thrown in your face. Be a little subtle, if the firm bio says the attorney is a Husky’s fan don’t say “So, I see you are a Husky fan!” rather, say “Did you see the game last Saturday?” You can show that you did your research in a much less threatening way.
Just like everything else, preparation is the key to doing well in an interview. It is important that you have done your research on the firm, the attorney(s) that will be conducting the interview, that you have a general grasp of the firm’s practice areas and what the business of its clients is. But you also need to prepare for some common questions that are perennial favorites of legal interviewers:
Why did you come to law school?
- What is your favorite law school class and why?
- Why did you choose Seattle University School of Law?
- Where do you see yourself in (5-10) years?
- What is your greatest strength/success?
- What is your greatest weakness/challenge?
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why should we hire you, instead of the other people we are interviewing?
- Why do you want to work for us?
- What made you choose this practice area?
There will always be questions that you would prefer wouldn’t come up, your grades, why you came here, are you planning on staying (when you plan to move) are some examples. You need to face those questions and think of a response to them. You should be able to look the interviewer in the eye and give a short explanation and then move on to one of your strengths. E.g., if you did poorly in one or more of your classes, say that you were not happy with the grades that you received, then point to the good grades that you did get, hopefully in an area that is of importance to the employer. The goal is to acknowledge the problem and then move on from it. You can also talk about any remedial measures that you have taken to improve whatever the situation is.
They start “Tell me about a time when…” These questions tend to probe 4 main areas:
Decision Making/Problem Solving
Tell me about a time when you had to come to a quick decision.
…had to come to a difficult decision.
…you set your sights too high (or too low).
What type of work environment do you need to succeed?
Tell me about a time when you had to persuade a co-worker to your point of view.
Planning and Organization
…about a time you had too many things to do and you had to prioritize.
There is a strategy for responding to these types of questions, describe the Situation or Task, explain the Action that you undertook, and describe the Result. This can be easily remembered by the acronym STAR. STAR is actually a good way to organize all your responses, as it will force you to assemble an interesting narrative that will be persuasive and compelling to the listener.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Know your infomercial, know your resume, practice responses to questions that you do not want to answer. Have a mock interview with the Center’s staff. The more comfortable you are with your ideas and how they can be presented, the better your presentation will be.
Remember, you are interviewing the employer as well. It is a truism because it is true! “Fit” is what the employer is looking for, and it is what you should be considering as well.
When you greet the interviewer, look them in the eye, have a smile and a firm handshake, you have only a few seconds to make your first impression, use them to your advantage.
Be yourself! You have done your research, prepared answers, have an objective for the interview and points to make along the way. All of this preparation will make it easier for you to let your personality come through.
Be enthusiastic. Genuine interest and enthusiasm will lift your interview above other people’s interviews. But do not tell them what you think they want to hear, not only will it not seem genuine, but odds are pretty good that they want to hear what makes you unique.
They think that you are qualified when they bring you in for an interview. They will not waste time on someone who they think cannot do the work. While there will be some evaluation of your ability to explain your motivations in a cogent manner, the fit between the employer and you is of primary importance.
Questions that make you look lazy:
What is the firm’s vacation policy; What is the billable hour requirement; Is there a sabbatical policy and when would I qualify?
Not having any questions
You always should have questions about the interviewer and about the employer. There is no magic set of questions to ask, but they should demonstrate that you have done your research, i.e., do not ask questions that you can easily discover the answers to, e.g., by reading the web site or personal bio.
Not preparing for the interview
That will not happen, right? One easy problem that can be fixed is knowing your resume, everything that is on your resume is fair game for questioning, so know it. You should also know how to pronounce the employer’s name correctly, e.g., Stafford, Frey Cooper is pronounced “Stafford Fry Cooper”.
Having a bad attitude.
NEVER be negative, always be positive, even if that person you worked for was an absolute ogre, find something nice to say about them. People will generally assume that you were the problem, not the employer.