Perhaps more than any other aspect of the job search process, the interview tends to raise feelings of anxiety, fear, and apprehension. If possible, however, it should be looked upon as an opportunity not only to sell yourself to the potential employer, but to determine whether this is the organization for which you want to work.
Interviewing is not an innate talent; it is a learned skill that, with practice, can be mastered by all. Since it is a given that all law students are intelligent, and since each candidate's credentials have been summed-up already in the resume, the chief purpose of the interview is to allow the employer to gauge your interpersonal and communication skills. Essentially, an interview is a business conversation with a defined purpose and, as in any conversation, you have to know when to listen, when to disclose, and when to elicit information.
While it is important that you be yourself and accurately project your own personality, the legal profession is one area where exhibited intelligence and confidence are generally considered virtues, and, by far, more interviews fail for want of these traits than for coming on too strong. You should not hesitate to show enthusiasm and interest in getting the job.
The importance of careful preparation for every interview cannot be over-stressed. One of the main reasons stated by employers for not seriously considering an individual is lack of preparation demonstrated in the interview. Prepare as if you are about to enter the courtroom. Evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, values, aspirations, and past experiences, both academic and work related. If you are unclear about any of these aspects, make an appointment for career counseling to discuss them. Candidates should be prepared to talk about themselves fluidly, be comfortable making positive statements about their qualifications, and be able to turn even negative aspects into positive ones. To assume that an interviewer will single-handedly carry the conversation and uncover all your strengths is a mistake.
This can be done in a variety of ways: google the firm or organization; thoroughly read the firm’s website and attorney bios for a sense of what the firm is trying to promote about itself; check the Martindale Directory, NALP Directory, Vault (password on the CPM) and The American Lawyer. Contact Temple Law School alumni who work at the organization, or perhaps alumni of your undergraduate institution. Check the CPM Evaluations to see if other students have posted reviews of the firm or organization. Most importantly, ask in the Office of Career Planning.
Prior to interviewing, make a list of five to ten items that you know make you a qualified applicant. Provide yourself with opportunities during the interview to articulate these items to the interviewer. In addition, part of your preparation should include a few key questions that you wish to ask the interviewer. In all questions and answers, attempt to communicate a positive attitude about yourself and the employer. In the following sections, we have attempted to present for you some typical questions asked by employers during interviews, as well as some sample questions that you might consider asking the interviewer.
In precisely the same manner that you would prepare for oral argument, consider what major issues and questions are likely to come up and devise ways in which you can handle them persuasively. Practice in front of a mirror, with a trusted friend or spouse, or make an appointment for counseling to work on interviewing skills.
The law is a conservative profession, and you should dress accordingly. This means pants or skirt suits for women in muted colors with conservative jewelry, and for men, a suit in a muted color with a white or blue shirt and conservative tie. Cover tattoos and avoid non-traditional piercings. If you have any questions about dress (and believe us, there are a lot) please feel free to contact Career Planning.
A good interview is one that is conversational in tone but in which you do most of the talking. Some will be more confrontational; others will be positively chatty. Try to ascertain the interviewer's style and adapt accordingly. In most cases, however, the interviewer will have studied your resume and will have a general understanding of who you are and what you've done. It is now up to you to confirm that impression and expand upon it. Take an active role. Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake and a warm smile. Do not simply answer questions; explain the answers. Then, be certain to ask some incisive questions of your own. Show enthusiasm; use small hand gestures; smile often; and make eye contact constantly.
A bad interview can be the result of a number of factors. It may be the interviewer's fault, your fault, or a combination of both. In any event, attempt to remain positive throughout. Even if the particular interview is lost, it will be great practice for the next. Often the interviewer is testing you to observe how you handle yourself in uncomfortable or pressured situations. You may be challenged, grilled and even intimidated. If you anticipate this and practice beforehand, you will breeze through it. Then you can decide whether you really want to work for that employer.
Sometimes the interview fails because the interviewer is inexperienced or tired and does not ask enough questions. In this case you will need to steer him/her through, tactfully of course. On other occasions, the interviewer may talk too much. Wait for an opportunity to break in and talk about yourself, relating your experience to what he/she has first said. One good technique is to point to your resume, thereby drawing the interviewer's attention to the matter at hand.
When answering questions about professors, administrators, and prior employers, be very careful to frame your responses in a positive manner. Do not get caught in a trap of complaining about other people or making excuses for offers not received from prior employers. Complaints about other people, organizations or employers no matter how valid, will cast you in a bad light with the listener. When responding to questions about academic achievements or honors and activities, be accurate and honest.
Most employers are looking for qualities such as: interpersonal and communication skills, organizational skills, motivation, productivity, breadth and depth of knowledge, analytical ability, team work, self-image, vitality, maturity, management ability, diversity of interest, basic values, and character.
Before leaving the interview, be sure to learn when you might hear from the employer regarding your application. Ask the name of a contact whom you might call should you have further questions or should you fail to hear from them. Offer to answer any last minute questions the interviewer may have. Finally, shake hands, smile, and thank the interviewer for his/her time and information.
Immediately following the interview, write down some notes on the organization, such as names of the people you met and any information which you had not discovered previously. This will aid you in preparing for a call back interview, or in the event you are offered the position, deciding whether to accept. It is also a good idea to make note of what went well during the interview and what areas you felt were weak so that you can work on your interviewing skills and improve for the next interview.
Occasionally, you may interview with someone who is particularly rude or one who asks improper questions. Try to maintain your composure, remembering that there are alternative ways to respond. You might choose to answer directly and honestly. You might note to the interviewer that the question is improper or illegal. Or, you might choose not to directly respond to the question but instead provide some other relevant statement about what the interviewer is trying to learn. For example, a woman who is asked what her plans for a family may be can simply answer that she keeps her personal and professional life separate, and, therefore, feels that future plans will not affect her career as an attorney.
In the event that you encounter any discriminatory questions or remarks during the interview, you should report the incident to the Career Planning Office.
While you will have to research the particular needs of each employer with whom you interview, almost all legal employers look for certain general characteristics. A summary of conversations which members of the Career Planning Staff have had with legal employers over the years has resulted in the list of comments below. Preface each phrase with "I am looking for a candidate who......"