As we enter the on-campus interview season, I am betting that a lot of you are looking for advice as to how to prepare for these meetings.
The most important guidance I can offer is to be yourself. So much of what we do as recruiting professionals is look for a “good fit”: individuals who will work well with the attorneys in the office and fit in with the firm culture. We want to get to know who you really are. Don’t focus on telling us what you think we want to hear. The interview process is just as much about you finding a good fit for yourself as the converse. If you prefer to work as a member of a team, it’s important that you reflect that in your conversations with the attorneys you meet. And if you prefer to work on your own, it’s equally important to indicate that. You are looking for a place where you will start your career and hopefully work for many years, and it’s important that you find a firm with a working style and personality that fits your own.
Be prepared to answer questions about anything included in your resume or cover letter. You will likely be asked to describe your past work and academic experiences, as well as any outside activities referenced in your materials. You will also likely be asked why you chose to attend law school, and if you are applying for a firm with a particular focus, you will be asked what provoked your interest in that area.
Be prepared to give specific examples to back up your answers. For example, if an interviewer asks about your communication style, to simply say: “I’m a good communicator” doesn’t cut it. Instead, offer an example to illustrate this: “I was selected by my undergraduate classmates to lead a team of 10 students in developing and presenting a dissertation-type project to the business school faculty. In this role, I was asked to lead brainstorming sessions regarding the project topics, and facilitate a panel discussion of the 10 students as we advocated our positions to the tenured faculty members.”
There are certain questions that interviewers are not allowed to ask. Some examples include questions about your national origin, religion, marital/family status, race, disabilities, or citizenship. Unless you bring these topics up during the conversation or indicate them on your resume or cover letter, they are considered off-limits. If you are asked about any of these issues, it is perfectly appropriate to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m not comfortable speaking about this. Is there another topic that you would rather discuss?” You can also follow up with a question about the firm. If an interviewer makes you uncomfortable, you should speak with the recruiter handling your meeting.
Proofread your application materials. This is so important that I will say it again: proofread your application materials. A flawless resume and cover letter (correct grammar, no typos) demonstrates to an interviewer that you have strong attention to detail, which is something that we take very seriously. As a working attorney, details are key, and your application package should be considered as your first assignment at the prospective firm.
Do your homework. Come to the interview prepared with specific questions about the firm, whether the interview is on-campus or in the office. Many firms will provide you with the names of the attorneys with whom you will be meeting. Research their biographies on the firm’s website, and think of some questions you may have regarding their practices. We are looking for candidates who specifically want to work for our firm. This should also be reflected in your cover letter. One of the first questions you will be asked is, “Why do you want to work for us?” A specific answer regarding your interest in the firm’s practice will go a long way, here. Also, don’t be afraid to ask different attorneys some of the same questions. Gaining different perspectives on some of your questions can be very helpful.
Many of you will find that you become nervous about these meetings. This is completely normal, and not something that you should allow to shake your confidence. It is helpful to have as much information as possible about the firm and the attorneys with whom you’ll be meeting. If you have questions in advance of the interview (especially if it is a callback), or if you have not been provided with information regarding your interview schedule, don’t hesitate to reach out to the recruiter who is handling your interview. More likely than not, they will be glad to speak with you. We understand that most of you have not gone through a process like this before, and that it can be a very stressful time. We are invested in making sure you have the most pleasant and informative experience possible.
And finally, a recurring question concerns appropriate interview attire. Many firms in the Bay Area, particularly in Silicon Valley, have a casual dress code. It is still very important for candidates to dress in business formal attire when visiting an office, unless you have been specifically advised otherwise. It is far better to be overdressed than the alternative. This demonstrates to the interviewers that you are taking the experience seriously.
I hope that I have been helpful to you as you prepare for the interview season. I wish you all the best of luck as you go through this process and begin your legal careers.
Meave Cox has ten years of experience in professional recruiting, and is currently the Professional Recruiting and Development Coordinator for the Palo Alto office of Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP.