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Simple Rules: End of Legal Job Interview

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Just as the most hazardous parts of an airline flight are the takeoff and the landing, so the most awkward parts of a legal job interview are the beginning (where you are greeting the interviewer and trying to establish a personal rapport with him) and the end (where you are taking your leave and trying to end the interview on a positive note). Here are some simple rules to remember when a legal job interview comes to an end.

Rule Number One: let the interviewer decide when the interview is over. If your interview is scheduled to last fifteen or thirty minutes, remember that time schedules are not graven by and reminds him of your schedule. Never be the one to terminate the interview -- it sends a signal to the interviewer that you really did not enjoy talking to him, and he will screen you out.

Rule Number Two: express your enthusiasm for the job and for the interviewer. A good closing statement, modified as always to reflect your speaking habits, is "I've really enjoyed meeting you, Mr. So-and-So; you have a wonderful practice here at Dewey Cheatham & Howe and I would love to be a part of it." This closes the interview on an upbeat note, comforts the interviewer that he has not said anything to turn you off to the position, and sets you apart from those (and they are many) who do a good job of interviewing but fail to tell the interviewer that they want the job.

Rule Number Three: if the interviewer walks you on to in stone: if the interviewer runs over his allotted time (and this happens often), don't be fool enough to tell him so - let him ramble on with his interminable war story until the next interviewer (or more likely the legal personnel coordinator) comes your next interview appointment, or escorts you to the door at the end of the day, be sure to continue talking to him. The interview is formally over, but there is no rule that says you cannot continue asking pertinent questions or make small talk with the interviewer right up to the final handshake. Continuing the conversation in an informal way signals to the interviewer that you are really a decent individual, confirms that what the interviewer saw during the "formal" interview session is the way you are in real life, and underscores your enthusiasm for the position.

A word about handshakes: You probably already know that your handshake must be firm but not bone-crushing, and should not involve the sort of vigorous arm movement you would use in pumping a well. Keep in mind also that you should shake hands with the interviewer only twice: once at the very beginning of the interview, and once as you are going out the door. If the interviewer escorts you out of the employer's offices, a third handshake may also be in order, but use discretion; shaking hands too many times demonstrates insecurity and uncertainty about social protocol.

Following Up

When do you send a follow-up letter after an interview, and when do you refrain from doing so? Generally, I send a thank-you note in one of three situations: (1) where the interviewer or the employer has gone out of his way to do me a kindness (such as fly me up to the firm's offices at the firm's expense, or give me an autographed copy of his latest law book); (2) where I am concerned that something I said during the interview may not be taken the right way and I wish to clarify my meaning before the interviewer has a chance to screen me out (this only if I am strongly interested in the position); and (3) where the interviewer and I have uncovered a special common interest and I wish to remind him of that common interest (once an interviewer and I discussed a common interest in a famous music group; the following Sunday I read an article in a local newspaper that one of the group's founders had died suddenly; I sent the interviewer a copy of the article together with a short handwritten note saying "don't know if you saw this -I know you will feel as badly as I do").

Where you decide a note is appropriate, the note should be short (never longer than a page and usually not longer than two paragraphs), and should reiterate your enthusiasm for the position and the interviewer without being unctuous. If possible your note should also remind the interviewer of anything out of the ordinary that you discussed during the interview that will help the interviewer remember you in a positive light (in the case above, I might have said in my follow-up note "it was good to meet someone else who remembers fondly the XYZ Band").

Where the employer is paying certain of your interviewing expenses, it is best to keep the thank-you note separate from the "expense account" letter in which you seek reimbursement for those expenses; better still, send the thank-you note to the most important interviewer you met, and send the expense itemization to someone else at the employer -someone less influential - whose job it is to handle such things (like a law firm's recruitment coordinator).

See the following articles for more information:

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