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How to Nail the On-Campus Interview

Vivia Chen

August 6, 2012

Interview_©apops-Fotolia.comIt's the start of law firm interview season at law schools across the nation. For some of you, it will be your first foray into the brave new world of corporate law firms. You are anxious, and you really, really want that job.

But what can you do to maximize your chances?

Today, guest blogger and former lawyer Grover Cleveland, author of Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: The Essential Guide to Thriving as a New Lawyer (West 2010), gives law students some tips on surviving the initial interview.

How to Make the Cut

By Grover E. Cleveland

Not unlike speed dating, the on-campus screening interview process is a game of elimination. Your primary goal is the same: Make it to the next round. That means you need to avoid obvious errors that will trip up some (lose the nose piercing) and stand out from others who won’t make much of an impression. Here are important tips for succeeding in your lightning round of interviews:

    •    Own the room. Greet the interviewer confidently. It may sound corny, but don’t slouch. Look the interviewer directly in the eye and give a firm handshake (but not a bone-crunching one). And smile. If you exude enthusiasm, you are likely to get it back from the interviewer, which will help put you at ease.

    •    Ask strategic questions. You don’t have much time, so the more time the interviewer spends telling you about the firm, the less time you have to highlight your attributes. Ask questions that show that you researched the firm and that you are enthusiastic about working there. You should be ready to answer the “Why do you want to work here?” question with an answer that is specific to each firm. On the other hand, if you ask how many offices the firm has, you will look lazy.

    •    Don't ask about the quality of life. Firms want to know what you can do for them. Initial interviews are not the time to address your personal concerns. For example, if you ask about work/life balance, the interviewer is likely to hear, “I am not interested in working hard.” Get that kind of information another way—or ask after you have an offer.

    •    Develop key messages. Come up with a list of points that you want to get across—regardless of the questions you are asked. Again, research the firm. If you understand the qualities that a firm values, you will do a better job of crafting answers to demonstrate that you will be an asset to the firm. Whenever you can, provide specific examples of your skills and show how they will benefit the firm.

    •    Listen closely to each question. If you are anxious, you may be tempted to blurt out the first answer that comes into your head or start talking before you have fully composed your answer. Don't fall into those traps. Pause for a second or two before answering. That may seem like an eternity, but it will become more natural if you practice. The time will give you a chance to compose your thoughts and hit the most important key messages in your answer. If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification rather than guessing at an answer.

    •    Be Memorable. Try to highlight an interesting fact or accomplishment—preferably one that took tenacity. If the interviewer remembers you as “the one who ran the marathon,” you are much more likely to make it to round two.

    •    Manage anxiety. Interviewing is anxiety-provoking for almost everyone. Remember that the interviewer was once in your chair.  If you have done your research, practiced your answers, and have your key messages down cold, you will be much more confident. And exercising will help banish adrenaline so it can’t mess with your mind.

Grover ClevelandRight before your interviews, you may also want to try stress-reduction expert Jordan Friedman's Quick Calm technique:

1. Inhale deeply and hold your breath for four seconds;

2. Think “I am warm”;

3. Exhale and think “I am calm,” and repeat twice.

Good luck!

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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