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The On-Campus Law Interview

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The on-campus interview is an initial screening process where the law firm, government agency, or public interest organization determines whether you meet its minimum hiring criteria. After reviewing your resume along with hundreds of others, the prospective employer will invite a select group of students to meet for 20 to 30 minutes with one of its lawyers. As the name implies, the on-campus interview usually takes place somewhere on-campus, though some employers use a local hotel as a venue. (For some reason, the phrase "at-a-local-hotel interview" never quite caught on.) Sometimes several law schools will organize an off-campus screening interview "fair" for law firms in distant states. At out-of-state career "fairs," screening interviews also often are held in hotels.

Although held under less-than-ideal conditions, the on-campus interview is a critical hurdle. Because of the limited time and the large number of students each interviewer sees (sometimes up to 20 a day!), it is imperative that you stand out from the pack in a positive way. This is, after all, the only first impression the employer will have of you. In a short amount of time, you need to "argue your case," which basically means communicating your ability to do difficult work involving complex analysis. Since this is a screening interview, be prepared to address the "threshold issues" of grades, class rank, law review membership, and so on, as these are more likely to come up here than during the callback. If you have some 'splainin' to do, now is the time to do it. It is this first impression, along with the strength of your resume that will determine whether you will get invited to interview at the prospective employer's place of business.


  • SCHEDULE YOUR CALLBACKS EARLY.

    If at all possible, schedule your callback appointment immediately after receiving an invitation to do so. (Just one caveat: If you have a favorite firm, consider doing a "warm-up" interview with a less desirable firm first.) On one level at least, the hiring cycle is nothing more than a numbers game, with each firm extending its offers on a rolling basis. It's preferable, then, that the firm make a judgment on your candidacy before it has made offers to many other candidates. Think of it like being in a parade of elephants-it's better to be at the head of the line than near the rear. Some firms and other legal organizations will only hire one first-year, so being up front can be a big advantage (noting, of course, that first-year interviewing does not begin until December).

    While on the phone scheduling your callback, let the legal recruiter know if you're interested in a specific practice area, since they may be able to tailor your callback accordingly. Also, if you live in another city, clearly establish which travel and lodging expenses the firm will cover. And, lastly, do everyone a favor and immediately decline any invitations to firms that no longer interest you; sitting on a useless offer does you no good and might just kill another candidate's chance for his or her dream job.

  • ARRIVE EARLY AND LOOK TO SEE WHETHER THERE IS A "FIT."

    On the day of your callback, bring an extra copy of your writing sample, resume, and transcript (even if you have sent these already). You should arrive at the firm about 15 minutes ahead of your appointment (being late is not an option), at which time you will most likely be greeted by the legal recruiter, who will provide you with a copy of the day's itinerary. Glance down the list of names and note any last-minute changes in interviewers. The legal recruiter will then walk you to the office of the first lawyer with whom you will be interviewing.

    As you walk through the firm's hallways, take note of the more subtle cues of the working environment. Do people seem to enjoy working together? Do they show signs of respect for one another? Is the atmosphere pleasant and professional? Remember, the firm is on stage here too, and these cues can sometimes make all the difference if you later find yourself in the enviable position of deciding between multiple offers.

  • BE RESPECTFUL.

    During your interview, how you act is as important as what you say. Your demeanor should try to establish a relaxed, businesslike rapport between you and the interviewer. Offering a firm handshake, smiling while introducing yourself, sitting up straight, and maintaining good eye contact are essential here, though not entirely sufficient. Instead of a cross-examination, your interview should be a pleasant, following conversation between two engaging people. Make it as easy as possible for this person to take 30 minutes out take a busy workday to interview you.
How do you do this? The easiest way to develop positive rapport is ^ by finding a common area of interest or experience between ^ yourself and the interviewer. Be sensitive to your surroundings. "^ When you enter the lawyer's office and take your seat, glance at the walls and bookshelves. See if you can pick out something in all that mess that you can use to establish a personal connection and enliven what otherwise might be just another mind-numbing interview. "Oh, I see you fly-fish" will put a smile on the face of even the most distracted interviewer (assuming, of course, that there is some evidence that the interviewer actually fly-fishes!). Keep the focus on your qualifications by drawing connections between the interviewer and things in your resume (last summer's job, undergraduate experience, and so on). Appropriate body language is important, too; keeping respectful eye contact, modulating your voice, nodding in agreement, or flashing a genuine smile all show a level of engagement with your surroundings. Listen carefully when the interviewer is speaking, and follow up with an appropriate question or comment. This will go a long way to show that you and the firm are a good fit.

You will hear an awful lot of advice about "being yourself." There are two classic miscalculations to approaching an interview: Some people feel the need to project a false image of themselves according to what they think the interviewer wants to see, while others have a "here I am, take-it-or-leave-it" attitude. There is a world of difference between showing yourself in the best light possible on the one hand and being misleading or downright deceptive on the other. Deception fools no one and is unethical and ultimately disastrous. "Being yourself," however, is not inconsistent with framing the conversation in the light most favorable to your candidacy. Definitely be yourself, but be yourself at your best.

Be prepared for anything, and be able to think on your feet. During one callback, the chair of the hiring committee asked me two questions. The first was about affirmative action programs at the firm and what I as a Latina thought. The second question was what I thought about Saddam Hussein. As to the first question, I had thought about the issue on, my own, but I was a little hesitant to talk forcefully about it at an interview. However, since he asked, I answered honestly, and, more importantly, I backed up my opinion with logical arguments. As for Saddam, I think his point was to test how articulate I was-whether I could make an argument on my feet.

Don't act surprised at anything that comes up. Take a breath, think about what you know, and then answer the question honestly. Being calm, articulate, and confident is essential to a good interview (as well as showing your personality!). By the way, I got an offer from that firm.

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