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Job Interview 101 For Law Students – The Screening Interview
What does it take to ace a job interview? Put on a good suit, pop in a few breath mints, and making sure your tie matches your shirt?
These are tough economic times. Fewer and fewer firms are hiring new candidates, choosing to invest in experience than youth (if they’re investing at all). In this tide of economic depression, great grades, strong extracurriculars, and a great school history might not be enough to land you that plum position at that prestigious law firm.
Enter the job interview.
If there’s one place where you can rise above your resume and show your prospective employer where you shine, give him one more reason to hire you over others, its the job interview. The job interview is all about leaving an impression, and we’ll tell you how to make the right one in both rounds:
The Screening Interview
The screening interview is the first round of evaluation when your prospective employer tries to see if you, the candidate, match up to your credentials. Depending on your law school, there might be a lottery system to sign up for a screening interview. In this lottery system, you can’t be rejected outright based on your resume, so it is possible that even mediocre students with weak resumes will get their 15 minutes with a recruiter – and perhaps impress him enough for a call back interview.
Tip: If you don’t win a scheduled appointment with a firm of your choice, persistence – a call to the law firm, for instance – should get you a spot.
Do Your Homework
Before the big day, do your homework. Research the law firm – their practice, history, and if possible, the attorney you’ll be talking to. You can usually get all this information in the hospitality room (or waiting room, if you prefer), or on firm’s website.
Learn as much as possible about the kind of work the firm does. Interviewers are usually happy to see that a candidate has shown interest in their firm. Moreover, it’ll help to check what you talk about: your interviewer won’t be thrilled to hear you talk on and on about an area the firm doesn’t deal with.
Also, check out the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) form on the particular office of the firm at which you are interviewing. Many firms’ branch offices have different stats from the headquarters, especially when it comes to practice areas and attorney demographics. Your career services office should also have some useful material, such as employer evaluations from years past.
And don’t forget your classmates and the alumni. Talk to those people who’ve worked at your target firm. This will give you the real take on the firm – its practice, area of expertise, history, the work atmosphere, and even the less desirable aspects.
Your suit alone won’t bag you the job, but it can never hurt to dress up professionally. While employers may state that students can attend the interview in business-casual attire, they really want to see you dressed up in a suit – as a real lawyer would have to in a court room. Moreover, clothing preferences might vary from interviewer to interviewer, and thus, your best bet is a classic suit, preferably in a neutral color like charcoal or brown.
Carry your documents in a leather portfolio, don’t strut around carrying them in your hand.
And don’t forget to carry additional copies of your resume and transcripts.
You usually get 20 minutes with the interviewer. More often than not, the interviewer has already decided if you should be invited to the firm for a call back – based on your resume, transcript, etc. even before you’ve walked into the room. If your resume and transcripts go heavily against you – low grades, no extra-curriculars, then there’s little you can do to salvage the interview. However, for borderline candidates, a good show can really boost your chances of landing a call back.
As cliche as it may sound, try and be yourself. Remember that the interviewer has probably seen hundreds of candidates. He can see right through any facade you might have built up to fit into your perceived image of what the firm wants.
Fight the urge to discuss law-related topics only. If your interviewer seems interested in opera, you might be better off discussing Pavarotti than your law journal work. Keep in mind that the interview is designed to gauge your personality, not your grasp on law – your transcripts are enough proof of that.
So you walk into the interview room, fully prepared to answer anything thrown at you. You sit, straight backed before the interviewer, thumbing through your answers in your head, smiling confidently.
But then the interviewer leans back in his chair and asks you, “So, what do you want to know about this law firm?”
And suddenly, all those scripted answers fall apart and you mumble a response.
Don’t let this happen to you. Interviewers have a tendency to begin with random, off topic questions. In such a scenario, be prepared to give a 3-5 minute narrative answering the question (or asking questions), and gradually steering the topic of discussion to yourself – who you are, and what interests you in the law firm.
Try and incorporate elements that interest you in your narrative – a particular question that daunted you in moot court, a paper you’re writing for the law journal, your 1L summer internship. You can use the same story, but present a different version each time. It’ll keep you from sounding scripted.
But most importantly, learn to answer the interviewer’s questions in a way that your answer blends in with your narrative.
Be Location Aware
You’ll have firms from all over the country coming to your law school for the job interview. This can cause a problem if say, you’ve lived in New York all your life, and your target firm is based in L.A. You’ll have a hard time convincing the interviewer about your sudden desire to move to L.A.
Remember that the firms are making an investment in you. They’ll train and groom you for the first year. They want to be sure that you’ll stay the course and not leave them midway. If you’ve lived in New York all your life, a firm will be (rightly) skeptical of your decision to stay in L.A. to work for them.
Confront this problem by visiting the city where your target firm is located. Arrange for a meeting with them. A casual meeting will make it appear as if you’re really interested in moving to their city to work for them – factors that will go a long way in strengthening your resume when it comes to the interview.
It shouldn’t appear that you simply signed up to be interviewed by every firm that came to your campus. When the inevitable question: “Why did you sign up to interview here?” pops up, be prepared with an arsenal of firm and location specific comments to make your interview seem more genuine.
So you hate your professor, your classmates are all idiots, and the campus cafeteria never has good coffee.
Great. But just don’t tell the interviewer.
The interviewer doesn’t want brutal honesty from you. They’d much rather listen to you describe that insightful professor or that wonderful course you took last fall. Interviewers are very wary of any hint of negativity and can and will latch on to it, severely impairing your chances for landing a job (and this applies to any job, not just a law firm – a negative attitude can be a major turn off).
Smile, and talk about your great experience during your 1L summer internship, the intelligent discussions after moot court with your classmates. Show them a happy face, and they might show you your interview date for a call back.
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