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How to Carry Your Law Job Interview Effectively

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You should develop your interview skills by going on as many interviews as possible. This will provide valuable interview experience through exposure to a variety of interview styles and techniques. Many employers first and fore most conduct a brief telephone interview to determine whether you possess the necessary qualifications and attitude to warrant an interview During the initial telephone call, you may simply speak with an assistant to schedule an interview, or you may speak with the interviewer about the position available and whether your qualifications match. In either scenario, you should exhibit enthusiasm for the position and respond appropriately to questions and statements made.

The Screening Interview

Organizations conduct on the average of one to three interviews with each prospective employee before making a final determination of who they will hire. Many types of interviews are conducted by different organizations, regardless of whether they have only one interview or a two- or three-tier stage of interviews. Usually, if there is a stage of interviews, the first interview will be with one or two people and is referred to as a screening interview. A screening interview is simply an opportunity to meet and determine if the candidate has the appropriate qualifications, enthusiasm, and look. The candidates who pass this screening interview advance to a group interview with a group of attorneys and administrative people.

The Group/Stress Interview

Group interviews may be conducted informally, where each group member can ask candidates questions regarding whatever they like, or they may be conducted more formally where each group member is assigned a particular line of inquiry. Group interviews can be called stress interviews-by the very nature of them, many candidates experience stress in them. They usually involve a candidate being seated at the end of a table separate from the group. The fact that the candidate must perform effectively before a group is stressful alone, even if there is a relatively simple line of inquiry. This stress factor may increase, depending on whether the attorneys barrage candidates with difficult questions or even contradict candidates to assess their stress reaction. Stress interviews are often conducted in stressful occupations.
Because the legal field in general is so stressful, it is most likely that candidates will be exposed to stress interviews more than in any other profession without a college degree.

You should be aware that you may be subjected to a stress interview, and you should be prepared. You should investigate each employer before you interview so that you can exhibit some knowledge about the firm or organization. You will definitely be asked your knowledge about the firm or organization and questioned in depth about the skills you claimed on your resume. For example, if your resume states that you have assisted with all aspects of discovery, stress interviewers may ask a series of difficult questions in order to confirm the depth of your knowledge and experience. This may involve questions about state discovery laws. If you really had experience only drafting letters transmitting discovery documents and typing answers to interrogatories, you will appear to have misstated your experience on your resume. Therefore, your experience information on a resume should be precise, but brief. Do not state that experience is extensive unless it truly is. Take care to ensure that you do not embellish upon your experiences, because if you do, you will be found out.

Asking Questions at the Interview

Make relevant and tactful inquiries at your interview. A candidate who is a sensitive listener will be able to gauge what types of questions are likely to be well received. Generally, you should formulate questions about the position, the firm or organization, the firm environment or atmosphere, and closing questions. First and foremost, you should show interest in the position and the people with whom you would work. This interest does not involve your salary or benefits. Do not ask questions about salary and benefits, unless the inter viewer brings up the subject or has made an offer.

Make sure yon have your questions answered about the firm or organization. Generally, you will not have to ask much, since many interviewers tell candidates about the firm or organization and position before they begin to question them. Employers do this for several reasons: One, to build rapport and place a candidate at ease prior to questioning, and, two, to let a candidate know what they want in an employee so that answers may be appropriately tailored. You should very carefully assess what is said to you in an interview and heed any cues you receive.

Questions about a firm s organization or atmosphere should never be asked directly; to do so, may demonstrate a lack of tact and even if the questions are asked directly, most interviewers sugarcoat their firm s philosophies and practices. The firm's atmosphere is probably your most important consideration, but no one in an interview is likely to say what the firm is really like-even if they did, perceptions may differ. This is why candidates should focus questions on the position available and ask fellow legal professionals about the firm instead of asking the interviewer.

Subtle questions in the context of position questions will give you clues about the firm s atmosphere. For example, instead of asking, "How high is your turnover?" You could more subtly ask about the person who previously occupied the position. After general questions about what that person’s responsibilities were, you could ask, "Are there any additional responsibilities I would have" and "How long did [he or she] occupy that position?" The answer to the first question could indicate that the additional responsibilities are ones the previous employee did not have or that substantial job restructuring has occurred. The answer to the second question will give you some indication of turnover rate, without being so tactless as to directly ask. You can keep your questions focused on the position only as long as you do not ask too many questions about the prior employee. If you ask too many questions about the prior employee, your questioning purpose to concentrate on the position will be undermined. Upon reflection, the interviewer should remember how interested you were in the job instead of the previous employee.

Hopefully, during the interview process most questions will be answered. If not, you should ask all unanswered questions about the position and close with questions and statements that show the interviewer you want the job, if that is the case.

In closing, you should exhibit enthusiasm and optimism about the position along with your ability to perform the job skills required.
  • You should exude confidence, but still engage in a comfortable conversational style with the interviewer.
  • You should be prepared with answers to questions about your personality, motivation or work ethic, education, experience, skills, career goals, and why you want the position. For example, instead of saying, "I am willing to work hard and have a strong work ethic," you would be better off saying, "I have always had a strong work ethic. With my last employer, I worked 60 hours a week and consistently met deadlines."
  • You should not let an interview rattle you, even if it is a difficult one. If an interview causes a candidate discomfort, the job is probably not the right one.

Also, keep the following in mind.
  1. Some interviews will be quite informal, in fact, the interviewer may simply want to speak and feel understood. Such an interviewer evaluates candidates' "auras" to see if they are compatible. The "aura test" is used especially when hiring young legal professionals who have relatively little experience and whom the attorney plans to train, or by inexperienced interviewers.
  2. Network and develop contacts in the legal community. Even if this networking does not lead to employment, you will develop contacts to provide you with insight into a firm. Because the legal profession is so adversarial, it is likely that if you look long and hard enough, you will find some negative feedback. However, some firms have such high turnover rates and bad reputations that a candidate will be best served by finding this out before accepting an offer of employment instead of when it is too late. Also, candidates who do this before an interview will know whether to anticipate a stress interview and will develop more pertinent questions.
  3. If an interviewer asks a startling question that causes your mind to go blank, ask him or her to please repeat the question. After it has been repeated, you should formulate your answer and give it. If you can not, simply say you do not know. You should avoid blurting out wrong answers or any that could cause embarrassment in the future-if you are that anxious and nervous, the position with that organization is probably not for you at this point in your career or life anyway.
  4. Candidates are almost always asked why they left prior employers or why they are looking for alternative employment. Be as honest and truthful as possible, in the most politically correct terms you can find. Focus on what you learned through the experience and do not speak negatively about prior employers or staff members.

See the following articles for more information:

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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