In some ways, the interview process for an attorney, paralegal, legal assistant or other law-based position is similar to interviewing for other jobs. You need to be well-prepared, solid with your responses and smart in your follow-up. But legal interviews carry their own unique nuances and expectations as well. Here are a few key dos and don’ts to keep in mind.
- Dress Conservatively: If you’re a man, go with a navy or black suit, a white shirt and “a simple striped or solid tie that is bold but not loud,” says Ed Shioyazono, senior director of Direct-Hire Staffing for legal placement firm Hudson. Woman will want to accompany a conservative skirt suit with highly polished shoes and “very minimal jewelry,” he adds. “Law firms may have five-day business casual, but the ‘uniform’ is expected for all interviews.”
- Go in with a Game Plan: Legal interviewers use a variety of interviewing styles, but the most common is a conversational, nondirected approach, says Bridget Kenadjian, assistant director of career services at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Knowing this may put you at ease, but the downside is you risk not being able to get your key messages across. So you need to have a game plan “regarding what messages you want the employer to receive,” says Kenadjian. “Look for ways to slip in the content that you know [the interviewers] need to have in order to hire you -- even if they don’t ask the right questions.”
- Be Ready to Address Weaknesses Without Getting Defensive: The legal job market is extremely competitive, so you need to carefully consider -- from the employer’s perspective -- what your potential weaknesses might be, and then be ready “to tactfully and gracefully overcome those objections in an interview,” says Kenadjian.
“Such questions or statements as ‘Why weren’t your grades better?’ or ‘You don’t seem to have much experience in X’ may need to be addressed without [your] becoming defensive,” Kenadjian adds. “Try to predict what they might be, and prepare in advance effective, nonargumentative responses to them.”
- Be Late -- Ever: In fact, arriving for your interview at least 15 minutes early “makes a stronger impression than you might think,” advises Shioyazono.
“In a law firm, and the practice of law generally, everything revolves around billable time -- time billed to the client for work completed -- and deadlines,” Shioyazono explains. “Arriving early communicates that you do not, or likely will not if you are a junior (associate), have a problem underestimating the importance of scheduling, managing and billing time.”
- Criticize Others: In particular, “don’t bad-mouth your former employer,” says Maureen Brady, division manager for Hudson Legal’s Permanent Placement Division. Doing so will make your interviewer wonder what you’ll say about him if you’re hired.
Perhaps more importantly, the person you’re bad-mouthing might be a close friend of the person you’re interviewing with. Remember: The legal world is surprisingly small.
- Forget to Thank Your Interviewers: Send a thank-you note via snail mail within 24 hours of your interview, says Deborah Schneider, author of Should You Really Be a Lawyer?
“I can’t believe how many people overlook this basic interview etiquette,” says Schneider. “The note doesn’t have to be long -- several sentences on a note card are fine -- but sending one is a must. I know plenty of candidates who did not get a second interview, because they failed to send a thank-you note after the first.”