Many law students believe that the interview “season” is limited to fall interviews and the judicial clerkship sprint. In real (not law school) life, interviews carry on throughout the year and throughout life. Preparation and practice should never stop.
With a 4-step year-round interview prep plan, you will always be prepared.
1. Know where and when to interview.
Where are they? Interviews may be held in organized programs (on campus interviews), sourced from school-based job postings, arranged from referrals through friends and colleagues, and set up from items trolled from trusted internet resources. An interview might be conducted at school, in a hotel suite, in an employer’s office, at a happy hour or dinner party, at an airport, or in a coffee shop. Interviews may be in your city or town, in your target city or over the phone or by Skype.
When are they? At some schools, “fall” interviews start in mid-July and end in mid-September, at others they continue throughout the fall at the employer’s convenience. Other school-year interviews may be arranged without regard to your exam schedule, social life or other obligations. After graduation? Interviews can be held anytime and anywhere.
2. Practice. Practice. Practice.
If you believe that the best way to succeed in a professional interview is to wing it, you are delusional. Just as a hitting a home run or a nailing Double Axel on your first try is beyond unlikely, interviewing is a skill that needs to be parsed, practiced, and respected. Without your practice, interviews are a waste of everyone’s time.
Practice answering interview questions. Enlist friends, family, and career services professionals as coaches and ask them to quiz you. Give them a list of tough (not necessarily ridiculously tough) questions, and then answer each one out loud. Make them critique your handshake, posture, and eye contact. Encourage them to critique your language and speech patterns. Too much “umm-ing” is distracting, and “I’m like” and “sort of” undercut the power of your speech.
Suit up. Wear your interview suit for some of the practice interviews. Do you look and feel comfortable? Is the skirt too short? Is your tie well-tied? Are your shoes shined? Ask to be critiqued for fidgeting, pen-clicking, and finger-tapping.
Understand Behavioral Questions. Until the early 2000s, most interview questions were resume-based. “How did you pick your major?” “Why did you select this law school?” “What’s your favorite class in law school?” Winging those deceptively simple questions was always dicey because candidates never knew what “they” might have looked for beyond grades, and untrained interviewers’ evaluations could be both subjective and inexplicable.
Interviewers today are likely to ask behavioral questions, which often begin as “tell me about a time when…” or “give me an example of” and they are seeking clues about problem-solving and leadership. When interviewers are well-trained and systematically debriefed, candidates’ answers can help to predict future performance when matched with employers’ markers for success. Behavioral interviews are frustrating for candidates, because there is never a “right” answer. The best prep is to come ready with meaningful specific information about two or three activities in which you have overcome obstacles or shown initiative or leadership.
3. Research industry issues.
- Do you understand the work required in the job for which you are applying? Yes, law clerks do “research and writing,” but what does that mean? How do you start? What tools would you use? When can you know if you are finished?
- What is your prospective employer’s primary work-product problem? Being alert to this can make you a star.
- What kinds of clients or industries does your prospective employer serve? What are the primary issues that these clients present?
An employment interview is neither the time nor the place to ask these questions. If you conduct systematic and strategic networking and information gathering, you will be able to craft smart questions based on what you have learned. You will show that you have taken initiative, that you care, and that you are prepared.
4. Review all documents.
Are you prepared to speak for 1 minute about every item on your resume?
- Have you read your writing sample in the last 36 hours? Are you prepared to discuss it?
- If your writing sample is other than a 1L brief, are you prepared to explain why you selected the topic?
- Have you scrubbed your electronic persona of things you would not like to see at NYTimes.com or abovethelaw.com?
Quick ways to damage your prospects are “I joined the group and went to two meetings,” “I don’t remember much about my writing sample,” and “Those are pictures from a really fun party.”
BOTTOM LINE: BE PREPARED.