Purpose | Preparation | First Impression | Common Interview Questions | Illegal Questions | What to Say | What to Ask | Follow-Up | Things to Think About | Links
The interview is where you distinguish yourself from other candidates. If you have been called in for the interview, you probably have the basic qualifications required for the position. Now, it is up to you to sell yourself as the best candidate for the position. It is an opportunity for both you and the employer to see if there is a fit as far as personality and attitude are concerned.
The objective of an interview is to develop a conversation. Generally, the interview begins with the potential employer and the applicant asking each other probing questions and providing thoughtful answers. Hopefully, as the interview continues, the question and answer format fades away and both parties develop a conversation regarding mutual interests. As a result, both parties learn more about each other and begin to develop a sense of whether they would work well together.
An effective interview results from preparation. It is crucial that you think about how you will respond to the questions that will probably be asked of you. In addition, it is important to learn as much about the potential employer as you can from computer assisted research (e.g., to learn more about the big cases or significant legal issues in which the employer has most recently involved itself), and from discussions with office staff, alumni, family friends, and anyone else who may have knowledge about the employer's practice and reputation. This research serves two important purposes. First, it allows you to use the interview as an opportunity to obtain answers to the substantive questions that are not addressed in other places. Secondly, it allows you to distinguish yourself as an applicant who is sincerely interested in the employer and in the position.
- The Internet
- If you learned of the position though a professor, professional contact, family member, or friend, call them and ask them about the employer and any special issues that might arise.
- Check with the Office of Career and Professional Development to find out if any former ASL or UDC-DCSL graduates are working for the employer. If and when you have located this contact, call as far in advance of the interview as possible. Make sure you have done your homework so your contact does not have to give you all the laborious details you should already know.
Many people incorrectly assume that they know themselves well enough that they do not need to spend time thinking about themselves or practicing before an interview. It is important to think about yourself specifically in a job setting and to reflect on how your experiences have prepared you for work in that setting. It is also important to be able to articulate to a stranger what he or she is interested in knowing about you. Practicing with a friend or with the staff at the Office of Career and Professional Development can help you figure out the best way to say what you mean. Especially if you get nervous during interviews, practice sessions will provide you with enough familiarity with the questions to make sure that your answers are not rambling or off the topic. A friend or OCPD staff person can help you to focus your answers, highlight your strengths, and increase your confidence in your interview abilities.
What to Bring
It is important to be prepared for the interview. Not only should you bring knowledge of the employer and a positive attitude, the following items may be requested:
- 3 professional looking copies of your resumé (you never know who may decide to sit in on your interview)
- Signed copy of your cover letter (particularly if you submitted your letter and resumé via e-mail)
- References (see some tips and an example)
- Copy of your writing sample and transcript
- List of questions, if necessary
- Pen and paper to take notes, if necessary
- Documents referred to in resumé or cover letter (if you mentioned a specific article you published or if you were part of the law review, for example, bring a copy)
What to Wear
Even if you are interviewing at a company or organization known for being casual, go conservative. A well-groomed, professional appearance is essential. Anything else will detract from the best possible presentation you can make. Decide what to wear well before the day of your interview, allowing time for dry cleaning or pressing as necessary. If your outfit is new, wear it once before your first interview. Make sure that all buttons and zippers work. You do not want to give your clothes a second thought as you go to the interview. You do want to feel comfortable and confident in whatever you choose to wear. Men and women should generally plan to wear a fairly conservative suit in a fairly conservative color. In some creative fields you may have more leeway in terms of formal vs. casual attire, but it is always safer to err on the conservative side. In any case, leave at home the wild ties, attention-grabbing jewelry, strong scents, and gum.
- Be on time! If you do not know the area, find the place the day before or be prepared to show up an hour early, find the place, and spend some time in the local bookstore or coffee shop until it is time. Do not be more than ten minutes early.
- Be positive and try to make others feel comfortable. Show openness by leaning into a greeting with a firm handshake and smile.
- Relax. Think of the interview as a conversation, not an interrogation. And remember, the interviewer may be just as nervous about making a good impression on you!
- Show self-confidence. Make eye contact with the interviewer and answer questions in a clear voice.
- Avoid negative body language. An interviewer wants to see how well you react under pressure. Avoid these signs of nervousness and tension:
- Frequently touching your mouth
- Faking a cough to think about the answer to a question
- Gnawing on your lip
- Tight or forced smiles
- Swinging your foot or leg
- Folding or crossing your arms
- Avoiding eye contact
- Picking at invisible bits of lint
Common Interview Questions
(Be prepared to answer the following questions -- although it is not likely you will be asked all of them)
UDC-DCSL AND YOU
- How do you like law school?
- What is it like to be at UDC-DCSL?
- What would you say to convince a student to come to UDC-DCSL?
- Why should my office continue to interview UDC-DCSL students?
- How has UDC-DCSL benefited from your attendance?
LAW SCHOOL PERFORMANCE
- How has law school treated you?
- How was your first semester/year?
- How/What were your grades?
- What was your best/favorite subject?
- Describe the course that has had the greatest impact on your thinking.
- What is your GPA?
- What is your rank? (Note: UDC-DCSL does not rank students)
- Do you have a transcript?
YOU AS A PERSON
- What would you like to tell me about yourself?
- What are your weaknesses? (You might respond by highlighting a negative that you have taken action to correct)
- What book have you read most recently?
- What do you read every day outside of school work? Periodicals?
- What are your long-term goals?
- What are your hobbies?
- In what kind of work environment do you do your best work?
- With what kind of people do you like to work?
- What kinds of tasks and responsibilities motivate you the most?
- If you could trade places with someone for a week, who would it be? Who would you most like to meet?
- What would you like me to know about you that is not on your resumé?
YOU AS A LAWYER
- Why do you want to become a lawyer?
- Where do you see yourself five/ten years from now?
- In what area of the law do you want to practice?
- What qualities do you have that will make you a good lawyer?
- Did your legal employer from last summer offer you a permanent position? Why not?
- Describe the legal job or activity that has had the greatest impact on your career goals.
- Talk in detail about a case that interested you this past summer/in your legal clinics.
- What legal topics are you interested in?
- Are you familiar with any Supreme Court decision in that area?
- What is the most challenging/interesting assignment you have had so far in law school/at your summer job/at the legal clinic? How did you solve it?
- Why do you want to work here?
- What have you heard about us?
- Why should I hire you?
- How did you hear about our firm/organization?
Generally, specific questions about your race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, disability, or political affiliation are prohibited by state and federal laws unless they would directly affect your ability to perform the functions of the job. Most employers know that it is illegal to ask these questions. Try to think about why the question was asked and respond directly to that concern without answering the question. For example, if you are asked if you plan to marry or how many children you plan to have, you may choose to answer, "If you are concerned about my ability to travel, I can assure you that my family responsibilities will not interfere with my ability to do the traveling that is necessary for this position." If you think that your answer will help you, you may choose to answer the question directly. You should take the incident into account when evaluating the organization and also let the Career and Professional Development staff know about it.
What to Say
- SELL YOURSELF! The employer should not have to drag information out of you.
- Give specific examples of leadership, initiative, organization, and other strengths.
- Turn liabilities into assets. If you have some sort of problem in your work or school history, talk about the lessons you have learned.
- Read over your resumé before the interview. Make a list of the most important aspects of your work experience, achievements, and talents. Prepare a brief summary explanation of each of these key points. During the course of the interview, when appropriate, make sure each of these points is raised.
- Show you want the job. Display your initiative by talking about what functions you could perform that would benefit the organization, and by giving specific details of how you have helped past employers.
- After answering a question posed by the employer, if appropriate, turn the answer into a question. This will help to achieve the objective of having a conversation with the employer rather than just answering questions.
- Never make derogatory comments about past employers.
- Feel free to take time to think before you answer, particularly when asked a thoughtful question. Five or ten seconds may seem like an eternity, but it is perfectly acceptable to take that time before beginning to speak. In fact, taking a few moments is preferable to beginning an aimless answer or blurting out something you will later wish you had not said.
- If you are unsure about the meaning of a question, repeat it aloud or ask a clarifying question.
- If you feel that you have made a mistake, or said something you wish you had not, you can address it directly. You may say something such as, "I would like to rephrase my answer to the previous question..." This may be particularly important if you are so disturbed by what you said that you do not think you will be able to give focused answers to the remaining questions.
- Remember to listen. Communication is a two-way street. If you are talking too much, you will probably miss cues concerning what the interviewer feels is important.
- You may have to say "I do not know" in an interview, if you do not have the information requested at hand or if you simply do not know the answer to a question. If it is appropriate, offer to find out and get back to the interviewer later in the day or early the next day. Otherwise, be honest; some questions are designed to stump you, and it is riskier to make up an answer than to tell the truth. You might reply with another question. For example, if the interviewer asks you what salary you expect, try answering by saying "That is a good question. What are you planning to pay your best candidate?"
- The interviewer will often signal the end of the interview by asking if you have any questions. If you feel you have not discussed some key points, take the initiative and say, "Before I ask my first question, there are a couple of points I would like to mention."
What to Ask
- Prepare five good questions. Some questions may be answered early on, so have several prepared. These should cover any information about the company and job position you could not find in your own research. Do not ask a question to which you know the answer just for the sake of asking a question- it may appear that you have not done your research.
- Do not ask questions that raise warning flags. For example, asking, "Would I really have to work weekends?" implies that you are not available for weekend assignments. If you are available, rephrase your question. Also, avoid initiating questions about compensation (pay, vacations, etc.) or tuition reimbursements. You might seem more interested in paychecks or time-off than the actual job.
- Do not ask questions about only one topic. People who ask about only one topic are often perceived as one dimensional and not good candidates.
- Clarify. It is OK to ask a question to clarify something the interviewer said. Just make sure you are listening. Asking someone to clarify a specific point makes sense. Asking someone re-explain an entire subject gives the impression that you have problems listening or comprehending. For example, you can preface a clarifying question by saying: "You mentioned that at ABC Company does (blank) . . . Can you tell me how that works in practice?"
- Target your audience. It is very important to consider who will be answering your questions. You obviously will not want to ask all of the same questions of a Senior Partner and a human resources representative. Think about asking someone higher up in the organization about the group's strategy or future plans or overall mission. If you are talking to someone whose responsibilities are closer to those of the position in question, ask more about a typical day and common challenges.
- Some possible questions:
- What is the most important function of this position?
- Who would I be working with?
- How many people would I be working with?
- Who would be my direct supervisor? How closely would I work with that person?
- What resources are we given to work with? (research tools, office hardware, etc.)
- What are people who have held this position in the past doing now?
- What are some opportunities for a person in this position?
- What is your favorite thing about working here?
- End the interview with a handshake and thank the interviewer for his or her time. Reiterate your interest in the position and your qualifications. Ask if you can telephone in a few days to check on the status of your application. If they offer to contact you, politely ask when you should expect the call.
- As soon as possible, take notes about what happened. If you are going to another interview in the same day, this is particularly important, because you do not want to confuse any details. This information will become crucial if you are invited back for a second interview. Be sure to note what you learned about the employer, impressions of the people with whom you met, what you would like to find out more about, your responsibilities as far as any follow-up call, and when you can expect to hear from them. If you did not receive business cards from the people you met (or see their names on a diploma on the wall), you may call the company directly when you get home and ask the receptionist for the correct spellings of their names and titles.
- After the interview, send a brief thank-you note. Try to time it so it arrives before the hiring decision will be made. It will serve as a reminder to the interviewer concerning your appropriateness for the position, so feel free to mention any topics discussed during your interview. If the job contact was made through the Internet or e-mail, send an e-mail thank-you note immediately after the interview, then mail a second letter by post timed to arrive the week before the hiring decision will be made.
- Follow up with a phone call if you are not contacted within a week of when the interviewer indicated you would be.
Things to Think About
- Revealing your political orientation, religion, sexual orientation
- Asking these types of questions during an interview is illegal (see Illegal Questions above), but sometimes providing this information voluntarily can improve your chances. Either way, you should make a conscious decision about what you are willing to share based on relevance to the position and your own values. While it is valuable to show that you take an interest in the world around you and to give the employer a glimpse into the things that are personally important to you, the workplace may not be the appropriate forum for you to express your personal values, at least initially.
- Problems with a previous employer
- If you did have problems, be honest. Show that you can accept responsibility and learn from your mistakes. You should explain any problems you had (or still have) with an employer, but do not describe that employer in negative terms. Demonstrate that it was a learning experience that will not affect your future work.
- Stretching the truth
- It is important to sell yourself to an employer by putting the best possible spin on your abilities and experience, but keep in mind that undue exaggeration may come back to haunt you. Even if an employer does not give you a skills test during an interview, you are not necessarily in the clear. Not only will your skills be discussed when the employer contacts your references, you may be underestimating the weight the employer will place on the skill once you begin working. You want to feel comfortable and competent at your job, not uncertain and insecure about your abilities.
- Do you really want to work there?
- Remember that the interview goes both ways; you are not being placed on trial. Think about what you want most from a job, what you are willing to forego and what will work with your lifestyle, values, and responsibilities. Ask tactful questions to find out if you really want to work for a particular employer.