Interviewing Resources for MJs
PREPARATION IS THE KEY TO SUCCESSFUL INTERVIEWING: Careful preparation can set you up for a successful interview experience, no matter what background, prior interview experience or comfort level you start with.
What exactly do we mean by preparation?
Good interview preparation involves much more than polishing up your resume, pressing your best suit and getting a pep talk from your roommate. Preparing a resume and preparing to talk about your resume are two different things entirely. As you put together your resume, you craft concise descriptions of your education, employment, and other activities. Preparing to talk about your resume, on the other hand, means: 1) being thoroughly prepared to go into detail about every entry on your resume; and 2) thinking of concise and easy-to-tell stories about every entry on your resume that will emphasize your skills and experience for the legal position you are seeking.
And preparing for interviews means much more than preparing to talk about your resume. You will also need to be prepared to talk about topics that are not covered by your resume – your plans for the future, professional goals, etc. One of the most sensitive areas of interview preparation is thinking of creative ways to address any weaknesses in your resume or candidacy. And you will also need to research every employer you interview with, and come up with a host of appropriate questions to ask during the interview.
DISCUSSING YOUR RESUME IN INTERVIEWS
You should be fully prepared to discuss any entry on your resume in detail. Demonstrate how you, with your particular experiences, skills and track record, will be able to make a valuable contribution to the employer, bringing with you your wealth of wisdom and transferable skills. Show them who you are as a person and how your values and working style align with those of the company.
Being prepared to go into detail also means that you should go back and read any papers or publications you list on your resume, including your undergrad thesis. If your interviewer is knowledgeable in the areas in which you have written or published, you want to be sure that you can hold your own on a topic you may not have thought about for years.
ANSWERING COMMON INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
You will want to have answers to common interview questions planned in advance. Of course, you don’t want to answer questions in an interview as if you are reading from a script, but you do want to have thought of what you want to say ahead of time, and tried your responses out by speaking them aloud – either to yourself, to a friend, or in a mock interview.
Interviews often begin with the old softball, “So tell me about yourself.” Think carefully about how you want to answer this question – it can set the tone for the whole interview. A good answer is about a minute long, and includes both some personal information (especially information that ties you to the geographic location of the employer and/or their practice areas), and some information about your professional goals.
“Well, I’m a transplant to Chicago, but I’m here for good. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, but I came to Chicago for undergrad, and worked as a consultant here for four years after undergrad in PriceWaterhouseCoopers’s tax group. During that time, I met my wife, who teaches 3rd grade at St. Athanasius, so we live in Evanston now. As you know, I am an MJ candidate at Loyola, and I’ve really been enjoying it, especially my business law class. I’m really interested in building on the experience I gained at PriceWaterhouseCoopers as a consultant. That’s one of the reasons I’m so interested in your company – I’ve heard great things about your tax group.”
Of course, your interview may not open with such a softball. Some interviewers believe in hitting you with a tough question first, to see how you react. Other interviewers may lead right off with, “What can I tell you about our organization?” For more on answering common interview questions, see our MJ Interview Questions handout.
DEALING WITH WEAKNESSES
Turning Weaknesses Into Strengths
No one likes to talk about their weaknesses, but employers may persist in asking. The question may be direct, e.g., “What are your personal weaknesses?” or more subtle: “Your grades are a little low. What can you tell me about them?”
The key to discussing weaknesses lies in the approach you take. What seems to work best is an approach which (1) identifies the issue and (2) presents the solution. For example:
- My natural tendency is to be somewhat disorganized.
- I've found that what works best for me is the use of my Franklin Planner. It forces me to create a detailed task list so that I can rest assured that nothing falls through the cracks.
Be aware that an employer may ask you to describe what you liked or did not like about your last job, fellow workers, or supervisor. These questions should be answered carefully so as not to identify yourself as a "problem employee." Even if you had an absolutely miserable experience at your last place of employment, say something positive and do not go into detail about any specific dissatisfaction or negative experience you may have had. Such a response is a flag for the employer and may prompt follow-up questions which change the focus of the interview entirely. Your goal is to be positive and upbeat throughout the interview. Don't allow yourself to be dragged into negative discussions.
Asking Informed Questions
Do your homework for each interview. Read as much literature as you can find on the firm/corporation/organization. You should speak with anyone who may know something about the employer. You can often obtain literature or information directly from the perspective employer. Try to learn about the person(s) who will interview you, particularly name and position or specialty.
OTHER INTERVIEW BASICS
Dress professionally and conservatively. Present a professional image by not carrying a backpack or oversized purse. Present yourself in the “uniform” that is appropriate for the organization. Even if everyday dress can be casual in the employer’s workplace, present yourself as you would appear when representing the organization in a courtroom or other formal situation.
What to bring to the Interview
Bring at least three copies of your resume, along with copies of your transcript, and list of references. Do this even if you submitted the material in advance. You may meet new people who would be interested in seeing a copy or the interviewer may have forgotten to bring his/her copy.
Confirm where the interview will be held. Some organizations have more than one location. Be generous in estimating the time you will need to arrive punctually. You should arrive at the location about ten minutes early. Never be late! Before you enter the offices, stop in a rest room to make one last inspection of your appearance. Be courteous to everyone, whether they are on the road, in the parking lot, on the street outside the building, or in the building itself. You never know who you will meet on your way to an interview, and any one of those people could be involved in making hiring decisions for the employer.
Throughout the interview, the employer will be studying your non-verbal communication skills and listening carefully to your responses. A firm handshake and direct eye contact are two of the most important non-verbal messages you can send to the employer. They indicate that you are confident, energetic, and sincerely interested in the employer. They illustrate how you will present yourself as a lawyer.
Handling Inappropriate or Discriminatory Questions
Interviews are very difficult situations even without the added problem of discriminatory questions. The applicant is under stress, wants to make a good impression, and is probably both shocked and angered by the discriminatory question. Or, as sometimes happens, the applicant may not realize until after the interview is over that the question was probably illegal. Handling this kind of situation is very complex and difficult, aggravated by the fact that the interview situation demands an immediate response. What an individual does in such a situation depends on many things, including whether s/he still wants to be considered for the job, whether s/he immediately recognizes the question as inappropriate, and many other factors. Some will try to handle the situation so that prospects for being hired aren’t harmed; others will walk out of the interview; others will challenge the interviewer. The range of responses is enormous and the decision is yours.
If you are troubled by an interview experience, or you experience overt discrimination, please report it immediately to the Office of Career Services while the experience, feelings, and dialogue are still fresh in your mind. Make notes of the conversation as soon as you can after the interview.
DOs & DON'Ts OF THE INTERVIEW
- Don’t be late. In fact, be 10-15 minutes early for any scheduled interview.
- Don’t wear your hat, coat, gloves, or rain gear into an interview. It gives the impression that you are anxious to leave. Carry them if not offered a place to put them.
- Don’t have anything in your mouth--no gum, no candies, no breath mints, no cigarettes.
- Don’t lean on or put your elbows on the interviewer’s desk. Sit erect. Don’t wear sunglasses into an interview, and if you don’t wear your eyeglasses all the time, don’t park them on top of you head.
- Don’t show your nervousness by drumming your fingers, swinging your foot, or cracking your knuckles. You should have no loose change in your pocket--most tend to jingle it when nervous.
- Don’t keep adjusting your clothes; nor should you “pick” imaginary lint off your clothing.
- Don’t fiddle with your hair.
- Don’t call the recruiter “sir” or “ma’am” too much. Respect is mandatory, but don’t go overboard.
- Don’t overuse the interviewer’s name.
- Don’t call the interviewer, secretary, or recruitment coordinator by his/her first name unless invited to do so.
- Don’t be a jokester. Wisecracks and laughter can come later. Be pleasant, but remember that the interviewing process is formal and serious.
- Don’t give one and two word answers. The recruiter is trying to get to know you. If you go into a shell, you probably won’t be hired.
- Don’t slip into a speech-making or preaching tone of voice.
- Don’t hog the conversation. Answer the questions thoroughly, but don’t drone on forever. Your answer should be between 20 and 120 seconds long.
- Don’t use profanity, even if the recruiter does.
- Don’t use a lot of slang.
- Don’t chatter while the interviewer is reviewing your resume.
- Don’t try to overpower the recruiter with bragging or overstatement.
- Don’t lie about anything. Sometimes candidates lie about their salary. Recruiters often ask for proof, such as a W-2 form.
- Don’t criticize your present employer.
- Don’t get angry or even irritated during the interview. You can be firm--not angry--if the questioning becomes improper or begins to slip into irrelevant areas.
- Don’t answer questions that you don’t want to answer because you consider them to be too personal--and explain your reasoning.
- Don’t ask “Will I get the job?” or “Can I have the job?” Those questions tend to box the recruiter in and s/he won’t like that. Rather say, “I hope you consider me as a candidate for this job” or “I’m really interested in this job.”
- Don’t talk about salary or benefits until later in the hiring process or until the recruiter mentions the subject.
- Don’t schedule anything after the interview. It will be very embarrassing to leave in the middle of an interview or before you have met all the key players.
- Don’t be irritated if there are a number of interruptions during an interview. Maintain your composure and be prepared to remind the interviewer where you were in the conversation if they ask.
- Do pay attention to your scent. Women with powerful perfumes and men with intense colognes can destroy interviews. Moderation is recommended. You may not be personally aware of how strong your scent is.
- Do go to the bathroom before your interview. It is embarrassing to interrupt an interview to “go,” and you want to be as comfortable as possible during this “pressure cooker” happening.
- Do get a good night’s sleep before each day that you search for employment. If you are noticed to be yawning during the interview, it will cost you.
- Do look the interviewer in the eye. Recruiters place a lot of emphasis on eye contact.
- Do make sure you get the interviewer’s name right.
- Do have some money with you. You never know what might happen.
- Do let the interviewer decide when the interview is over.
- Do ask the interviewer or recruiting coordinator what their hiring timeline is so that you will know when you will hear from the employer again.
- Do your very best at every interview, even if you are not sure that a particular job, firm, or agency is right for you. You can’t turn down an offer until you receive one.
- Do ask for business cards of each person that you meet during the interview process. You may want to send a thank you letter following the interview.
- Do be positive in all your responses. If questions arise regarding experiences that were negative in some way, focus on the best aspects of those experiences, not the worst. If a prior work or academic experience was less than stellar, prepare in advance by sorting out anything useful you learned from the experience.