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How to Ace the Callback . . .

The Careerist

September 24, 2012

In August, Seattle lawyer and author Grover Cleveland gave students advice about how to nail the initial interview with a firm. The author of Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: The Essential Guide to Thriving as a New Lawyer, Cleveland is back with advice about the next phase of the game: the callback.

. . . And Land that Big-Firm Job

by Grover Cleveland

© mangostock - Fotolia.comCongratulations! You made it through the gauntlet of screening interviews and you've got a callback. That means you have generally put to rest any questions about your raw brainpower. Now the focus shifts more to “fit.” As one partner put it: “I don’t want any doorknobs. I have to work with these people.” 

At this stage, interviewers are trying to discern how well you will get along with others in the office—particularly under stress. They'll also want to see if you have the poise and professionalism to represent the firm and cultivate clients. Finally, they will be looking for qualities such as initiative, attention to detail, and resourcefulness.

Here are some tips to engage your interviewers and turn your callback interviews into an offer:

Keep up with the news. Be prepared to chat about something beside law school. Although law school is not particularly conducive to fascinating extracurricular experiences, come up with one or two succinct stories that will interest the interviewer. Here, a trip to Cuba trumps your moot court experience. Also check the news in the morning before your interviews. If there is a huge story that everyone is talking about, you need to be able to discuss it. 

Relax and have a conversation. To show that you are friendly, professional, and poised, it's key to be relaxed (or act like you are). When the interviewer thinks about whether you would be pleasant to work with at 2 a.m. before a trial or a closing, the answer needs to be “yes.”

Do some intelligence work, if possible. If you hit it off with your initial interviewer, you might ask her for insights about the other lawyers you are scheduled to speak with. You might discover landmines to avoid or pick up an interesting nugget that will be a good conversation-starter later in the day.

Don't be too casual during the interview meal. Callback interviews sometimes involve a meal. Don’t let your guard down. The meal is part of the interview, and your dining companions will inevitably submit evaluations as soon as the meal concludes. Order food that won’t take your focus off the discussion or create a wardrobe disaster. Anything that requires peeling, deboning, twirling, or slurping is off-limits.

Questions to ask. Open-ended questions will elicit the most information, and genuine questions that call for a personal perspective are likely to flatter the interviewer. Some questions to ask: "Where do you see the firm in 10 years?" or "What practice areas are experiencing the most growth?"

Questions to avoid. Avoid questions that could betray a lack of commitment or suggest that you might be high-maintenance. If you ask whether you will have to work nights and weekends, you won’t get an opportunity to find out.

Also avoid questions that are too sensitive. Examples: "How strong is the firm financially?" or "Do new associates get credit for bringing in business?" Questions about how the firm measures up to competitors are also usually problematic. 

Address the unstated concerns behind the questions. Take a moment to consider why the interviewer asked the question, because many questions shroud unstated concerns. A seemingly innocuous question like “Tell me about a time you have worked on a team” may be designed to explore whether you are comfortable working independently and taking initiative. Researching the qualities that law firms value will help you identify and address hidden concerns.

Don't forget to say thank you. At the end of your interviews, thank the lawyers who talked to you for their time. Then, go home and write a thank-you note. (I think handwritten notes make a bigger impression since very few people do them these days.) But send out the note immediately, because interviewers will complete their evaluations a day or two after the interview, if not sooner. (And the hiring committee's discussion will follow shortly thereafter.)

Grover ClevelandOne caveat: If you're applying for a Silicon Valley or high-tech position, skip the handwritten note; it'll make you look like a dinosaur.  

Finally, do not forget to thank the hiring coordinator!


Readers may contact guest blogger Grover Cleveland at www.swimminglessonsforbabysharks.com or on Twitter @babysharklaw.

Comments

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Well, Toby, you may not agree with the MW Dictionary. But its editors talk about "gauntlet" (as in "running the ...," not as in the glove meaning) coming to be used in place of gantlope (not gantlet) through folk etymology. They insist that "gantlet" was merely a spelling variant, both for this meaning and for the "glove" sense.

To Torii, you are technically/historically correct, but usage is so against you that if anyone ever saw "gantlet" in type it would mark the writer as a pettifogging grammarian. Not a good look I am sure you would agree.

To Judy - they are etymologically quite distinct words ("gauntlet" for "gantlet" is in fact an "eggcorn" of long standing).

To Torii: I respectfully disagree. The Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary gives "gauntlet" and "gantlet" as variations with the same meaning. Further, a discussion in the MW Dictionary of English Usage discusses gauntlet and gantlet and says, among other things, "Gauntlet and gantlet are not themselves etymologically distinct--they are spelling variants, pure and simple." Indeed, the more common spelling in the "run the..." form is gauntlet.

Perhaps another way to ace the callback is to learn the difference between "gauntlet" and "gantlet" and to use them properly when writing advice columns.

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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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