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A quiet breeze blew across the outdoor patio at our favorite downtown cafe. My colleague continued to stir the cream into her coffee as she talked. "You know, most paralegal applicants have a good array of skills and wonderful personalities. The interview is just the place where some are more effective than others at getting their skills and their personalities across."
She had spent several years counseling paralegal graduates; her musings were part of an extended conversation about the legal interview. She leaned forward, as if she were telling a secret. "It's really true. Sometimes the jobs just go to the best interviewees, and yet it just takes a little work to become a good interviewee!"
We finished the lunch concluding that new paralegals face two challenges. Not only do paralegals face the most obvious challenge of interviewing for employment, but, at the same time, they must gain access to a new and special profession through that interview.
Types of Legal Interviews
Let's now consider some basic kinds of interviews that you may encounter.
The non-adversarial chat
This is a very common kind of interview. Friendly and apparently unorganized, it is decidedly non-adversarial and relaxed. The interviewer may seem to jump around from subject to subject. They talk about one aspect of the job, then they will talk about a strong personality in the office, then they will ask a question of the interviewee. The interview will tend to meander like this. Keep in mind that the interviewer does have priorities, even if they are difficult to discern. You need to read between the lines and avoid becoming lax or complacent about the interview. Assume that the questions the interviewer comes back to are the ones he or she cares about. Highlight different aspects of your background or a key skill for what seems to be revealing itself in the interview. It is easy to feel you have done well, or feel unsure about your performance in the non-adversarial chat. With this kind of interview, seldom do you feel you have done poorly.
This interview is organized and methodical. Often the interviewer is using written notes and materials. The interviewer does not seem to care whether you feel comfortable or not. He or she might make an attempt to be friendly, but you have the feeling it is because their notes probably told them to. Don't be rattled; try to give complete responses. Do not over-answer or grope for answers trying to respond too completely. These interviews test your mettle and your enthusiasm. You can easily feel you have done poorly in these interviews. You may do very well, in fact, but feel terrible. Do not be disturbed. One of the purposes for this kind of interview is to determine if you can handle the pressure. Remember, these interviewers are deliberately not showing many feelings.
The court of Inquiry
Interviews with two, three, or more people are inherently difficult because you are dealing with different styles and personalities, which may range from gushy to friendly to distant to malicious-all in the same room. The key here is to remember your strengths, and enjoy. If one person rattles you, at least you can take solace in the fact that someone else's question will be coming up soon. You can have fun with these interviews. One person recently said that she feels she can "work the room" with this type of interview. Humor often works best in these interviews. A group feeling develops that can work for you if it goes well. Unfortunately, those who are timid can appear absolutely mute unless they have practiced and developed an interview mindset that keeps their attitude upbeat.
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