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A Paralegal Needs to Constantly Improvise to Perform Better at Interviews

published February 22, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
Published By
( 4 votes, average: 4.8 out of 5)
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Keep in mind, if the interviewer appears bored and unfocused, it's your job to make your interview go well. But remember, many legal interviewers take a "show me who you are" approach on purpose; they deliberately throw down the gauntlet to see how the interviewee responds.

For instance, imagine being faced with one or more of these questions. How would you answer?

"Well, Deborah, our paralegal position here is a kind of all-around support position, so why don't we start out with you: What can you tell me about yourself?"

"Samantha, I've had difficulties with paralegals being happy with me and my practice in the past. What do you think a good paralegal-attorney relationship would be? What kinds of duties are you looking for in a good paralegal job?"

"Well, David, why did you get into this profession, and what do you think you can do for me?"

"Sandra, tell me why you, in particular, would make a better paralegal than the other three, highly qualified candidates I have talked to this week. What makes you special?"

There are several ways in which you can exercise positive control of the interview, but the basic element that you should have committed to a certain level of memory is the logical response to all four of the above questions. It is called "The Tale" or "The Bio" (which is short for biography). Whatever you choose to call it, it is your story.

The bio is the scripted and positive tale of your life, around which questions, answers, the job description, and the firm will circulate. It should be about two minutes in length, but it can be quickly reduced to 30 seconds if you concentrate on only the highlights. Regardless of its length, it is the basic answer to the question, "Why should I hire you?" Your bio should be loaded with value and skills. You are coloring a life and highlighting themes and hues, so that they all point to legal.

At the Improvisational Theater of the Interview

What I call "The Improvisational Theater of the Interview" is made up of the text and the subtext. The text is what is actually said during your interview. Like improvisational theater, this cannot be scripted in advance, but the actors (you and the interviewer) do follow some set guidelines that shape the text of the interview. The text usually is based on the following:
  • the Job Description
  • the Resume
  • their Questions
  • your Answers
  • your Questions
  • their Answers

The subtext is the visceral, emotional, subconscious, and subjective activity that occurs in your interview. Just as the scenery, costumes, and actors' mannerisms influence the audience's interpretation of the play, your appearance, your complexion, your body language, your eye contact, how much you squirmed, whether you had a cold, whether the interviewer found you visually appealing, will all affect the outcome of the interview. As much as you might want to cast your fate to the wind, there is still much you can do to be master of your fate. If a real improvisation goes well, the participants have a euphoria about this unique experience.

That is often how a good interview goes, If you read the actual text of a sour interview and a positive interview, you might not be able to tell which one was upbeat and which was downbeat. Often the judgment of an interview's success is passed at the tiniest moments-in the subtext, not the text. The subtext is what goes on underneath the questions and answers, the carefully framed sentences and explanations. How can you influence the subtext? Like a good actor, you concentrate on the impression you are making through many things:
  • Your professional image, clothing, manner, posture, gestures
  • Their perception of your image-how you fit in with their team
  • Your interest-expressed in direct eye contact, lively vocal variety
  • Moods and temperaments-interview with upbeat and positive mood
  • Oral presentation-strong, clear voice, little stumbling, no overlong pauses, not too loud or too soft, naturalness, no whispers or mumbling
  • Good body language-erect posture, confident deliberate gestures
  • Bad body language-nervous movements, stroking hair, fiddling mindlessly with fingers, articles of clothing, eyes darting back and forth, sudden jerky movements, slumped shoulders, inappropriate leg movements, furtive or distracting repetitive motions

Summary: How to put it all together for the legal interview

Knowing who you are and what you want is essential. From that comes all the rest:
  • Create the package. ("I am a young and ambitious, hardworking, well-qualified candidate with computer literacy and a real interest in investigations.")
  • The bio should be framed to describe how the package came to be.
  • How you adapt to the interviewing experience can create the perception that the firm has found "a match."
  • Be comfortable and confident with yourself, but be ready to customize the interview on the spot.
  • Your body language, eye contact, vocal variety, and dynamics must present an image of a confident professional.
  • You will be hired on the basis of how your presentation matches your interviewing persona and how they fit the requirements of the firm.

And never forget, the success of an interview depends upon the emotional, subjective, and attitudinal elements: the genuineness of your smile; the authenticity of your eye contact; your posture and poise (or lack of it); the ease of your facial expressions; the winning way that you handle yourself; and the pure enthusiasm of your presentation; in short, in many subtle, physical, nonverbal ways.

See the following articles for more information:

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.

More about Harrison

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

published February 22, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 4 votes, average: 4.8 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.