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Conducting Yourself Effectively at Law Job Interviews

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Appearance and attitude convey an instantaneous impression that can make or break the success of the entire meeting. Interviewers often make unconscious decisions about a candidate during the first minute of the interview. Make that minute count.

Plan your trip to arrive at least ten minutes ahead of schedule. The extra minutes give you time to find the right office, stop by the rest room to check your appearance in the mirror, and walk through the office door calmly, composed, and better than on time. Never make interviewers wait for you. With each passing moment, they will become more convinced that you are a poor candidate.


Because the first impression counts so much, rehearse your entrance and greeting. Practice striding into the room confidently, smiling, with arm out stretched for a handshake. Look right at your interviewer and say, "Hello, I'm ". Shake hands firmly, and repeat the interviewer's name when introduced. "I'm really glad to meet you, Ms. (or Mr.) Interviewer." Then pause for a moment to be asked to have a seat.

Allow the interviewer to lead the way with his or her own questions but be prepared to start the conversation if the interviewer does not. You can break the ice with a cheerful remark about your drive to the interview or something you have seen in the office that you like. Remarks and questions from the interviewer will probably follow but be prepared to begin the interview with a relevant opening question of your own, just in case. Something related to your career objectives is the best place to start. Above all, convey the image of someone who is polite, composed, and confident.

Look the interviewer right in the eye frequently while talking. If you are interviewed by more than one person at a time (a multiple interviewer situation), be sure to look at each of them from time to time as you talk.

Answer questions in a clear, firm voice. Do not just say yes and no as answers; elaborate further. With positive responses, add an anecdotal example from your classes, former job, or course assignments. Explain negative answers in as positive a way as possible, mentioning what you are.

Now that you understand what to do during an interview, here are some important "don'ts":

DON'T:
 
  • Say negative things about others-instructors, students, previous employers, politicians, famous personalities, or anyone-no matter how true your comments might be
  • Tell jokes-especially any that are off-color, racist, sexist, or ethnically offensive
  • Smoke or chew gum
  • Resort to childlike gestures such as rolling your eyes, waving your arms, shouting, or giggling
  • Let your eyes wander around the room
  • Digress from the subject at hand except to point out something that is important to your candidacy or to this internship
  • Ramble; keep the discussion on track

Fielding Interviewers' Questions

Bringing a newcomer into the office always involves risks. Many of the questions put to you reflect unspoken concerns about those risks. The interviewer will be wondering: Are you someone who can get along with the other workers? Will you make an effort to fit into this environment? Can the office rely on you to do what you are asked to do, and on schedule? Can you be trusted to use good judgment? Or will your presence require inordinate amounts of time from supervisors and coworkers? The guiding principle behind every answer you give should be this: that you want to contribute to the work of this particular office. You want to be a working member of their team.

Interviewers' questions tend to focus on the following:
 
  • Your relevant achievements and education ("So, tell me a little about yourself" is an invitation to talk about what you know, what you can do, and what you want to learn-not to describe to your childhood or life history)
  • Your future career goals ("Where do you hope to be after graduation?" or "five years from now?")
  • Your reasons for wanting to intern in this office ("So, what brings you to Garabaldi, Gingham and Girard?")
  • Your ability to deal with problems or pressures ("What if... ?")
  • The professional assets you bring to this position ("Do you have any experience in... ?")
  • Your limitations or shortcomings ("I see you've never worked in a law-related position before.")

Look for an opportunity to talk about what motivates you toward this office. Are you here because this firm has a reputation as a leader in a certain area of the law? Were you attracted by their commitment to modern technology, to public service, or to leadership in the legal community? Did the experience or reputation of the prospective supervisor make this internship stand out? Know what your motivation is and be prepared to talk about it in specific terms. Candidates who just want "an internship-any internship" are not taken as seriously as those who have researched and selected particular internship offices. Let it be apparent that you have done that.

Coordinating Your Response Time

You have your own timetable, and employers have theirs. Although some offices will happily give you all the time you need to conclude your search, others may not. Students not experienced in job hunting need to be aware of the complexities that sometimes arise. You can reduce the risk of problems with clear communications along the way.

At the end of each interview, you should know whether the internship is being offered to you or whether that decision is being made at a later time. If this is not made clear, you must ask about it before leaving-especially if you are interviewing at more than one office. For example, you might say, "I'm really excited about the possibility of interning here, but I do have another interview coming up soon. When do you expect to make a decision about my candidacy for this position?" Offer to follow up with a telephone call to the interviewer at an agreed date and time. And make that call exactly as agreed.

If the internship is offered to you at the end of the interview (or by telephone sometime after that), convey enthusiasm and sincere thanks-even if this office is not your first choice. To all such offers, you might say, "Thank you so much, Mr. (or Ms.) Interviewer. I'm flattered that you want me to work for you, and I'm excited to have an opportunity like this."

If you need more time for additional interviews or to think through your options, you may politely say so and ask for a reasonable deadline. For example: "I'd like to say yes right now, but, unfortunately, I can't do that yet. When do you need a definite response?"

Employers are accustomed to such responses from job candidates. You will almost never be asked to explain the need for more time. If you are, continue to be honest but polite. For example: "It happens that another firm also offered me an internship yesterday. I consider myself fortunate to have two good offers but it creates a difficult decision. I need to think it over carefully." If the interviewer continues to press for an earlier response than you would like, try to reschedule remaining interviews to accommodate the new time frame.

Immediate Follow-Up

Within about twenty-four hours after each interview, send a thank-you letter to the interviewer. Open with a sentence or two thanking the interviewer for the time spent with you and for the information provided. Add a few sentences summarizing, with some enthusiasm, your reasons for wanting to intern in this office. An additional segment can clarify, once again, what you hope to bring to this position. Close with a confirmation of the date and time at which you agreed to telephone (either to learn of the office's decision about taking you or to accept the internship offer that was made). If, on the other hand, an internship was offered during the interview and you accepted it, you can confirm mat here, adding details about what further steps are needed. A sample thank-you letter can be found in Table 4.7.

Like your initial letter and resume, this one should also follow standard business format, typed or word processed on standard business paper. Proofread the letter carefully for correct grammar and spelling. Be sure it is properly addressed and that it gets sent promptly.

This letter accomplishes several things for you. It demonstrates to potential employers that you know how to respond courteously and professionally. It shows initiative and good follow-up, both desirable traits in an intern. And it helps forge cordial bonds with your new contacts in the legal community regardless of ultimate internship placement.

Making Your Decision

Multiple internship offers are a sign that the student identified objectives early and well, researched offices thoroughly and put real work into the search process. The luxury of deciding between two or more offices is the reward for that effort. If you find yourself in this situation, you can take great pride in your success.

Usually, no single office meets all of your objectives perfectly. Each offers a different combination of advantages and disadvantages that must now be weighed. Begin by comparing the following qualities for each internship option that has been offered to you:
 
  • Which office best meets your immediate learning objectives?
  • Which office best meets your longer-term career goals?
  • Which office may offer an opportunity for eventual employment?

Next, balance the advantages against whatever drawbacks exist for each office. One may require an unusually long commute; another may involve working for someone with whom you are uncomfortable. Where compensation is an issue, figure this into your evaluation as well, though preferably not as the controlling factor.

Get advice from your program director if the decision is a difficult one. It is not unusual for students to consult others as well, such as paralegal instructors, family members, friends, and graduates of your program.

As you consider your ultimate choice, bear in mind your program's decision deadline and also the deadlines of the offices you have interviewed. You want to begin your internship under favorable circumstances, so do not keep anyone waiting beyond the expected time.

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.

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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LawCrossing Fact #215: LawCrossing’s “Daily Job Market News” feature discusses all of the most pertinent employment trends and industry goings-on.

 

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives


Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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