Understanding the Human Side of a Paralegal Interview

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Interviewing Is an Art

A quiet, young woman with excellent grades was worried about the three or four dynamic personalities in her class. "How can I compete against them?" I told her, "You let them do their thing. You just be your best, most enthusiastic self!" She looked hopeful, but disbelieving. I continued, "Talking comes easier for some than others, but good interviewing is not just talking and sounding glib." An "easy talker" does not necessarily perform most effectively, especially in a paralegal interview.

Sometimes the glib interview is one of the reasons a person goes no farther in the interview process, yet the "easy talker" goes away in a self-congratulatory mood for having performed so well. Remember, there is little feedback in the world of interviewing. Who is going to tell you when you come on too strong? No one. They simply do not call you back.

When people are fortunate enough to get interviews, they must avoid falling into one of the two ditches that cause disqualification. Sometimes we overreact to the tension of the interview and either fall into a dreadful inferior silence or a chattering boastfulness.

Inferiority ditch: timid, shy, introverted, clammed up during the interview, insecure, overly nervous, and taciturn

Superiority ditch: overbearing, conceited, superior, showboat, cocky, offensive

The inferior ditch and the superior ditch can actually occur in the same interview to the same interviewee. Why? They are both opposite reactions to the same two problems-lack of preparation and nervousness. No one goes to an interview telling themselves, "Now remember, be shy, timid, and insecure." Likewise, no one goes to an interview repeating to themselves, "Now don't forget to interrupt a great deal, talk too much, boast, act superior."

Both ditches are reactions to the tension and anticipation of the interview, but most of all they are a result of too little preparation. If you have a scripted and controlled presentation to make, and you know it well, your nervousness and tension will naturally lessen.

As we address the artistry of interviewing, it must be said that sheer warmth and enthusiasm count for a great deal. In the legal world, only the largest firms have human resource professionals, who have been professionally trained to interview and penetrate the warm fog of charm and extroversion that many interviewees perfect in the interview.

People just tend to like a warm and enthusiastic person more than their cooler, shyer cousins. In short, be likeable and you have an edge. Warmth and charm that do not come off as arrogance will get you a long way in many situations.

There is an important job-based rationale here, too! If you interview with friendliness and enthusiasm as your banner, you will be perceived as one who understands that the role of paralegal is most successfully fulfilled by people who know that diplomacy and interpersonal sophistication are crucial to the paralegal role.

The legal interview as a particular challenge

To get a wide perspective of the interview process, let us consider what makes paralegals valuable and appealing to lawyers and how it translates to external behavior.
  • Flexibility: buoyancy
  • Serious strong work ethic : ease
  • Professionalism: looking the part
  • Openness: common sense
  • Discretion: adaptability
  • Enthusiasm: resourcefulness

Perhaps you can now see the utmost importance of being able to control your attitude for the interview. In the isolation of a vacuum, we all meet these qualities in our own hearts and minds, but the question becomes, how much do we appear to have these qualities when we interview? You know you are a great potential employee, but do you sound like one when it counts?

Let us note the challenge you, the interviewee, face concerning attitude and demeanor as you enter the legal setting. Be your best professional paralegal self. Do not attempt to out-lawyer the lawyer.

Law firms come from a proud tradition of respectability, formality, and seriousness. It is a mistake to attempt to be more grave than your interviewer, but it is also a mistake not to be prepared to enter into this world with the proper decorum. Of course, you should not be overly casual and flippant, but most people forget that behind the mahogany furniture and well-tailored suits are regular people who drive on the same highways you do. Charm and likability will win you favor in a law firm, just as it will in a less 'professional" setting.

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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