With some organizations (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) predicting a rosier outlook for law school graduates in 2016, and others asserting the market will continue to be competitive, it’s in the best interests of every law school student and graduate to make a highly positive impression from their very first contact with a potential employer.
So, what can you do to increase your odds of a good outcome?
Experts emphasize two things: 1) Pre-interview Research and 2) Interview Practice
It’s critically important to take some time to research and absorb everything you possibly can on your potential new company. Just like you never ask a witness in court a question you don’t already know the answer to, never ask questions in a job interview that you could have already researched.
According to the Career and Professional Development (CPD) office at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, “The bottom line is employers want to see that you know who they are AND you know what they do. It is important to know the organization’s mission, business profile, practice areas, and recent news. Be sure to review the organization’s website and conduct a Lexis Nexis and Westlaw search. Also, before your interview ask for the names of the individuals who will be interviewing you. Go the extra mile to research the interviewer’s professional background.”
In addition, counsels WMU-Cooley Professor Karen Fultz, “research the background of the CEO and the head of the department in which you plan to work, and try to find any articles about the company or persons that will help you connect with them. If you receive the call for the interview, the interview is set up to learn more about you personally and how you will fit in as a team member. Capitalize on that fact and shine!”
“Interweaving appropriate facts about the company into a response, explanation, or question distinguishes you and makes you memorable,” adds CPD Associate Dean Charles Toy.
Mock interviews will expose you to different interview styles: behavioral, situational, case, presentation, panel, selection, work sample, stress, screening, peer group, and video.
Some of those questions include the frequently encountered “greatest strength,” “greatest weakness” standards, as well as inquiries about GPA, and work experience. Obviously, if your GPA is underwhelming, you will emphasize your work experience in your resume, cover letter and interview responses. Employers today are looking for individuals who can work creatively and collaboratively and you need to develop your personal pitch in a way that is responsive to these attributes.
WMU-Cooley graduate Natayai Scott’s interview experiences revealed some notable consistencies among potential employers. “The question most asked is two-fold: 1) what do you know about the position, and 2) how does your skill set fit the position. Going into this last interview, I asked myself these questions and framed the answer the night before. Giving a well-articulated answer is what got me the job offer.”
“Not all questions are straight-forward,” states Lisa Fadler, WMU-Cooley CPD assistant dean. She can conceive of an employer asking interviewees questions like, “What bumper sticker would you want on your car and why?” or “What super power would you want and why?” or “If I gave you $50,000 to start a business, what would it be?” Dean Fadler recommends answering such questions in a way that relates it to and brings value to the position the interviewee is seeking.
The Career Services Office notes that it is important to review and know yourself and your résumé. The order of information presented on your resume is essential to landing an interview. Every resume and cover letter must be tailored to the position for which you are applying. Each submission will be crafted to emphasize the particular needs of the prospective employer and your qualifications for that position. “It is important for you to be comfortable discussing everything on your résumé. It is all fair game. Be able to discuss why you did something and what you obtained from the experience. If you cannot answer questions about yourself, it is telling. More importantly, develop themes and anecdotes to illustrate traits you want to express to the interviewers. For example, instead of telling an employer that you are a hard worker, think about a time when you worked hard to make something happen.”
It’s important to present a professional image. Remember that you are interviewing to be a representative of the employer. The interviewer is looking at your dress presentation and how you put yourself together. Your outward appearance speaks to your judgment and understanding of your role within the workplace. Also, your professional presence includes your speech patterns. The way that you talk with peers is different than the way you will talk to the employer. Lastly, treat everyone that you encounter with respect and turn off your electronics.
- Arrive early, but not too early – Everyone knows that being late is bad, but so is arriving too early. Waiting too long for an interview can be awkward or create an imposition for the interviewer. Wait in your car until 10 minutes before the interview.
- Stay calm and breathe – Staying calm before and during an interview allows you to actively listen and better respond to questions. Focusing on your breathing during the time before the interview will help you calm your nerves.
- Key in on one or two things you want them to remember about you – Briefly recall in your mind a few of your skills or accomplishments that are important to the job. Focusing in on just the most important items will help make you memorable during the interview.
- Put away your phone – Don’t fall into the trap of checking your voicemail, Facebook, or email before the interview. Something you read in your newsfeed or inbox or listen to could distract you from the task at hand.
- Stay positive – It seems simple, but thinking happy thoughts can put a smile on your face and put you in the right state of mind before the interview.
Pitfalls to avoid
- Do not make negative comments about others including previous employers, law school professors/administration, and peers. Instead, focus on the positive. This is especially important if you have identified a problem or issue that you feel particularly qualified to address as a future employee. You want to be perceived as the solution to their problems, not a critic of past failures.
- Do not get too comfortable. While it is obviously a good practice to be cordial to a future employer (and all the staff you encounter at the firm from the very moment you arrive) it is vitally important to remember that the interviewer is not your friend. Never let your guard down and do not talk to the interviewer like a peer. Instead, show that you understand and respect business culture. You are a professional now, so you should remember to always act like one.
- And, of course, do not lie. As a member of the legal profession, you are expected to maintain high integrity. This professional standard also translates into the interview setting. Employers are sensitive to anything they will interpret as a lie. Inaccuracies or errors on your résumé, denying or exaggerating the truth, and misleading statements are considered lies. Even if these acts are unintentional. Instead, put a positive spin on the truth. You are not expected to air dirty laundry or give long, detailed explanations, but everything must be true and pass a background check.
From summer jobs, to internships, to post-graduation employment, what interview preparation techniques work for you?