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Job Interview 101 For Law Students - The Screening Interview

What does it take to ace a job interview? Put on a good suit, pop in a few breath mints, and making sure your tie matches your shirt? ...

What does it take to ace a job interview? Put on a good suit, pop in a few breath mints, and making sure your tie matches your shirt?
These are tough economic times. Fewer and fewer firms are hiring new candidates, choosing to invest in experience than youth (if they're investing at all). In this tide of economic depression, great grades, strong extracurriculars, and a great school history might not be enough to land you that plum position at that prestigious law firm.
Enter the job interview.
If there's one place where you can rise above your resume and show your prospective employer where you shine, give him one more reason to hire you over others, its the job interview. The job interview is all about leaving an impression, and we'll tell you how to make the right one in both rounds:

The Screening Interview
The screening interview is the first round of evaluation when your prospective employer tries to see if you, the candidate, match up to your credentials. Depending on your law school, there might be a lottery system to sign up for a screening interview. In this lottery system, you can't be rejected outright based on your resume, so it is possible that even mediocre students with weak resumes will get their 15 minutes with a recruiter - and perhaps impress him enough for a call back interview.
Tip: If you don't win a scheduled appointment with a firm of your choice, persistence - a call to the law firm, for instance - should get you a spot.

Do Your Homework
Before the big day, do your homework. Research the law firm - their practice, history, and if possible, the attorney you'll be talking to. You can usually get all this information in the hospitality room (or waiting room, if you prefer), or on firm's website.
Learn as much as possible about the kind of work the firm does. Interviewers are usually happy to see that a candidate has shown interest in their firm. Moreover, it'll help to check what you talk about: your interviewer won't be thrilled to hear you talk on and on about an area the firm doesn't deal with.
Also, check out the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) form on the particular office of the firm at which you are interviewing. Many firms' branch offices have different stats from the headquarters, especially when it comes to practice areas and attorney demographics. Your career services office should also have some useful material, such as employer evaluations from years past.
And don't forget your classmates and the alumni. Talk to those people who've worked at your target firm. This will give you the real take on the firm - its practice, area of expertise, history, the work atmosphere, and even the less desirable aspects.

Dress Up
Your suit alone won't bag you the job, but it can never hurt to dress up professionally. While employers may state that students can attend the interview in business-casual attire, they really want to see you dressed up in a suit - as a real lawyer would have to in a court room. Moreover, clothing preferences might vary from interviewer to interviewer, and thus, your best bet is a classic suit, preferably in a neutral color like charcoal or brown.
Carry your documents in a leather portfolio, don't strut around carrying them in your hand.
And don't forget to carry additional copies of your resume and transcripts.

Sell Yourself
You usually get 20 minutes with the interviewer. More often than not, the interviewer has already decided if you should be invited to the firm for a call back - based on your resume, transcript, etc. even before you've walked into the room. If your resume and transcripts go heavily against you - low grades, no extra-curriculars, then there's little you can do to salvage the interview. However, for borderline candidates, a good show can really boost your chances of landing a call back.
As cliche as it may sound, try and be yourself. Remember that the interviewer has probably seen hundreds of candidates. He can see right through any facade you might have built up to fit into your perceived image of what the firm wants.
Fight the urge to discuss law-related topics only. If your interviewer seems interested in opera, you might be better off discussing Pavarotti than your law journal work. Keep in mind that the interview is designed to gauge your personality, not your grasp on law - your transcripts are enough proof of that.

Be Flexible
So you walk into the interview room, fully prepared to answer anything thrown at you. You sit, straight backed before the interviewer, thumbing through your answers in your head, smiling confidently.
But then the interviewer leans back in his chair and asks you, "So, what do you want to know about this law firm?"
And suddenly, all those scripted answers fall apart and you mumble a response.
Don't let this happen to you. Interviewers have a tendency to begin with random, off topic questions. In such a scenario, be prepared to give a 3-5 minute narrative answering the question (or asking questions), and gradually steering the topic of discussion to yourself - who you are, and what interests you in the law firm.
Try and incorporate elements that interest you in your narrative - a particular question that daunted you in moot court, a paper you're writing for the law journal, your 1L summer internship. You can use the same story, but present a different version each time. It'll keep you from sounding scripted.
But most importantly, learn to answer the interviewer's questions in a way that your answer blends in with your narrative.

Be Location Aware
You'll have firms from all over the country coming to your law school for the job interview. This can cause a problem if say, you've lived in New York all your life, and your target firm is based in L.A. You'll have a hard time convincing the interviewer about your sudden desire to move to L.A.
Remember that the firms are making an investment in you. They'll train and groom you for the first year. They want to be sure that you'll stay the course and not leave them midway. If you've lived in New York all your life, a firm will be (rightly) skeptical of your decision to stay in L.A. to work for them.
Confront this problem by visiting the city where your target firm is located. Arrange for a meeting with them. A casual meeting will make it appear as if you're really interested in moving to their city to work for them - factors that will go a long way in strengthening your resume when it comes to the interview.
It shouldn't appear that you simply signed up to be interviewed by every firm that came to your campus. When the inevitable question: "Why did you sign up to interview here?" pops up, be prepared with an arsenal of firm and location specific comments to make your interview seem more genuine.

So you hate your professor, your classmates are all idiots, and the campus cafeteria never has good coffee.
Great. But just don't tell the interviewer.
The interviewer doesn't want brutal honesty from you. They'd much rather listen to you describe that insightful professor or that wonderful course you took last fall. Interviewers are very wary of any hint of negativity and can and will latch on to it, severely impairing your chances for landing a job (and this applies to any job, not just a law firm - a negative attitude can be a major turn off).
Smile, and talk about your great experience during your 1L summer internship, the intelligent discussions after moot court with your classmates. Show them a happy face, and they might show you your interview date for a call back.

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This is one of the first questions you are likely to be asked. Be prepared to talk about yourself, and why you're an excellent fit for the job. Try to answer questions about yourself without giving out too much, or too little, personal information. You can start by sharing some of your personal interests and experiences that don't relate directly to work, such as a favorite hobby or a brief account of where you grew up, your education, and what motivates you. You can even share some fun facts and showcase your personality to make the interview a little more interesting.

If it feels daunting to generate this information from scratch, you can rely on a simple formula to construct your answer. The ‘present-past-future’ formula is a way to share key background points while ending on a high note. Begin with a brief overview of where you are now (which could include your current job along with a reference to a personal hobby or passion), reference how you got to where you are (here you could mention education, or an important experience such as a past job, internship or volunteer experience) and then finish by touching on a goal for the future.

Bonus points if you’re able to identify how the position you’re applying for aligns with how you envision your future.

Remember to be careful about what you include in your answer – avoid potentially contentious subjects such as political or religious leanings, unless you are absolutely positive that your opinions would be well-received by your interviewer. You should also avoid talking too much about family responsibilities or hobbies that might make your interviewer wonder whether you could commit yourself 100% to the job.

No matter how you choose to respond, write out your answer in advance and then read it aloud to ensure it sounds natural. Try to keep it short and sweet, as you don’t want to come across as the type of person who endlessly drones on about themselves.


When answering this question, interview coach Pamela Skillings recommends being accurate (share your true strengths, not those you think the interviewer wants to hear); relevant (choose your strengths that are most targeted to this particular position); and specific (for example, instead of “people skills,” choose “persuasive communication” or “relationship building”). Then, follow up with an example of how you've demonstrated these traits in a professional setting

Tips to answer this question:

+ Grab hold of the opportunity this question gives you. This question really lets you guide the interview where you want it to go. This your chance to relate your most impressive success story, so take advantage!
+ Highlight a strength that is crucial to the position. (As I mentioned earlier)
+ Find out from your company research and from the job description what strengths the company puts a lot of stock into.
+ Don’t make claims that you can’t illustrate with a brief example or fact.
+ Don’t be overly modest but don’t claim to be Superman or Superwoman either.
+ Don’t name a strength that is irrelevant to the job at hand.


"What are your weaknesses" is one of the most popular questions interviewers ask. It is also the most dreaded question of all. Handle it by minimizing your weakness and emphasizing your strengths. Stay away from personal qualities and concentrate on professional traits: "I am always working on improving my communication skills to be a more effective presenter. I recently joined Toastmasters, which I find very helpful."

Tips to answer this question:

+ Show that you are aware of your weakness and what you have done to overcome it.
+ Show that you are “self-aware” and that you have the ability to take steps to improve yourself.
+ Don’t you DARE answer with the cliche “I’m a perfectionist” answer or any other such answer that the hiring manager can see right through.
+ Don’t highlight a weakness that is a core competency of the job. (Know the job description “inside and out”.)
+ Don’t dodge this question.


If an interviewer asks, "Why did you leave (or why are you leaving) your job?" and you're unemployed, state your reason for leaving in a positive context: "I managed to survive two rounds of corporate downsizing, but the third round was a 20% reduction in the workforce, which included me."

If you are employed, focus on what you want in your next job: "After two years, I made the decision to look for a company that is team-focused, where I can add my experience."

Tips to answer this question:

+ If it was because you left voluntarily then reference a specific characteristic that the company you are interviewing for has that you are attracted to. One that your previous employer didn’t have.
+ If you were let go, be honest and explain the situation and own it. Explain what you learned from the experience, because the interviewer knows you’re human, you make mistakes, and just wants to see that you were able to do something about it
+ Words like “downsizing” and “budget cuts” and “bad economy” are good defenses if they are true and are the reasons for departure from the job.
+ Don’t bash your last company or boss or anything along those lines.
+ Don’t say, “It’s time for a career switch and I’d like to try my hand at the job you are offering” or “I’m tired of doing the same old thing.” Give a pointed, Positive reason for why you want to head off in a new direction.
+ Don’t lie if you were fired.


Nothing says “hire me” better than a track record of achieving amazing results in past jobs, so don't be shy when answering this interview question! A great way to do so is by using the S-T-A-R method: Set up the situation and the task that you were required to complete to provide the interviewer with background context (e.g., “In my last job as a junior analyst, it was my role to manage the invoicing process”), but spend the bulk of your time describing what you actually did (the action) and what you achieved (the result). For example, “In one month, I streamlined the process, which saved my group 10 man-hours each month and reduced errors on invoices by 25%.”

Tips to answer this question:

+ Talk about an accomplishment that exhibits how you will be a perfect fit for the company and for the position you’re interviewing for.
+ Try and show some genuine passion when you’re talking about your accomplishment.
+ Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your accomplishment is “too small”. The fact is, relating a small accomplishment that is inline with “what the company values” can be more powerful than an unrelated accomplishment. (Remember: “It’s not about you, It’s about them.”)


If asked this question, be honest and specific about your future goals, but consider this: A hiring manager wants to know a) if you've set realistic expectations for your career, b) if you have ambition (a.k.a., this interview isn't the first time you're considering the question), and c) if the position aligns with your goals and growth. Your best bet is to think realistically about where this position could take you and answer along those lines. And if the position isn’t necessarily a one-way ticket to your aspirations? It’s OK to say that you’re not quite sure what the future holds, but that you see this experience playing an important role in helping you make that decision.

Tips to answer this question:

+ Demonstrate when you answer the question your level of commitment to the position they are interviewing you for.
+ After you have demonstrated your commitment to the role you are interviewing for, outline a realistic growth strategy that is directly tied to the role you’re in and the needs and values of the company.
+ Stress your interest in a long-term career at the company.
+ Don’t exhibit ambition to the point of seeming like this particular job is just a “brief stepping stone” for you. You need to show commitment.
+ Don’t say you want to be CEO of the company in 5 years.
+ Don’t say “Actually I want to be in YOUR seat within the next 5 years.” to the hiring manager.


Answer "Why should we hire you?" by summarizing your experiences: "With five years' experience working in the financial industry and my proven record of saving the company money, I could make a big difference in your company. I'm confident I would be a great addition to your team."

Tips to answer this question:

+ Show the hiring manager that you are uniquely suited to filling this position. Be the candidate that solves their “problems“.
+ Show you know some significant details about the company and their general practices because you have researched the firm and are prepared.
+ Tell a “success story” that highlights how you have the ‘qualities’ needed to fill their specific needs.
+ Don’t get discouraged if the hiring manager mentions that “they have lots of very well qualified candidates…” before they lead into this question. (It’s a common “lead in”)
+ Don’t be too modest. This is your chance to shine. Make it count.
+ On the flip side don’t go too overboard and sound too arrogant.
+ Don’t be “wishy-washy” or too general with your answer.
+ Don’t answer with “why” you want the job. Answer with “why you are the perfect fit” for the job.


Any candidate can read and regurgitate the company’s “About” page. So, when interviewers ask this, they aren't necessarily trying to gauge whether you understand the mission—they want to know whether you care about it. Start with one line that shows you understand the company's goals, using a couple key words and phrases from the website, but then go on to make it personal. Say, “I’m personally drawn to this mission because…” or “I really believe in this approach because…” and share a personal example or two.

9. What are your salary requirements?

The #1 rule of answering this question is doing your research on what you should be paid by using sites like Payscale and Glassdoor. You’ll likely come up with a range, and we recommend stating the highest number in that range that applies, based on your experience, education, and skills. Then, make sure the hiring manager knows that you're flexible. You're communicating that you know your skills are valuable, but that you want the job and are willing to negotiate.


At the end of the interview, it is likely that you will be given the chance to put your own questions to the interviewer.

+ Keep them brief: there may be other interviewees waiting.
+ Ask about the work itself, training and career development: not about holidays, pensions, and season ticket loans!
+ Prepare some questions in advance: it is OK to write these down and to refer to your notes to remind yourself of what you wanted to ask.

It often happens that, during the interview, all the points that you had noted down to ask about will be covered before you get to this stage. In this situation, you can respond as follows:
Interviewer: Well, that seems to have covered everything: is there anything you would like to ask me?
Interviewee: Thank you: I'd made a note to ask about your appraisal system and the study arrangements for professional exams, but we went over those earlier and I really feel you've covered everything that I need to know at this moment.

You can also use this opportunity to tell the interviewer anything about yourself that they have not raised during the interview but which you feel is important to your application:
Don't feel you have to wait until this point to ask questions - if the chance to ask a question seems to arise naturally in the course of the interview, take it! Remember that a traditional interview is a conversation - with a purpose.


Now onto the more generic skills, such as your ability to work in a team. No matter how big or small the team is, the hiring manager will want to know that you can develop a strong working relationship with them, as this is essential for productivity and achieving company goals. You may be asked something like the below in order to test if you are a strong team player:

Question: Give an example of team leading in past employment

Answer: You should summarise the task and nature of the group but focus primarily upon your role as team leader. List the personal qualities you possess which made you ideal for leading this team and how you achieved success. Conclude your answer by giving examples of the lessons you learnt while leading this team.


Your ability to communicate effectively and influence others to act in support of your own and team goals will be examined. An ability to adapt your communication methods depending on situations and individuals is important here.

Question: Provide an example of how you explained a technical concept to a client or co-worker lacking your technical expertise.

How to Answer: Competency based interview questions are meant to determine how well you communicate with others, including your ability to simplify difficult concept. The customer service question about negative feedback is meant to determine whether or not you’re capable of dealing with customer comments that aren’t all that positive in a courteous, constructive manner. With a few of your examples, briefly discuss what you learned from those interactions.


Decision making is a skill that requires the ability to process information and filter this information to ensure you produce a sound and valid decision. You should be able to provide examples of situations where this skill has been tested. Use examples where an obvious answer is not immediately apparent.

Question: Can you tell me about a time when you consulted others when making important project decisions?

How to Answer: You’ll notice that interviewers tend to want specific examples to illustrate your abilities. It’s not unusual for questions to be fairly complex in nature, often involving multiple, related parts. Don’t get overwhelmed. Instead, answer questions one point at at time by providing relevant, easy to digest examples. If you forget the rest of the question, politely ask the interviewer to repeat it.


This competency assesses your personal motivation and how you approach challenges.

Question: What is your biggest achievement?

Answer: Ideally, use a work-related example to illustrate your key career achievement. Highlight exactly why you consider it important, with details of the role you played. If your biggest achievement in life is related to your personal life, use commercial references such as budget slashing, determination, commitment and team work to communicate all the associated positive aspects.


Auestion: Give me an example of a time when you had to plan a project or a large piece of work.

Tips for Successful Answers:

+ Demonstrate how you have worked in a structured and methodical way.
+ Show real detail about the steps you have taken to plan.
+ Explain how you have amended or flexed the original plans you’d made.
+ Talk about how you built pre-emptive solutions to potential problems


Your ability to understand and believe in the importance of customer focus will be tested here. You must display a competency for understanding the difference between internal and external customers.

Question: What about important clients, or complex or sensitive customer relationships?

Answer: If you can show that through your customer service orientation you saved the company from losing something of value (a big client, $X amount of revenue, 20 man hours a week) then you will really demonstrate your customer focus. Or did you save the company a political, organizational, or image problem? Write it out. What was the situation? What action did you take? How did you communicate to your teammates and how did you communicate with the customer? What was the result? … I hope this gets you thinking.


Leadership is a competency employers look for in candidates who are applying for jobs that require them to lead, motivate and/or develop other people, usually team leader and management positions

Question: Describe a time you took a leadership position when you did not have the title of a leader.

Answer: In this question, take an example from a situation where you were in a group and took responsibility to delegate to achieve goals. Show how you gained from the other members to follow your lead and the result of your leadership.

For instance, in college, we were put into groups of four to complete a marketing project. We had to prepare a 15-page paper and 10-minute presentation on a new product. We want to introduce that outside the U.S. I took the initiative among the group to lead a discussion on how we should split up the work when we meet throughout the semester and deadlines for each person’s part of the work. Because I was the one to take the lead the discussion and had a plan in mind, I gained the buy in of the other members quickly. I took everyone’s e-mail address and created a group email to help us all keep track of our progress and so we could help each other outside of class and our meetings. By the end of the semester, my group achieved a 95% on our project.


Conflict resolution skills and the ability to disagree with others professionally and politely are necessary for successful contribution in organizations. If every employee employer hire is willing to engage in conflict resolution, more new ideas and better approaches to solving problems will take place in your organization.

Question: Give an example of a time you handled conflict in the workplace

Answer: Your interviewer will assess your adaptability and gauge the constructiveness of your approach towards conflict, tension and differences of opinion. Your example(s) should highlight the importance of your role in resolving these issues.


Question: Give me an example of your creativity?

Answer sample:

One of my key creative accomplishments occurred in my current job, when I had to increase market share for a new product without increasing our existing marketing budget. I kicked off with some internal brainstorming on how to maximize the use of our resources and be more creative in the way we market. I worked with our two interns, both of whom were creative writing majors, on creating a blog for our website, plus Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages for the company’s new product. I tasked the interns with managing the pages, and the three of us came up with relevant content for each social page. The ultimate aim was to create a community of fans and buzz around the new product.

Through product teasers on Twitter, the timely answering of questions on Facebook, and brief video tutorials on Instagram, we grew a fan base of 2,500 people in just three months. When the product was released, first day sales exceeded all expectations, and sales continued on a steady incline for the rest of the year. A lot of the success was attributed to the online fan base we developed, where positive word-of-mouth spurred an influx of customers to purchase the product through the trackable online sales page we created in-house with our design and dev teams.


Question: Explain a time when you were not able to meet a deadline?

Answer: Use an example were you where not able to meet a deadline due to outside factors. For instance, there was a big project that my team was working on, and I had split up the work among some members and myself. During that time, one member of the team had to leave due to their spouse getting a position in another city. He left at a critical time, and I had to re-assign his duties to someone else. I make the new person work to speed with the progression of the project and due to this, was not able to complete it on time. We were still able to complete the project a few days after the deadline even with the change in the team member.


The old adage goes that managers want people who come to them with solutions, not problems, and for me, I couldn’t agree more. The employees who can rise to a challenge and think of innovative ways to solve a problem are the ones who go on to achieve great things both for themselves and the business. Taking this into account, your manager may ask something like:

Question: Give an example of a challenge you faced in the workplace, and how you overcame it

Answer: If you are entering the workplace direct from school, college or university, this question will be geared towards your academic experiences.

Provide a great example of a task that involved using as many skills and abilities as possible. An ideal answer to this question enables you to demonstrate your ability to work in a team, display leadership skills and handle pressure.


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