So at this point I’m sure many of you have
heard some of these fabled stories of law firm interviews gone wrong. They’re the same stories year after year and I don’t know if that’s because they’re just a lot of fun to tell or if it’s because people keep making the same mistakes over and over again. But typically they go something like this: you’ll have a student who’s interviewing with an associate and she tells the associate how much she wants to work at that firm, especially because it’s in DC and DC is the best city in the world, it’s where she’s always wanted to live,
she just couldn’t imagine herself any other place. And then the associate stops
her and says you know we’re a “Boston firm right?” Or the person interviewing at
Shearman and Sterling who calls the law firm Sherwin Williams through the whole
interview. Or — this one is true — this happened to my friend Mike. He’s in his callback for a
law firm in Houston — conservative firm — and he starts feeling more and more ill
as the conversation goes on and he ends up throwing up in the potted plant in the partner’s office. But you know what? Mike actually got the job, believe it or
not, and you can too. What we’re going to talk about in the next hour is what you need to think about to prepare for these interviews so that you avoid the big mistakes, like getting the name of the firm wrong, and what you can do if things are unexpected coming your way in the middle of the interview. So we’re going to start with the preparation. Now, the reason I think that the career services folks asked me to come talk to you is because they realize that preparing for
a successful interview is a lot like preparing for a good speech. To make a successful speech you need to know what you’re talking about and you need to have a message.
You need a theme: something that your audience will
remember that they can take home with you. Interviewing is pretty much the same
thing. First, you need to know your material. So, for you all, your material is
your resume. You need to know every single thing that you’ve put on there. I highly recommend that you go home tonight, pull out your resumes and read them over one more time. You’d think, yeah this is the story of my life, I already know this resume but you’d be astonished the little things you put on there that you’ve kind of forgotten about and you don’t want to be surprised if during the interview this is the thing that the interviewer will talk about. So read over your resume one more time and practice saying a sentence or two about every single item on the resume. Then, once you’ve got the details nailed down, take it again and look at it more globally. And here’s what you’re looking for:
you want some sort of theme, some sort of story about yourself
that highlights your strengths. So you’re going to look at the story of your professional life and see if you can figure out what that theme would be. And I’ll give you an example from my own life. When I was going through this
process a dozen years ago, I felt like I was at a pretty big disadvantage compared to my classmates from Columbia. The other folks in my class — a huge
portion of them were business people. They had worked on Wall Street, they’d worked in Manhattan, they always knew they wanted to be in corporate, whatever. And many of them were getting MBAs in addition to their JDs and their resumes reflected this so they had a coherent story to tell. And then the other group of my
classmates that I was intimidated by were people that knew from day one that
they wanted to be lawyers and so when they had gone to college, they had majored in government and then they had worked during the summers at law firms and maybe they’d taken time off in between college and law school and they’d worked as paralegals or they’d gone and interned on Capitol Hill and so they knew all about that sort of thing and they could tell that story in their
interviews. I had majored in English — Shakespeare. And then in between college and law school I ran a theater company with a bunch of my college friends and
that was what my resume reflected. My first couple interviews were not so
great when I’m trying to explain why I’m there and why I want to be a lawyer and the true story was well, I didn’t make a lot of money in theater and never had health insurance. I didn’t really know what else to do. Here I am! Nobody wants to hire you if that is your story so I went back and I looked at my
resume and I thought, okay here’s what I’m going to sell myself as. So the first thing that I told people was I can write. I’m a good writer.
And to prove that I pointed to the fact that I was an English major, pointed to some of the
work that I did in theater, was on a journal in law school,
could point to all those things: I am a writer. And then my second skill: I can think on my feet. And in order to explain that I explained a little bit about what it meant that I directed plays. It means that you go into these rehearsals, you don’t know what’s going to happen to you. Things come flying at you.
You never know what the actors are going to do and you make quick decisions and you’re
the person who decides how things are going to go. And that is a skill that is
useful for lawyers, particularly litigators. And so that was a story that
made sense to the interviewers. So those were my themes.
You have themes also. Take a look at your resume and figure out what your strengths are and how you can make those couple of points. In preparing for the interview, you also need to be able to answer some very fundamental questions. You need to know why you are there.
Why do you want this particular job, this law firm job or a public service job.
Why this specific one? Why this particular location? For some of you that’s going to be obvious: you are interested in this kind of work.
That’s all over your resume. The place is located in your hometown and so that’s an easy tale, your resume tells it for you. For others of you, you will be interviewing in cities with which you have no connection and it won’t be clear at all why you want this specific job so you need to figure out how to answer those questions. For the city, the answer could be something like:
well, I want to be in a big urban area because that is work that is interesting to me.
I want that kind of work, big corporate-type clients but I also have a demonstrated interest in the outdoors.
I love hiking and camping and that’s why I’m here in San Francisco interviewing because this is a terrific city but you’ve also got these gorgeous natural resources. That is a tale that makes sense.
You need to figure out what your story is. And it’s got to be something more than I’m looking for a nice summer vacation in
California. And then as for why you want the specific job, again, if it’s clear why you want it then you’re not going to have to think too much about it. But many of you may find yourselves in a situation of interviewing at a law firm when you always imagined yourself as a public service kind of person or interviewing at a public interest organization when you only ever dreamed of being a lawyer at one of the top ten law firms. And if that happens to you you need to figure out why you are there before the interview happens because if instead you go in and you tell them something like, “Well, gee, I just wanted the — I want the paycheck.
I got a lot of loans.” You won’t get the job and you will be wasting their time and yours, and also taking a spot from one of your classmates.
So instead, you should think about the fact that even if this job you’re interviewing for today is not where you imagine yourself 10 years from now, it’s not your dream job, It’s a start.
There’s going to be something in this job that will be interesting to you that you can get out of it and you’re not locking yourself in for the rest of your lives. It’s not like indentured servitude or something.
So put on a good face for the job. Figure out the strengths of it.
There are good reasons why you want to be there and that’s what you emphasize in the
interview. Save the sort of therapy session of
“Ah! Am I selling out to the man” — save that for later, not the interview itself. You also need to know how to deal with the bad facts that you may have in your application. So some of you may have a bad grade.
Some of you may have not been able to find a law job this past summer and so you don’t have legal employment history. You need to figure out a story to tell about what happened to you. So, for instance, a bad grade you might be
able to say something like, “Yes, it took me a little while to get my feet under me when I started law school. It took a while to figure out how to think like a lawyer so my first semester grades reflect that.
But here’s the thing: I don’t give up when I am thrown a loop like that.
I just keep working. And I kept out of that — kept plugging away. And you can see that in my second semester grades. And then your theme, of course, is here you are, you’re diligent, you’re somebody who keeps working. You need to figure out how to tell this tale so that it is a positive. Preparing for the interview also means knowing as much as you can about the business of the firm. Oh, is this thing? There we go.
Be well briefed about the business of the firm. So here’s how you work out —
here’s how you learn about this law firm. The first thing you’re going to do, obviously, is you’re going to go to the firm’s website, see what they say about themselves.
You’re also going to want to go to chambersandpartners.com. That’ll tell you a lot of information about the firm. And then, finally, look at Google News.
Just type in the name of the employer and it will give you what’s going on
with this entity right now in the news. And so that might tell you sort of what
matters are of interest right this very second. That just gives you extra topics you might be able to talk about during the interview or during the callback, especially at lunch when you have to carry on a more extended conversation. You need to know about your classes.
Whatever you have studied is fair game. Anything on your transcript people can ask you about. So I don’t mean you have to go back and study as if you were taking an exam again in each of your classes but you should refresh your memory about the basics. I know some of these classes you may have blocked out because you don’t want to think about them anymore. What you want to do is pull out your outline and skim it over one more time or just flip to the table of contents of your course book so you can do the basic: “I know what due process is” in case it comes up. You also need to know about the world. So this one’s difficult because, I mean, who’s got time to read the newspaper when you’re a student and you’ve got a lot going on but you need to know about at least the basic headlines of what’s happening in the news.
This is going to come up the lunch
during your callback. People will expect you to be reasonably well-educated about what’s happening in the world. So here’s the way you get your fast education: first, just start reading the front page of the newspaper. Just the front page.
Don’t worry about anything besides that. That will give you the big headlines.
Or just go to Google, click on news and see what comes up. Go to the New York Times website, just read the very beginning, just enough to know that, hey there’s a
healthcare debate going on right now. Just enough so that you can carry on an
intelligent conversation. You need to know the answers to these questions. Now, before you start frantically writing these down, I — we’ve given you — we have these PowerPoint slides and we will make these available to you at the end of the talk so somewhere in the back of the room they’re going to put a big stack of these so you can take these slides home with you. And you need to look at every single one of these questions. These are your basic softball questions.
In fact, these are the ones that they circulate at places like Covington and Burling, in the Justice Department, and they say ask people these questions.
So there you go. They’re tighter tip.
Know the answers to all questions. Figure out how you’re going to answer each one. And then, once you’ve invented your basic answers, you need to practice them. You need to practice your answers out loud.
It is not the same to imagine how you might answer the question in sort of the safety of your own apartment.
Actually say it out loud because the first time you say
it out loud you will sound like an idiot. It will sound terrible.
You will be reaching for words. You’ll be saying “um” and “ah.”
Maybe your tone will be wrong. And then you do it again and you do it again until you get it into some shape that seems right to you, that feels right. You’ve got to get that rehearsal through and once you do, then when you get into the interview and you’re terrified and the first thing they ask you is one of the questions that was on that list you know the answer.
And so that’s a great way to start. It’s helpful to practice with a buddy, with somebody who can give you some feedback. So I encourage you to go out and ask your roommates, ask your classmates if they want to take turns being interviewed for, you know, an hour.
Just practice these questions. I’d stay away from anybody who’s too emotionally vested in your job search. For example, your mom.
If you are practicing with your mother you are going to get the feedback like, “Oh honey, you should tell the story about how you got the lead in the third grade play.” And that’s probably not the story you
actually want to tell but your mom is not going to be unbiased. So you need somebody who’s going to give you an objective reflection of how you seem as you’re answering these questions. If you get a question and you don’t know the answer to it in the interview, again, you are going to reach for your theme.
Your answer may lie in your theme of I’m diligent, I don’t give up.
It’s a good place to start anyway. If you’re just under the gun and you don’t know what to say. During the interview. So, at its simplest level, an interview is a conversation. So your basic things:
you’re going to listen to what the person’s asking, you’re going to answer the question.
An interview is not an opportunity for you to launch into a monologue. A big part of the interview —
on one hand they’re looking to see: do you have the grades,
do you have the skills? But, especially if you get to the callback part, then you’ve got the skills.
That’s not the question. Then, the question is:
do we like you? Are you the kind of person that we’d like to have lunch with?
Do you — do we want to work late with you? And the conversation that you’re having during the interview helps them figure that out. So listen to what they’re asking,
answer the question, keep your composure. If something happens —
an unexpected question you don’t know the answer — your job is to remain unflappable.
Your job is to keep that smile on, take a deep breath and do the best you can.
Because that’s part of what they’re judging. You may not know the answers to everything.
What they’re wanting to see in that case is can you handle it? And let me let me do a little sell here for some of the classes that I teach and
that others at this law school teach. You can learn this skill.
Yes, there are people out there who interview beautifully from day one, they were born with it, it’s a talent.
But most of us don’t. And you will find, though, as you do this, that you get better and better the more you practice. So if you are out there doing these interviews this fall and you the credentials but for some reason you’re not getting the jobs and you think that maybe it’s the interview
skill part, sign up for oral presentations or a class like that.
It’s going to make you stand up and talk week after week. Because you will find that with practice, practice, practice you can develop the skill and you can be fantastic. It’s not — these are not interview classes but they’re public speaking classes. It’s really the same set of skills and it will help you with the interviews. You also want to think about staying positive. So a big mistake that many people make in interviews is going negative, telling a story about how you didn’t like the employer. If you’re telling a story and you’re getting a laugh at somebody else’s expense and it’s kind of nasty, it’s kind of snarky, the person that you’re interviewing with will remember that and will think, you know, “She says something mean about her previous employer. She’s going to say something mean about us one day.” People don’t like negative so stay away from it.
Your goal here is to make a real connection. You want to seem like yourself but you want to be a really good version of yourself. So if part of yourself is that you’re kind of nasty and negative, leave that part at home. You can bring that out during the
summer but don’t do it during the interview. You also want to be careful about your
conversations with the younger associates. And some of them you may even know. You may find yourself on the — the callback lunch with a UVA grad that you encountered casually a year or two ago. During this interaction, though, that
person is there as a representative of the firm so even though you have a lovely lunch and it goes on for a long time and you seem like you’re genuinely connecting with a person, really making friends with them,
still resist the temptation to tell the negative story, to recite the off-color joke because during
this interaction this person still belongs to the employer and will be asked to fill out a form about you and this may be reported back and it could take — take your prospects of getting the job. So here’s the thing: your goal is to seem as
confident as you can. And your voice can really help you in that regard and it can also really hurt you. So if you are talking and your words are very confident but your delivery is not people will listen to the delivery more
than they will listen to the words. Here are the mistakes that people make most commonly that undercut their authority. First is speaking too quickly.
If you are a person who speaks a mile a minute when you get nervous, well, welcome to the world.
Most of us are. here’s what you need to do. First, you need to figure out that that’s
You probably already know. Your friends have already told you.
“I don’t — I can’t understand you man, slow down.” Or you can figure it out as you’re practicing these answers with your partner. The person will say to you,
“I can’t understand what you’re saying.” So that means that before you go into the
interview you need to calm down, you need to get a hold of the adrenaline, to take a deep breath.
It also helps a lot to practice your answers because the more you feel like you know what you’re going to say, the more relaxed you can be and the more you can slow yourself down. My third tip for you speed speakers out
there is: look at the person who is interviewing you. Watch what the body language is doing.
If you are talking quickly the person will start kind of leaning forward, looking at you funny. If you get cues that there’s something going wrong, that is your sign that you should slow down. The second trap that people fall into is speaking too quietly. This is especially for the women out
there in the room. What happens is you feel nervous, you feel like you’re going “Uhh” and so you end up maybe even covering your mouth like this and you’re speaking so softly and, kind of, you’re like a little girl. And it means that your authority is in the toilet.
Especially if you are speaking to an employer who is older. If you’re speaking to anybody who is elderly you need to assume that that
person is hard-of-hearing and you should raise your voice.
The more confident you sound, the more authoritative you’re going to appear. The next: thing to be careful about
is your pitch. And this tends to be the women in the room who have this problem when you’re nervous and so you start to use higher notes in your voice. And if you do, you sound a little bit like Minnie Mouse. And that again will undercut your authority.
You’re trying to sell the idea that you are a confident lawyer. You’re not a young student.
So watch your pitch. You want to be careful about upward inflections.
That’s where you take a sentence and you turn it into a question. And sometimes people will do it in the middle and then sometimes they’ll do it at the end of their sentences. You need to pay attention to what your habits are. And if this is something that you routinely do, you need to start practicing so that you get a different habit. So intentionally bring your voice down at the end of every sentence and you’re going to have to do this again and again and again so that you replace one bad habit with a good habit. And then the final vocal trap I want to
warn you about: is filler sounds. Um, ah, you know, you know, you know. Caroline Kennedy is an example of this. This woman is completely able — she’s a graduate of Harvard and Columbia and she was deemed to be too stupid to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat because in each one of her interviews she kept saying you know, you know, you know.
You don’t want to give that impression. So if you suddenly are peppering your words with, “ums,” “likes,” “you knows” you need to practice that as well. So again, you get yourself a partner, give that person a rolled-up newspaper and
have them whack you every time you say “um” so that you get out of the habit. All right. So that’s your voice.
You also communicate with your body language. Here are the things that you want to think about in body language. Thing number one:
it’s just like your mother told you: sit up straight. The more you sit up straight the more you look confident, you’re in charge of
this interview. Now with suits I will give you a little tip. Many of you will have these suits that have these little built-in shoulder pads and when you sit down the suit goes up like this and then suddenly you look like a turtle who’s hiding. So as you are interviewing make it a habit to just pull —
this is men and women — just pull the jacket of your suit down so you don’t have that hunched up thing. Women, as you sit in your suits, if you are wearing skirts, make sure that you’re pulling them down too so you’re not showing too much leg and seeming unprofessional. Sit up straight, smile and look people in the
eye. So smiling is because you want to seem
like a person people would want to get to know and if you’re like this the whole interview that’s not going to work. Looking people in the eye makes you
look like you can be believed, like you know what you’re talking about.
If it is your habit to look up as you’re
trying to think of answers to questions or to look down as if the answers are written on the floor somewhere, that will make you look shifty and shady.
You need to look at the person that you are talking to. Again, this is something you can by taking a public speaking class because we will give you feedback about this and make you look at us until you get it right. Don’t fidget, adjust your clothes, play with your hair.
So you want to make sure that whatever you’re wearing fits you and doesn’t need to be kind of wiggled around. If you’re wearing jewelry that you’re just tempted to play with take it off. Pick something different.
If you’ve got hair that’s kind of getting in your eyes get it out. Men, you’re going to have to shave.
Just, anything that people want to kind of play with, don’t do it. No hugging yourself.
So what I mean by that is this. No sitting like this.
No, none of this kind of stuff. This kind of body language where you’re closing yourself off makes you look like you are not comfortable. You just need a big ol’ hug so you’re giving it to yourself. So that closed off body language is not the body language with somebody who is confident. Instead you want to stay open and and as confident as you can be. And then the final thing is you want to practice your handshake. Now there are a lot of bad handshakes
out there so I think people don’t give enough thought to this. Here’s how you shake hands. You put your hand forward.
It’s straight up. It’s not down like this. If this is how you’re shaking somebody’s hand this is a dominant kind of posture
and you’re crunching them that’s no good. If it’s palm up like this that’s really
submissive so that’s the wimpy handshake, leaves a bad impression. Just straight on. Firm without hurting anybody. Everybody turn to the person next to you and shake hands right now. Shake hands. Good. Turn and shake hands with another person on the other side if they haven’t a chance. All right. And now I want you to turn.
If you just got a terrible hand shake, if the person just crunched your hand or gave you a wimpy handshake turn and tell that person right now. Okay. If you’ve just gotten that feedback then you have just been done the biggest
favor of your professional lives because people really hate bad handshakes.
And, by the way, once this talk is over I want you all to go wash your hands because if somebody’s got the swine flu I don’t wanna be responsible for having spread it to all of you. What to wear. So why am I telling you what to wear? It’s because it’s communicated language and as much as your vocal mannerisms. So what are you gonna wear to these law firm interviews? You are going to wear a suit but it needs to be a conservative suit. Some of you may have been out there in
the working world. You may have the wardrobe of the most cute adorable suits in the world and they’re not conservative. You need to save those for the summer.
For the interview you need to be wearing the basic dark suit. If you are in a conservative market, by which I mean the deep south women you’re going to need to be in skirts. Skirts with pantyhose. That conservative.
If you’re in New York, DC, you can wear something like this. That’s completely fine.
But it needs to be a conservative suit. You need to be comfortable in that suit.
So if you have never worn suits before you should practice wearing it. I put it on at home, wear it for a couple hours figure out what it feels like to sit in this thing. Figure out if you’ve got problems, like you sit down and suddenly the jacket is gaping and it makes you want to hug yourself. If that happens, take the suit back, go buy a different one. You need to also practice wearing the shoes that you’re going to be wearing. If you buy yourself some beautiful new shoes and the first time that you wear them is the day of on-grounds interviews you will have blisters and that is what you will be thinking about instead of the
substance of your interview. So you want your costume, your outfit to say that you are professional and buttoned up but you want it to be done in a way that you don’t have to pay attention to it. You also are going to need a bag that looks nice.
Not a backpack. You need — if have it, a briefcase — but you don’t have to run out and buy something super expensive. You can go to Target and you can buy
a fake version. Just not a backpack that makes you look like a student. You need something that makes you look like a lawyer. In that bag you need copies — oops.
First practice carrying it, okay? So with that bag you need to get comfortable with it so practice carrying it so that you know what it’s like so that you don’t go knocking things off people’s desks when you come into people’s offices for the first time. And in that bag you need copies of everything important. Multiple copies of your resume, your writing sample, your transcript, your
references even though you may have sent these things to the firms already they — the person you’re interviewing with may have lost them. By the way, I keep seeing firms —
I mean any employer or any legal employer this is true for any of them. So if the person you’re meeting with doesn’t have your resume handy you need
to be able to pull it out and hand it right to them. I also recommend putting together a little emergency bag for yourself that you’re going to stick into your nice briefcase or whatever it is right now and you’re going to keep it there for the rest of the interviews cycle. Your emergency bag should have things like an extra pair of hose if you’re doing the skirt interview. It should have you — should have a tissue, comb.
You should have a mirror and if you feel sick when you interview you should have whatever medicine you need, tums, aspirin, contact lens case and money.
For the callbacks you need to have some cash in your pocket in case you need to get in a cab and get yourself back to your hotel.
You don’t want to worry about any of this stuff on the fly. The goal to have yourself buttoned up in advance as possible so that when you get to the interview you can just think about the conversation.
it is perfectly fine to wear the same suit to callbacks that you wear to on-grounds interview because if you have done this right they won’t actually remember your suit. They’ll just remember that it was appropriate, it was something
conservative, but they won’t remember the details of it.
You’re going to look much the same as any other candidate so it’s fine to go out and buy the one interview suit and just keep wearing it over and over again. Finally, I want to talk about the lunch.
So if you go through on-grounds interview successfully and you get a callback your callback will involve some sort of fancy meal. And here’s what you want to think about: the point is to get the job, not the food. So that means you’re going to be taken to a lovely restaurant and if the thing that you love the most is on the menu and it’s lobster — it’s
impossible to eat. Don’t order it. Order the thing that you’re going to be able to appropriately eat without making a big ol’ mess so that you can concentrate on the conversation. You don’t want to order the most expensive thing. You want something that’s kind of mid-priced and you want to follow the lead of the other folks at the table. Usually you order an appetizer and an entree and dessert but who knows these are crazy times with the economy being bad, I don’t know people are doing that anymore. So you watch what the other folks at the table are doing. If the waitress comes to you first you can say, “I just need another minute, could you — could you please start with everybody else and just come back to me?” And then see what they’re doing and follow their lead. You — of course — do not drink.
Alcohol is not your friend in interview season. And final piece of advice about this is
don’t order anything that is going to leave a mark if it spills on you so stay away from marinara sauce, stay away from anything messy. I will tell you my own horror story about this.
I went on a callback interview at the lunch — was it? — I think Oceana, like one of those big fancy seafood restaurants in New York and the first thing that I remember about this interview was the food was amazing and we got to the end and I couldn’t possibly eat another bite and then they brought out the check and they brought a silver platter of chocolate truffles and I couldn’t eat them because I was so full and if I’d been there with my friends I would have taken those truffles and shoved them in my bag and taken them home, But I remembered the point that I want to get job, not eat the food so I let the truffles go and you should too.
And the second thing that I remember
about this interview was I wanted to order the lobster, the things that are difficult to eat but I didn’t. For my appetizer I ordered lobster ravioli because I thought, ravioli, that’s a lot easier than, say, spaghetti. That’ll be great! No, these raviolis were this big.
So you had to cut them with a knife and fork. And it turned out they were swimming in some sort of a broth and so I took my little fork and my knife and I cut open the first one and it went all over my suit and so I made a joke about it and then later in the meal I excused myself, ran back to the ladies room tried to clean it off. Big mistake. I used a wet paper towell on a dark suit, don’t do it. If you use a wet paper towel on a dark suit it will leave little bits of paper all over you and it makes it much, much worse than if you just had done nothing at all. And this was a problem because I had one interview left that day with the hiring
partner of this firm that was taking me to lunch, the interview that counted, so I went through the lunch and then I went and met with the hiring partner and I made a joke and I said I sure did love the lunch as you can see and it was fine because that’s the kind of mistake that can happen. What you’re — what you’re trying to do here —
your goal is to avoid the mistakes that indicate lack of preparation. So you don’t want to make the mistake like getting the law firm’s name wrong or getting the city wrong because that shows that you didn’t do
your homework and it’s hard to dig yourself out of that hole. But if the mistake is something like the lobster ravioli, that’s something that’s kind of hard to anticipate. What they’re wanting to see is: can you exhibit some sort of grace under pressure. Because if you can, well, then that shows that you have a skill that they want. Because things may go wrong when you’re at a lunch with a client and if you can think on your feet and you can react to it then you’re going to get the job.