By Natasha Alladina • July 31, 2020•Writers in Residence, Careers
Know what used to give me more butterflies than an actually viable “we both swiped right” first date situation? Interviews. Although, to be fair, interview anticipation was more like having pesky moths or something more insidious eating away at my insides. And I know I can’t be the only one who’s gotten tingly hands and feet at the thought of an interview…
So what’s changed? Well, for starters, I’ve done a ton of interviews (both public and private sector) since law school, both as an interviewee and interviewer. And more importantly, I’ve learned how to prepare effectively. So even though I still get a bit nervous before an interview (I’m not a robot!), I now have the type of unshakeable confidence walking into interviews that only intense prep and practice can cultivate.
Now I know that law school career centers provide helpful interview prep services to students, but I have to say, there’s so much more I’ve learned through years of experience interviewing as a practicing lawyer and now as a legal recruiter. And I’d add that lateral interviewing is more nuanced than OCI simply because you have more experience and there’s more to discuss.
And with that lengthy intro, let’s get into the meat of interview prep.
Research, research again, and then research some more
- Research the firm/company/organization.
Let’s walk through all of the different ways in which you can research a firm, company, or organization. Because browsing their website isn’t enough.
Start with the firm/company/organization’s website. Don’t just read the homepage and about us sections. Dig in. Dig in like you’re researching your bestie’s new Tinder prospect. Uncover every stone. That means noting any news features, recent cases, or initiatives they’ve highlighted. If it’s a firm, that means perusing their various practice groups and industries served.
Next, research your interviewers’ bios. Note any representative matters that especially interest you. Remember, you’re looking for potential talking points. Follow up by checking out their LinkedIn profiles and activity and, again, note anything that strikes you as particularly interesting (whether it’s work-related or some personal interest you can connect on).
While you’re on LinkedIn, see if you have any connections that already work or have worked at the firm/company/organization. If not, see if any alums from your law school currently work or have worked there. Reach out to those folks with a personalized message and see if they’d be willing to chat with you about their experience at said firm/company/organization.
Oh, and if you’re interviewing with a public company, be sure to check out recent SEC filings.
- Research yourself.
Read your resume several times through and make sure you can confidently and concisely speak to every one of your bullet points. If you note a case you won summary judgment in, be able to talk about the main issues you argued in your briefing. If there are any gaps in your work history, be prepared to explain the reason for the gap/what you did during that period. Same goes for any transitions you’ve made over the course of your career.
If you submitted a writing sample or list of representative matters in connection with your application, be ready to discuss the issues at stake and outcomes. (In a way that maintains client confidentiality, of course.)
Questions to anticipate and how to answer them
At the end of the day, an interviewer wants to know about your prior experience so they can assess whether you’d be able to do the work expected and do it well. They also want to see if you’d be a good personality fit and get a better feel for why you want to work there.
There are a number of different questions they can ask to get at this info, some of which are listed below.
- Tell me about yourself.
- What do you know about our firm/company/organization?
- Why do you want to work here?
- Why do you want to leave your current role?
- Tell me about your experience.
- What’s your greatest strength? Weakness?
- Tell me about a challenging assignment you had at work and how you handled it.
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- (If you’re a relocation candidate) What ties do you have to X city?
- Why should we hire you?
Remember to answer the question asked but try to keep a conversational tone. One trick is to write out a few bullet points for anticipated questions, along with anecdotes/examples that demonstrate the hard skill or personal quality (soft skill) you’re trying to convey.
Your goal at an interview is to show the employer that you’re the perfect candidate for the job and also determine whether it’s the right job for you. You do the former by showing the value you’d bring to the firm/company/organization, which I like to think of a healthy mix of keen interest and/or expertise in the specific area of law and excitement about the firm/company/organization.
*I may have to write a whole other blog post on how to answer the questions above… TBD.
Questions to ask the interviewers
Hopefully your in-depth research on the firm/company/organization will have raised a few questions you’d like some further clarification on. If not, have questions prepared nonetheless. Like booze at a BYOB party, you don’t want to show up empty-handed.
Instead of generic questions like “what are the next steps for the hiring process” or “who is your ideal candidate,” get a little creative and think about what you’d want to know and how to ask it in a way that will show you’ve done your research and are genuinely interested in working there.
A few of my favorite questions to ask interviewers:
- How has XYZ practice group/legal team evolved in the past three years? (And more relevant to current times… How has XYZ practice group/legal team been impacted by the pandemic?)
- What initially drew you to this firm/company/organization? What do you enjoy most about working here now?
- What did you work on yesterday?
- Can you tell me about one of your all-star associates/attorneys?
- Is there anything you would change about your current practice? What/why?
Because we’re in a pandemic, a quick note on virtual interviewing
Wear the same interview-appropriate attire you’d wear to an in-person interview. That includes bottoms. (You don’t want to have to get up for any reason and reveal your sweatpants or no-pants situation.)
Do a practice run with your tech. Make sure your lighting is adequate, your background is clutter-free, and your webcam and sound are in working order. Oh, and those fun virtual Zoom backgrounds? Save those for happy hours please.
When you’re answering questions in the interview, look directly at the camera. It’s beyond tempting to look at yourself, but you’ll connect more if you look directly into the camera. Try drawing a stick figure on a sticky note and stick it behind the camera. (Wow, impressed I used a form of “stick” thrice in one sentence…)
Practice, practice, practice
Is it awkward to do mock interviews? Yes. Should you do them anyway? Absolutely. Practice in the mirror, pretend your dog is your interviewer, do whatever you have to do to get in the habit of answering questions confidently and concisely.
Don’t forget the thank you note
Send thank you notes within 24 hours of your interview.
Quick tip – After each interview, I like to jot down a few notes about the conversation so I can refer back and personalize my thank you notes for each interviewer.
You got this. Go on and crush that interview!