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Seven Tips For Paralegals In A Job Search

published January 10, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 102 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.
Congratulations! You've passed the Gatekeeper! Now you're presented with the opportunity to get in and sell yourself. Here is where all your homework will pay off. By this time, you've studied the profession, decided on practice specialties, written a great resume, researched potential employers, and positioned yourself to land that job.

In the best-case scenario, you'll receive a call for an interview sometime between 2 and 10 days from the time you submitted your resume. In the worst-case scenario, you won't receive a call at all. Somewhere in between, you may be asked for a phone interview or you may receive a standard rejection letter. Be prepared to experience it all.


Some candidates view the interview as an exciting opportunity, while others face it with mixed emotions. Selling yourself is no easy task, particularly if you haven't been on many interviews and are unfamiliar with the process. If you haven't interviewed in quite some time and feel out of touch, there's good news. Not much has changed in the actual process. While stricter laws now protect candidates from discrimination and force employers to hire on the basis of skills and capabilities, little else has changed over the past years. Because interviews are so predictable, they're easy to control. A potential employer can ask hundreds of different questions, but essentially these questions all lead to the same thing-can this candidate do the job well, and is there a personality fit? Other than that, very little else is relevant.

Candidates who are well prepared by anticipating questions they may be asked will get through the entire process more easily. Nothing is worse than fumbling for answers-particularly while under pressure to demonstrate your capabilities. Rehearse the interview with a friend who acts as the interviewer. Practice answering tough questions. Be certain your friend acts as a critical interviewer and not your friend.

The interview-to-offer ratio improves for those candidates who have diligently prepared themselves for the unexpected. Employers perceive candidates who interview well as most likely to be a better employee. That's because those candidates demonstrate an ability to interact with others and give an excellent presentation of their ideas. Positive interaction gets people hired and recruited for better opportunities.

The interview affords you an opportunity to take a random selection process and control it. But don't try out-controlling the interviewer! Your goal is to knock an interviewer's socks off. Programming your mind with effective answers to the most generic questions will enable you to respond to any variations that arise. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Don't fight the process. Work with it. It'll make all the difference in the world.

DOING YOUR HOMEWORK

Once the interview is scheduled, perform a little research on the firm. Using one of the legal directories available, such as Martindale-Hubbell (see Chapter 12), look up the firm and read the listing. You will be able to learn a lot. The address will tell you what part of town it's in-ritzy or more working class. A Web site noted in the listing will give you an idea of how on the ball the firm is technologically. The firm may include in its description a list of practice areas, which will give you an idea of the areas of law you may be expected to work. Next will come a list of each of the attorneys in the firm, in order of seniority, with a biographical paragraph or two. Finally will be a roster of the firm's more prestigious clients.

If you are interviewing for a position as a paralegal in the legal department of a corporation, you can do the same sort of homework using the Directory of Corporate Counsel or the corporate law department section of Martindale-Hubbell. Request a copy of the corporation's annual report, which will give you an overall picture of the entire company. Get on the Internet and research articles about the company and find out what it's up to. Always walk into that interview armed with information-even if you don't get an opportunity to use it. The worst answer to the question, "What do you know about us?" is "Nothing."

Besides giving you an idea of the size of the firm, its culture, and practice areas, such homework can be useful when you are tailoring questions you wish to ask during your interview. If you are able to ask intelligent questions about the firm or company and exhibit some knowledge of its background and structure, you will impress the interviewer as someone who has taken the extra step of doing some homework and preparing for the interview.

THE DAY BEFORE

You've completed your research on the firm or company, and you've figured out what you're going to wear (see Chapter 18). Now you need to start pulling together the things you are going to take to the interview.

Resume

At least five extra copies of your resume. You never know who you're going to meet. If you know ahead of time that the interview extends to more than one person, bring a copy for each. Never assume that the interviewer will have a copy of your resume.

Professional References

No less than three professional references on stationery matching the resume. Must have name, address, firm/company, and phone number (See Chapter 16).

Briefcase or Portfolio

A quality leather case that is shined, polished, and clean. Fill it only with what you'll need for each interview.

Quality Pen

Don't whip out your 39-cent special! Make sure you have a decent writing instrument.

Money

Enough cash to park and make phone calls, if necessary. Don't automatically expect validated parking or free use of the phones.

Extra At-Risk Clothing

Additional pantyhose or tie and shirt, if necessary.

Legal Pad

If you are asked to write information down, you'll be prepared. You'll also want to write up details about the interview minutes after leaving.

Writing Samples

An assignment (with grade and teacher's comments) or actual work product. Make certain all confidential information such as names, places, and dates are redacted (see Chapter 16).

Samples of Articles You Have Written Newsletters, articles, or papers by or about you.

Emergency Contact Numbers For the application.

1-9 Documents

Passport or driver's license and social security card or birth certificate.

College or Paralegal School Transcripts If required.

Logistical Information

Directions to the interview and parking structure, phone numbers of firm and agency, and names of people to meet.

Personal Hygiene Lifesavers

Breath mints (smokers and coffee drinkers are mentioned among the worst offenders), makeup, Kleenex, brush/comb, small bottled water in case of dry mouth (leave the bottle in the car).

Cell Phone

Just in case. (Make sure it is turned off during the interview!)

INTERVIEW DAY

The big day has arrived. Be sure to arrive at any interview 10 to 15 minutes early. Any more than that and you're too early. Any less and you may not have time to complete the necessary paperwork. What paperwork you may ask? Some firms, despite the fact they require a written resume, also want prospective employees to fill out an employment application.
It may have been a while since you have completed an application for employment. You may view this request as an indication the organization does not view paralegals as professionals. Not necessarily!

In today's litigious society, it is incumbent upon the organization to find out as much information about potential employees as is legally possible. In that vein, your signature is generally required for permission to check references and as a validation that you have told the truth. Few organizations are willing to put themselves at risk.

The Application

Because you have brought extra copies of your resume with you, you'll attach it to the application. If you are unclear whether the application must be filled in even though you have a resume, ask the receptionist. Don't worry about how it looks. Be assured, she hears it every day.

Have a black or blue pen with you and any pertinent information not addressed on the resume. Fill in your name, address, phone number, and the position for which you are applying. If you are not required to complete the application in addition to the resume, write "See Resume" across the questions relating to employment history and education. Leave salary history blank unless specifically instructed otherwise.

Complete areas that are not addressed on the resume such as social security number, whether you have applied with the organization previously, whether you have criminal convictions, how you heard about the job, availability dates, and whether you were referred. You may be required to provide a reason for leaving each position. The application or paperwork for temporary work may also require a contact in the event of emergency. Be sure to have the right phone number and address with you. Sign the application in the appropriate areas. Attach the resume and return the paperwork.

Affirmative Action

Affirmative action information may be asked. These answers are optional. Your name is not required. For quite a few years, this form has been required by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), and any organization may be audited. Changing political climates may eventually eliminate requests for information about the firm's affirmative action program. But if a firm puts the form in front of you, assume the organization still complies with the EEOC. These records are not allowed to be kept with your application. They must be kept in a separate file.

Temporary Employee Confidentiality Agreement

If you are applying for a temporary position, you may be asked to complete a Temporary Employee Confidentiality Agreement upon hiring. This agreement varies from firm to firm but basically ensures confidentiality of information regarding all clients to whom you may be assigned.

Conflict of Interest

A conflict of interest inquiry may also be required. This inquiry is designed to find out whether you may have a conflict with the firm, the matter, the case, or the firm's client. A conflict of interest may question whether you have dealings relating to
  • Other firms or corporations involved in the matter
  • Participation you may have with the opposing side, such as stocks in the company or past employment, including that of your family
  • Specific products or services you may use
  • Contact you may have had with the opposing side
  • Cases you may have worked on
  • And more.
The Department of Immigration also has a say in the hiring process. You must be able to legitimately work in the United States. This means you are a U.S. citizen, have a green card, or have a valid work permit. The form iscalled an 1-9. This information should be asked after the interview, and most generally, on the first day of hire. Some staffing organizations will ask you to bring documentation to the interview confirming your right to work in the United States. They will also require 1-9 information within three days of filling a full-time position. This information is not allowed to be kept in your personnel file. It must be kept separately. You must bring either a passport OR a driver's license AND a social security card OR a driver's license AND a birth certificate. Technically, these documents must be provided prior to the start date. There are serious fines for each 1-9 that is incomplete. Don't be surprised when employers insist upon this information.

References

Checking references is standard operating procedure for the majority of employers. However, it's very difficult today to get employers to talk about past employees, no matter how great they were. Firms and corporations may require a signed release from you to check past employment history and academic records. In some states, employers may ask about credit history. This may occur if you are required to handle cash or securities.

Some staffing organizations and human resources departments may ask you to fill out reference-checking "mailers" to past employers. These forms require names of past supervisors, rate of pay, dates of hire and termination, social security number, position held, and reason for leaving. The form also asks for the address or phone numbers of past employers. Be sure to arrive at any interview with this information readily available. (See also Chapter 16.)

Bonding

You may also be asked about bonding eligibility. A fidelity bond covers employers in the event of theft of cash or negotiables. Banks, lending institutions, and firms dealing with financial transactions may require this information. As part of your job duties, you may be asked to become a notary public. Some states require notaries to be bonded.

W-4

If you are seeking a temporary position, you'll probably be handed a W-4 either now or on the first day. Be prepared to answer how many deductions to take. Do not expect the interviewer, receptionist, or new employer to tell you what you should do.

Driver's License

If the position requires driving, proof of a valid driver's license may be required. Be prepared. Paralegals who visit sites or scenes of accidents and those who interview witnesses, for example, may be asked to use their own vehicle.

Proof of Other Licensing

When applying for a paralegal position that also requires another vocation, such as R.N., you may be asked for license verification. Be prepared by bringing the appropriate information.

STRUCTURE OF THE INTERVIEW: THE UNSPOKEN RULES

Most interviews follow a typical pattern. It usually looks like this:

Lobby Etiquette

Greet the receptionist pleasantly. Actually, she's really a spy and reports all candidates with attitudes to the powers that be. If you've copped an attitude, you are now dead in the water. But don't try to engage her in conversation, particularly if she is busy answering phones or typing. If you are wearing an overcoat, hang it up in the outer closet as directed. (Californians and Floridians will have no idea what we're talking about.) Don't choose the cushiest chair to sit in as you may look clumsy getting out of it.

Fill out the required paperwork as quickly as possible. (Take no more than 10 minutes.) On some occasions, the firm may ask you to take a test. These tests revolve around grammar, spelling, writing skills, knowledge of legal terminology, even computer skills. Corporations more than law firms have been known to require an intelligence, aptitude, or personality profile. If you don't take the test, you won't be considered further. An increa-ingly common test now is the drug test despite public controversy over whether it is legal. If you pass the first interview, you may be asked to report to a medical clinic for a drug test. A recent Gallup poll reported that 28 percent of large corporations (5,000 or more employees) screen applicants for drugs. Don't be alarmed. Firms nowadays want to know exactly what kind of candidate they're getting.

Meanwhile, back in the lobby: Do NOT whip out a book you've brought to occupy yourself-particularly a Danielle Steele novel. (This actually happened.) Observe your surroundings. Is this an environment you might enjoy?

Phase One: Hello! Introductions and Chitchat

Shake hands firmly. Look the interviewer in the eye and SMILE. This is your first physical test. Chitchat as you are led to the office only if encouraged. Sit down where you are shown. If you're not sure, then ask. Put your purse and/or briefcase down on the floor-not on the interviewer's desk. Sit back in the chair-not on its edge. Don't take your suit jacket off unless it's an abnormally warm day and the air conditioning is off. Chitchat will revolve around "nice offices, wonderful view, great art." Do NOT comment on family photos or personal objects in the office. Do NOT mention how hard it was to find the place or how bad the traffic was. Do NOT mention anything personal, such as "I just love your earrings" or "What nice red socks."

While it's true that the first five minutes are critical to your success, don't take that too literally. Focus on creating just the right impression. The most important thing may not be what you say so much as how you say it!

Typical questions revolve around politeness: Did you find the place OK? (Always yes-you did get there, didn't you?) What's the weather like out there? (Even in a torrential hail storm that just put fifteen dents the size of golf balls in your brand-new Toyota your husband just bought for your anniversary, you absolutely love it.) Do you want anything to drink? (Unless you just crossed the Sahara desert in a sandstorm and your camel died during the journey, don't even think about it.)

CASE IN POINT

One candidate (let's call her Sally) rushed off to an interview scheduled for 9:00 a.m. Not anticipating heavy traffic and failing to scout out an unfamiliar area prior to the interview, Sally wandered into a school, where she illegally parked as she rushed to a pay phone to call and let the interviewer know that she was going to be late. Upon returning to her car, she found she had just gotten a parking ticket for $50! When she arrived at the interview, she was so upset that she prattled on and on to the HR Director about the unfairness of the situation. Graciously, the HR Director offered to pay for the ticket, which Sally accepted. Thinking that she had aced the interview before it even started, Sally then proceeded to deliver what she thought was a great interview. Unfortunately, the staffing organization had bad news for Sally..

Phase Two: You're On-Input from Candidate

OK, here we go with everything we've rehearsed. If you've reviewed the "275 Killer Questions You Just Might Be Asked in the Interview" (see Chapter 20), you're ready. Relax. Smile. First question cornin' at you. No,

No! Don't duck. Maintain a professional demeanor and keep the conversation on business. If you wander into personal topics, keep it light. While it's harder to reject someone who has a distinct personality beyond the resume, interviewers do not want to hear about your recent divorce, knee operation, death in the family, or breakup with your boyfriend. You're not there to make a new best friend. You are on the interview to sell yourself professionally and get a job.
Typical questions in this phase generally revolve around education, why you are leaving your present and past jobs, staying power, present and past responsibilities, type of position and environment you are seeking, what you know of this firm.

Phase Three: They're On-Information about the Job and Firm

Here's where your listening skills really come in. Most law firm interviewers do not seem to like candidates taking notes. You are having a conversation, not taking an assignment. Taking notes during an interview is too impersonal and smacks of a contract. Listen as you look for questions to ask later. Listen to what the interviewer is telling you about the firm. Listen to key phrases you can respond to with, "Here's how my skills fit with that." Typical questions after who we are, what we do, what the position is, and how paralegals fit in this firm or corporation are more technical questions regarding whether your skills fit in and more specific questions to determine whether you can do the job outlined.

Phase Four: About Money-Are We Talking Apples to Apples Here?

Now that you've bonded, here come the salary questions. Usually in the first interview such questions will revolve around two things: (1) how much you are currently making and (2) how much you are seeking. It isn't until the second interview that salary negotiations get under way-unless you are working with a staffing organization, in which case they can negotiate for you.

Phase Five: Do You Have Any Questions?

Of course you do. You didn't do all that rehearsing for nothing. Besides, here's where you want to impress the interviewer that (1) you've been listening and (2) boy, have they got the right person for the job sitting right here! DON'T, however, whip out a list. Tacky, tacky, tacky.

If the interviewer asks whether you'd like to add anything, now is the time to summarize your qualifications and re-emphasize why you are right for this position. Summarize only the main points. A good technique is to number your accomplishments: "There are three primary reasons why I feel this job is right for me. One . . ." This is an old Henry Kissinger technique. Kissinger, of course, is known for his negotiating tactics.

Phase Six: Good-Bye

This next step may involve discussion, reinforcement of your interest, and good-byes to your new Best Friend (just kidding). It's best to wait for the interviewer to indicate he or she is ready to close the interview.

Find out what the next step is: another interview perhaps? Ask when the firm will be making a decision. Will you be meeting more players? Know when to leave. Take your cues from the interviewer. Trying to add "just one more thing" may work against you. Typical questions here include your availability for another interview and/or start-date, references, writing samples, and interest in the job. Shake the interviewer's hand, be sure to look him or her in the eye, SMILE, and say thank you when saying goodbye. Save any hugs for Aunt Millie.

Bye-bye to the Receptionist

Nicely say thank you to the receptionist. Don't forget your coat. Don't ask for a parking validation unless you've already been told to. Smile, smile, smile-and exit.

SELLING YOURSELF

We've all heard the phrase, "sell yourself." Sometimes easier said than done. It's the old "the cobbler's children have no shoes." We are great at selling someone or something else, but when it comes to selling ourselves, we are tongue-tied and at a loss for words.

Selling yourself is no different than selling anything else. Stick to features and benefits of why you are the right candidate for the position. Link what you're talking about with why you should be hired. Don't just state what you did; explain how it fits into the firm. If you are entry-level or changing specialties and your background isn't exactly a perfect fit, be creative. It isn't always the best-qualified candidate who gets the job. It's the candidate who can convince the employer that her skills are appropriate by exuding confidence.

But let's face it. Reciting your work history can get boring. A good sales pitch is one that gets the interviewer enthusiastic about the candidate. It isn't necessary to go into great detail about each and every one of your skills or all of the assignments you have ever tackled. In fact, if you are looking to upgrade your position, de-emphasize those assignments that you don't wish to continue and emphasize those that will move you forward. For example, a senior-level paralegal who emphasizes deposition summarizing and indexing documents shouldn't be surprised if that's the kind of offer she receives. If you are seeking an upgraded position, emphasize more substantive assignments.

The Second Interview

Law firms and legal departments usually follow a pattern of two, possibly three interviews. On the second interview, you will most likely interview with the decision-makers, attorneys higher up on the food chain, or you will meet with your potential colleagues. In either case, this is the most crucial of all interviews. Be at your all-time professional best. You will be scrutinized very, very carefully.

Be aware that many corporate employees have undergone rigorous interview training. At one large corporation, candidates were asked in the interview to name three qualities they possess that qualify them for the job. In the second interview with a different interviewer, they were asked if they recalled what those three qualifications were and to repeat them. Obviously, they were being tested for sanity.

Be prepared to interview with a number of attorneys, paralegals, supervisors, even legal secretaries and other support staff. When scheduling the interview, ask how long it is expected to last and how many people you will see. Be sure to bring plenty of extra resumes with you. You may have to repeat the same story many times. Always attack it with enthusiasm. Don't get annoyed if every interviewer hasn't passed along your information to the next.

Negotiations for salary will be more likely to happen in the second interview. Most offers are made via telephone after the interview; however, some firms and corporations may ask you to come in for a third interview to discuss salary. Rarely will you be asked to accept on the spot. If you are, it's best to go home and think it over to be absolutely sure this is the job for you.

STRESS INTERVIEWS

"Stress interviews" are given by organizations that want to test how tough you are. It may seem to you that the interviewer wants your hide. This person represents the firm or company. Ask yourself, "Do I want to work here?" If the interview becomes abusive, nowhere is it written that you have to sit through it. But if you choose to stay, maintain your sense of humor and don't lose your temper or argue with the interviewer. Stress interviewers honestly believe that they are testing you to see how well you handle stress. It is hoped that these kinds of interviews are things of the past.

How do you handle a stress interview? Let's say the interviewer comments that your schooling is marginal. You might respond by saying: "Some people think my practical experience counts heavily. If you'll review my resume, I'm quite certain you'll see that I learned very quickly on the job. In fact, I was promoted because . .

Acknowledge the objection, don't argue with the interviewer, but don't agree either.

THE BEHAVIORAL INTERVIEW

The behavioral interview is the current favorite of those who believe that they are conducting the "new" type of interview. The objective is to get you to avoid canned responses. You can spot a behavioral interview when the question, "Do you have any questions?" is asked at the beginning of the interview. They are trying to see whether you have initiative.

Ask questions that immediately pertain to the position itself and those that will highlight your qualifications. Sound informed and up-to-date on public information about the firm. (Stay away from rumors, of course.)

I found the article in The National Law Journal about your involvement in the asbestos litigation very interesting. It reminded me of my experience with Acme & Jones, where I was the lead paralegal investigating witnesses. What were the key elements to your success in that matter?

If you are absolutely belly-up with regard to information about the firm, its clients, or lawyers, go for expansion plans, utilization of paralegals, or technology. The old 80/20 rule is always good-get the interviewer to do 80 percent of the talking, particularly with those professionals who are not used to doing a lot of interviewing and may be somewhat uncomfortable. This approach gives them the opportunity to discuss what they know best: their work and their firm.

Now is not the time to start out with questions regarding vacation, benefits, or salary. You are still in the "here's what I can do for you," not the "what's in it for me," mode.

DAY-LONG INTERVIEWS

When some law firms get excited about the ideal candidate, they're sure to bring them back to talk with just about anyone. Sometimes you'll be expected to interview with attorneys or paralegals with whom you may only end up having marginal interaction. But since law firms run on government by consensus, the hiring authority may want to seek as many opinions about you as possible.

The all-day interview is generally a formalized process usually for entry- level or mid-level paralegals. It usually takes the place of a second or even third interview. You may meet with as many as six or eight people in one day. This group of interviewers can range anywhere from senior partners to paralegals to office managers.

The day usually begins with a short meeting with the first person with whom you interviewed. He will generally explain whom you will be meeting. If you are lunching, it will most likely be with the people with whom you will be most closely working.

Part of this process is to see how well you'll hold up. We have seen candidates who actually lose it by the end of the day. The various interviews all run together in their minds, and they cannot get everyone's name straight, let alone their ranking within the firm. This is very dangerous. You are being tested for stamina, personality, memory, and even your ability to concentrate and work under pressure. Now is not the time to get giddy.

Vary your interviewing style somewhat so that you remain fresh and spontaneous. As the day progresses and you've told your story over and over, it's pretty hard to take it one more time from the top, particularly when you are asked (for the seventh time, "Why are you leaving your present position."
  • Act as if it is the first time you've heard each question. If nothing else, you'll be in great shape to audition for The Young and the Restless.
     
  • Bring at least ten extra resumes with you. Someone may be called to your interview unexpectedly. A paralegal is a little like the Boy Scouts-"always be prepared."
     
  • Be ready for the unexpected interview. Some interviewers are sympathetic to your plight and may just want to concentrate on a frivolous matter or other non-resume-related topics.
     
  • Always, always remember everyone's name with whom you've interviewed. Ask for a business card, if the situation is conducive. Don't make the mistake of saying, "The fellow in the last interview told me . . ."
     
  • Don't hesitate to ask for a bathroom and freshen yourself up. We don't want you looking like Hurricane Hanna by the time you reach the managing partner.
     
  • Use what you've discussed in earlier interviews during later ones. It shows you are paying attention. "When I spoke with Roxanne Jones, she mentioned that paralegals are part of the firm's marketing strategy. How has this worked in your department?"
GROUP INTERVIEWS: IF YOU ARE INTERVIEWED BY A GROUP

Group interviews are used in firms to save time and to test your ability to interact with others. They're tough and sometimes grueling as you have to field questions from three to five or even more interviewers. Here are a few tips on how to handle these groups:
  • Stay calm and organized. Don't give long-winded answers.
     
  • One person is most likely to dominate the questioning. However, when answering, be sure to look around the room at each interviewer-not only the one who has asked the question. Don't ignore anyone. Sometimes the one who is the most frail looking and the quietest has the most hiring authority.
     
  • Don't hesitate to make the points you want to make. Too many people go through group interviews passively. They simply respond to questions but don't initiate. Be brief, but don't let the interview proceed as though it were an interrogation. Treat the interview as if it were a regular interview. Don't get intimidated because there are so many interviewers. Ask questions, make points, and sell your skills and wonderful personality.
     
  • Part of the screening process is to see how well you react to the rigors of a group interview. Maintain your sense of humor. Don't get impatient or thrown by different styles and personalities.
     
  • We cannot overemphasize the importance of remembering names. Sales seminars stress the fact that the greatest compliment you can pay someone is to say their name. People just love hearing their name. Be aware of the firm culture, however. Don't automatically revert to a first-name basis if the firm is very conservative and call each other by Mr. or Ms.
LET'S DO LUNCH

The purpose of a luncheon interview or "power-breakfast" is to see how you handle yourself socially. We can't think of anyone who actually likes mealtime interviews, but they are very popular particularly for second or third meetings. Keep the following in mind:
  • Stick to innocuous conversation. Don't assume you are being psychoanalyzed. Don't get too personal, and don't get into political or religious topics.
     
  • It's probably best to avoid alcohol, even if your interviewers drink. It's better to keep your mind fresh. Above all, don't order alcohol if your interviewers don't. If you do find yourself ordering a drink, make sure you only have one.
     
  • Check out Miss Manners. Don't talk with your mouth full; be mindful of your silverware; put your napkin in your lap; don't reach for the cream; don't put salt on your food without tasting it first; and order middle-priced dishes. Stay away from difficult-to-eat food (spaghetti, crab, finger foods); don't order dessert unless everyone else does first.
     
  • Let the interviewer take the lead in the conversation. A hard sell may not be appropriate. However, do sell yourself by bringing up outside interests that reflect your personality and good character.
     
  • If you are asked an awkward question, turn the question back to the interviewer so you can find out their opinion before expressing your own. Be aware the interviewer may be testing you.
How TO SAY IT

Emphasize Specific Accomplishments

Talking about what a hard worker you are doesn't sell anyone anything unless you can back up your claim with an example that demonstrates how you saved the client fees, found the "smoking gun," closed the deal on time. Be specific. One candidate gave a great example: "On one case, I worked until midnight one night because I was certain that the smoking gun was in one particular stack of documents. Sure enough, right at the stroke of midnight, I found it!"

Always Talk Positively about Your Coworkers, Supervisors, and Attorneys

Bad-mouthing your colleagues is not only in bad taste but will also work against you in an interview. Even the meanest boss can be described as, "He's very tough, but I think that goes along with being a top deal maker."

Be careful how you describe your current atmosphere. Interviewers are convinced that if you are bad-mouthing your current firm, there is nothing to prevent you from bad-mouthing them. Be especially careful not to reveal confidential information about your current employer. That too will work against you. Confidential information can also be construed as, "The firm is having severe financial problems, so I'm bailing."

Don't Apologize

So often, we are more sensitive than others are of what we perceive to be our weaknesses. And many times, our audience doesn't even consider weaknesses what we consider to be weaknesses. We see this over and over again with candidates who feel they may be too old, experienced, or senior. We also see it in those who feel they are underqualified for the position they're seeking. Generally, they start with an apology: "I know this is a position for kids right out of school but . . ." or "I probably stayed too long in my present position. . . ."

Stay away from "buts." If your interviewer has any objections at all, let her figure out on her own what those might be. Don't give her any more ammunition! Stick with the advantages of why you should be hired. For example, "My 14 years of experience as a senior real estate paralegal would be advantageous to this firm because I know how to close deals and how the loans should be processed."

We recently read about a man in his sixties who brought a magazine article to the interview that reported senior citizens have better attendance, more stability, infinite patience, and greater productivity than younger people. He was hired immediately.

Overcoming objections isn't easy. But it is better to turn around and face the tiger than to apologize for who you are and what you stand for. (Even though there are age discrimination laws, it's better to sell an employer on your worth.)

Don't Sound Tentative

"Maybe," "hopefully," "in a way," "might," and "if you will" are tentative words that get in the way of allowing you to come across as confident and positive. And by all means do not use your fingers like little rabbit ears to emphasize a "quote." This gesture turns many employers off. If asked how you like this career, the answer is, "It's terrific!" If asked if you plan to stay in this career, say "yes," not "I hope so," even if you're not quite sure. Technically, an argument can be made that while you're in this position, you are staying in the career. You can always change your mind later. In the meantime, you sound positive rather than powerless.

Don't Lie-Ever

Estimates are that up to one-third of job candidates lie during interviews. Don't make that mistake. If you lie and are found out, you won't get the job. And if you are found out after the interview even if you've already been hired, you could create grounds for termination. Admitting to failures doesn't always hurt your chances of getting the job as much as you may think. Getting laid off or failing at a business isn't necessarily a bad thing for potential employers. What does matter is how you've dealt with it and what you can bring to the table.

If You're Caught in an Inaccuracy

Simply thank the interviewer for pointing out the inaccuracy. "Thanks for pointing that out. What I meant to say was . . ."

CLOSING THE INTERVIEW

Closing the interview is very much like closing a sale. You have to ask for the order. There are two types of closes: a trial close and the actual close. A trial close probes the "buyer" to see if they are ready to buy. In closing an interview, it may sound like: "I'm very interested in this position and know I can make a significant contribution to this firm. Can you tell me what the next step is?" This trial close will probe to see whether the interviewer is prepared to ask you back or make an offer.

An actual close may be a little strong for law firm positions. Toward the end of the interview, a candidate may ask, "Is there any reason you wouldn't hire me?" This close is structured to bring up any objections the employer may have. At that point, the candidate has the opportunity to counter and close with a confirmation, such as an agreement to meet again. Another overly strong close is asking (before you have received an official offer), "When would you like me to start?" These are very hard sells and should be used very carefully, if at all.

As the interview draws to a close, be sure to thank the interviewer. Too often, people are either forgetful of their manners or too embarrassed. You can't lose by thanking someone for spending time with you. It reiterates the message that you are the person for the job. "Thanks Ms. Wilson. I certainly appreciate this opportunity to talk with you about this position. I'm looking forward to meeting you again next week. And I would like to throw my hat into the ring for this position. This sounds like a great firm, and I know I could make a difference here."

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Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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About LawCrossing

LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.LawCrossing.com.

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