Interviewing Tips

Mike’s guide for first year law students is a worthwhile read. It reminded me of a problem I have encountered when second and third students seek references from me for jobs. I require a writing sample, transcript, and a chat before I agree to write a letter or even be a reference. The chat may be the most important part of the process. For one I enjoy the chance to learn more about my students than I normally do in class. More importantly, it forces students to articulate what it is they wish to do and why they want a particular job. Of course many law students have no clue whether litigation or transactional work is what they want to do. And really how could they? Unlike medical school, unless one works in a clinic or had some exposure to a law firm prior to law school, the practice of law is opaque. Nonetheless, building on some of Mike’s points about knowing who you are and my own conversations with law students, I think there is a way for students to do well in interviews and maybe even know better which jobs to go after.

First, reflect on what you have done before law school. Think about who you are outside of your law school persona. Unfortunately unlike business school students, law students often enter law school with little or no real job experience. Still that does not mean students have no sense of who they are. Summer jobs, undergraduate degrees, internships, fellowships, all can reveal a bit about what experiences a student can draw on and offer to a practice. Put differently, think like the one hiring. Would you hire someone who simply says I want a job? Of course not. The person who can tell a story based on facts about who they are and how that contributes to their interest in a practice and/or what personal experience may mean a little less training is more interesting to a firm than the general candidate. For example, one student I knew had experience with environmental compliance and was applying to work with a telecom that needed help with permits. Although he did not have the exact experience of telecom compliance, his previous skills in navigating city and state bureaucracies and his ability to talk about telecom issues based on class reading helped him get the job.

So when you are preparing for an interview, remember to have your narrative about who you are and what you bring to the table ready. The firms want to hire you, but you must show why they should hire you over the others they are interviewing. One way to do that is to study the job description. A friend of mine was a director at a software company, and he was looking for a specific skill set. He took the time to write a somewhat detailed job description. He told me that numerous times interviewees would go off on tangents and tout their experience or their interest in some aspect of the company but never explained how they fit the job position. This behavior baffled him and of course those people did not get the job. Again, as a law student you may not have the skills or experience to be a perfect match. Yet that does not mean you cannot study the description, especially for a non-firm position, and see what you might be able to add to a firm. As much as I hate the phrase, you need to demonstrate your added value to any employer. They are investing in you; and you in them. A warning must, however, travel with this idea: Do not overstate your qualifications.

Employers know that you are young and may not have everything in place. The key is to show that you know what you can bring to the job, that you show your enthusiasm for the job, and that you acknowledge that you have much to learn as well. This last point should be mentioned as part of your willingness to work hard. Let me say that again, you must show that you are up for the hard work ahead.

A slightly different way to express your interest is to say that one hopes to contribute to the firm but also hopes to gain from the exposure to the people at the firm who have experience and are smart. Again, be careful. If you are going to be concrete about a specific skill or area you wish learn, know something about the firm or other employer and how either interacts with a specific skill or area.

Last, be happy and positive. That does not mean be a smiling freak of nature. Rather, have confidence in yourself and that you know what you are doing. The above steps should allow you to have a sense that yes you have much to learn, but you also have much to offer. You cannot focus on the idea that you must get a specific job. That move will likely stress you out, and you may exude a little desperation or a neediness that the interviewer will not appreciate. To be clear, I know that not everyone gets a job and that getting a job is important. (Hey, that’s why I am writing this post). My point is that even if someone does not find a job immediately persistence should allow that person to find a good job that is a good fit for them.

One way to think about this idea is that not all law graduates may be suited to practicing law in a big or small firm setting. Government, public interest, in-house, non-profit, and other venues may work well. Think about who you are, what you want to do, AND which job will give you the best chance to gain experience and develop skills in general. Even if it is low-paying, a job that affords you the chance to work your tail off, learn huge amounts, and handle cases, write contracts, negotiate deals, write policy, navigate administrative offices, or whatever is key to your long-term goals is the one that will put you in a good place to get a prime job in three to five years. In other words, right now you and the potential employer know you have little to offer in concrete terms. Fair enough, make sure that in a few years, like a medical resident who has finished years of underpaid, hard work, you are a commodity who has taken depositions, filed briefs, etc. Many who go to big firms do not get opportunities for a high volume of those experiences. When the early-career turnover starts, you can be the one to read a job description, get an interview, and say “Yes I have experience in that area, and I hope to develop it further as I contribute to the continued success of this firm.”

I hope these thoughts help and best of luck in as the hiring season begins.