This article on how to prepare for law firm job interviews is being republished from A First Taste of Law, which has now shut down.
It has been a long time since I have written on this blog, and some of you, the readers, keep reminding me to write. I was not getting the time to sit down and write something that you would like to read, or probably find useful. It’s time to make up for the lost time with a good post.
I decided to write about job interviews. Interviews are ubiquitous, it is something that almost everyone who goes through the education system faces at some point or the other. And it is one of the most misunderstood things in the world as far as most of the people are concerned.
What is the objective of a job interview?
The objective of the interviewee is to ‘do well’ and get through – for a job, a post, or perhaps a membership. Now, what constitutes ‘doing well’? A lot of time, one gets the feeling that they have done well, only to find out later that they were not selected. At other times, people feel dejected after the interview, only to get a good result afterward. And then you always find people with lesser qualification getting selected over those having superior academic records or qualification at an interview. Why does this happen? The interview always seems to be a big enigma.
There are a few basic things one need to understand about interviews. There are certain basic rules of meeting other people which applies to interviews as well. Beyond that, there is always a purpose for which you are being interviewed, and you must be a good fit for that purpose.
Let’s Imagine that You want the Job of a Life Guard.
Let us presume that you are excellent at swimming, and you are applying for a job that requires a lot of swimming – like that of a lifeguard. We have already presumed you have the necessary swimming skills for doing that job. Now if you have to appear for an interview to get this job, with many other similarly qualified swimmers, how would you differentiate yourself from the rest? This is the question that almost everyone faces – lawyers, engineers, typists and actors alike.
Apart from basic competence, what else do they look at in an interview? Well, while we can rationally generalize to an extent, it makes sense to narrow down to interviews that law students face for recruitment to law firms.
People know that they have to distinguish themselves, but they don’t know How.
That’s why people try to moot, debate, join societies, write articles and so on. They write about all these things in their CV. In their interview, they try to look and sound smart and intelligent. And very often they go wrong. Sometimes they do it right inadvertently. But from what I see, very few try to analyze the process and understand how it all works.
The fitting in and the distinguishing
There are two things that you should do in an interview – show that you fit in and distinguish yourself. Both at the same time. You have to fit into the role the employer perceives the employee to take, and you must still be different from the rest of the applicants.
Is it just academics?
Not really, but usually it is the most important factor as well as far as getting a job in a law firm is concerned. Even in the interview, they try to understand your knowledge of the law and problem-solving aptitude. In one of my interviews, I was given a problem and asked to solve it in 10 mins. I couldn’t solve it entirely, but I was able to show that I am thinking in the right direction and that I have a good knowledge base and the requisite problem-solving skills. The interviewer helped me by giving an important clue and I cracked it. I was selected.
In law firm job interviews for freshers, much of the interview is occupied by questions on law and your academic performance. Expect it. Even if you have not done great academically, you should have a plan of action to prove that you are otherwise good. Lots of people who do not do great academically get through to the best firms that way.
What is preparation?
Preparation is simply anticipating questions and preparing the best possible answer. Of course, you don’t mug up these answers – but you need to be able to say these things readily with confidence. You can not anticipate all the questions, so take help from your friends, parents, seniors – ask them to go through your CV and ask questions about your academics, extracurriculars, anything in you CV. That way you will find out the most likely talking points in your CV and yourself. Identify the interesting and positive talking points, and drive the interview towards these points. Tempt the interviewer to ask you the question you want to be asked. If you say, I am good at negotiating, the interviewer will ask you 90% of the time to give an example of a realm life negotiation you engaged in. Be prepared with a really good story.
While making the CV, make sure to put in a lot of talking points. These are like full toss balls, given knowing that the interviewer will ask predictable questions based on these points. If you don’t want to discuss something in the interview, then be kind to yourself and don’t put it in the CV.
Ensure that the talking points are relevant to the job you are seeking. If you are applying to a firm which mostly does M&A, don’t write or talk about family law and IP law articles and papers you may have written. They just don’t care. They would like to talk about something that you have done which is related to corp law. Stuff the CV with those. And vice versa for an IP law firm.
Also, raise the relevant talking points as you speak during the interview, and wait for the interviewer to catch on to those. You can decide on your best talking points beforehand and spring them one by one as the opportunity comes.
Be sociable and friendly
Tons of otherwise good people don’t get jobs because they fail at this. Remember, you are going to work with clients in a law firm. Can you befriend a client? Can you take a client out on a dinner and convince her that you are a very good friend? If not, no matter how good you are at drafting or research, it will be difficult for a firm to retain you. They look for this quality during the interview. They think in the following lines:
Is this girl going to blend with the other associates or will she turn out to be another bitch?
Is this guy a liar? Or is he really as smart as he says he is?
This guys hands are shaking – is he always this nervous under pressure?
If you come across as a nice person, with a warm nice smile, polite but confident, the law firm already wants you – even if you are not in top half of your class. If you are a topper who comes across as a bookworm, too nervous or too arrogant, you know why you are not getting through to interviews while your peers do it effortlessly. This is why it is important to dress well for the interview, too.
Be quietly confident – say what you want to say completely, cogently, in a full voice. There’s no better friend like confidence in an interview. If you appear confident, the interviewer already thinks you are alpha quality, who don’t get nervous even before an interview. They’d think you are one of those people who stroll in, make one feel good, walk out with what they want. Veni vidi vici type people. They think that because unlike so many people you have appeared before them – calm and confident. One of the most effective way of distinguishing yourself.
Observe the interviewer
As you speak, as you hear, make eye contacts as if you are giving them your full attention. Making eye contact also shows your confidence. Of course, don’t stare at them in a way that they think you are a pervert. Similarly, smile at appropriate moments but not in a crazy way so that they’d think you are mad. But most importantly, observing them gives you an idea as to how they are receiving your answers. Do they look happy? Do they look bored? Do they seem to be not understanding what you are saying? Are they not agreeing? If you are observing them properly, you’d know it from their expression and will be able to adjust your answer accordingly. Same for telephone interviews, only then you need to hear the tone of the voice carefully.
Know the need
What are you being hired for? Show that you have the ability to do it. Offer to demonstrate. Volunteer information that will help them in making a judgment. To know the need, you may want to do some research. Talk to seniors who are already in the firm. Those who have left the firm. Those who have relatives working there – in a law school, its not going to be difficult. Google the firm and read on internet.
This is extremely important. Law firms ask your seniors who are already there for their opinion about you. Are they going to say good things or bad things? It could be a decisive factor. If you are applying to a firm, is there someone who can give a bad review about you out of enmity? Call him long before the interview/shortlisting – and ask for advice about what to do. Listen with genuine concern, thank him a lot no matter how bad advice he gives and keep the phone down. Its a disarming approach. He’ll now have to be a real asshole to say bad things after you have approached him for help. People hate to admit to themselves that they are assholes. If you don’t approach them, however, they are morally free to give any bad opinion that they may have of you.
Do you have anything to share about the above points? Anything important that you think I missed? Please share them in the comments below!
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