Between being an attorney on the recruiting committee of my former law firm and my career as a legal recruiter, I have interviewed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people in my lifetime. Keep in mind that there is much, much more to an interview than questions and answers. This is not article about what to say during an interview. It is an article about how to say it, and how to present yourself well without saying a word.
Carriage. This can’t be said enough: first impressions can make or break the interview. That moment when you walk in the door, if you fail to make a good impression, you may just sink the interview. So, how does one achieve this?
Make eye contact. If you avoid eye contact with your interviewer, not only might you give the impression that you have something to hide, you also appear fearful. If your interviewer perceives you as afraid of her, she instantly demotes you to an inferior position in her own mind, making you unworthy of her confidence, and, ultimately, the position you seek. Making eye contact inspires confidence in you, and also creates an instant bond between you and your interviewer. Shake hands, smile, and use your interviewer’s name. These things also create an instant bond within the first five seconds. If you end up with a less-than-outgoing interviewer, you will know it in the first few minutes. You can always back off and maintain distance after the initial handshake, but you can’t make up for a lack of forthrightness if it is expected. Obviously, using the interviewer’s name a few times not only lets them know that you know who they are and value their time. But there’s more: at the end of the interview especially, saying, “it was great to meet you, Mark,” will jog Mark’s memory as to your name. If he can’t remember, you can bet he will peek at your resume the moment you walk out the door, and that’s a good thing.
Authority and Directness.
During the interview itself, remember what your mom told you: Don’t stutter. Sit up straight. Speak clearly. When asked a question, take a breath, pause, and think about your answer before you slowly begin to speak. And when you do speak, remember to make eye contact with the person you are speaking with. This conveys seriousness and sincerity, and your answer will appear more genuine. Running off at the mouth will often get you into trouble, so remember that it is far better to say less and say it with authority.
Enthusiasm for Your Practice.
When I conduct mock interviews and counseling, attorneys often cringe at the suggestion that they get excited about their practice. No one is asking you to change your personality or act like a chirpy gameshow host. But your enthusiasm for your area of practice needs to be apparent. This is your career- and no one wants to hire someone who is in the wrong the career. Interviewers constantly ask stock questions like, “what has your favorite project been at your current firm?” or “what do you like most about your area of practice?” They are asking this for a reason: they are trying to get a feel for what you like, and how that fits with what they do. But they also want you to be happy at their firm. Show them that you truly like what you do, and could also like what they do. Again, I’m not telling you what you should say here; but the way you talk about these topics is very important. No matter what you say substantively, let them see your enthusiasm for the practice of law and for your area of law.
All of the above skills will help you convey what really matters: the fact that you can do this job. An interview is not the time for modesty- it is the time to make them want to hire you. For some reason, from the time we are law students, we are taught that interviewers are out to sabotage us- that they are looking to trip us up with trick questions and doublespeak. Not true! When you walk in to an interview, the people meeting want to meet you, and are thinking about hiring you and working with you for many years. You’ve already made the initial cut, they’ve decided you’re a credible candidate, and now it is up to you to let them know that you have the right skills and are a dependable associate. They are waiting for you to tell them what you can do, so tell them! For example, when an interviewer asks you what your greatest asset is, don’t hold back! List several! You can always phrase it in terms of what someone else said about you so it seems less like you’re tooting your own horn. When an interviewer asks you what your supervisors would say about you, discuss all the positive feedback you’ve gotten from them. Pick out the highlights and talk yourself up! No one is going to do this for you, so tell them that other people have said you’re smart, competent, and dependable. Don’t make the mistake of failing to let them know why you are the one they want to hire.