Julie Cummings graduated May 2016 from GGU and is one of Ms. JD's 2016 Writers in Residence. The following article originally ran November 23, 2016 on the blog of Ms. JD, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the success of women in law school and the legal profession:
Normally, my monthly column translates valuable military skills into practical advice for succeeding in law school. This month, however, I want to stray just a bit. Instead, I want to share tips that will help you land and nail interviews. I have parents, law career development counselors, and mentors to thank for these nuggets of wisdom.
Decide which tips you want to adopt. Use your time during school to develop your own “interview preparation list.” Then, when the time comes, you will be ready to crush that interview.
I’ll focus primarily on the time “Before the Interview,” and just briefly touch on “After the Interview.” You can learn all about what to do “During the Interview” by talking to your counselors, colleagues, and conducting some online research.
Before the Interview
This is the money-maker phase. The preparation you do long before landing an interview helps you to land that interview in the first place and helps you arrive feeling confident and competent.
Get out there.
If you are interested in litigation, for instance, attend a portion of a trial or observe oral arguments. You will better understand the language of your prospective field. And, you will have some insight into what attorneys do in this type of work. As a bonus, you might even have the chance to talk to an attorney after oral arguments to ask some questions about their work. Later during an interview, you can genuinely speak to how interested you are in litigation by circling back to what you saw and learned in and outside of court.
Do your research.
Use LinkedIn strategically. For instance, use the advanced search functions to filter for people who work where you are interested in working and who have a similar background, interest, or hobby as you. In my case, for instance, I sorted by the name of the organization I wanted to work for and then narrowed my search fields to include people that had prior Army or Army aviation experience. By doing this, you are much more likely to receive a positive response (or any response at all, for that matter) when you send an unsolicited inquiry to ask questions about a person’s work experience.
Set up some Google Alerts. It’s easy to do by following Google’s instructions. Consequently, newsworthy updates will automatically arrive in your inbox about any firm or agency for whom you have set up an alert. Imagine the breadth of conversation you now bring to an interview because you are engaged in current events specific to that organization.
Reach out via phone or email to someone who works where you would like to work. This requires only that you peruse an organization’s attorney profile page. While on the page, see if an attorney shares something in common with you (for example, an alum of your school, or a former resident of your hometown). Folks with common interests are the easiest to “cold-call.”
But if not, just pick up the phone and call or send an email. This becomes more comfortable over time. Most attorneys will gladly answer questions if you respect their time and act professionally. And, always ask if they suggest one more person with whom you might speak. This expands your research pool, and during an interview it provides you with meaningful ways to portray to the employer your genuine interest.
Write a checklist.
Create an informational interview checklist. Use it when reaching out to attorneys to learn more about their organization. A checklist ensures that you systematically ask the questions that will help you prepare for your interview. And asking the right questions will help you better understand whether this is the type of place you want to work. Here is a sample script that you can modify to elicit some of the information you are seeking:
1. How long have you worked there?
2. Why did you choose this position?
3. Did you have experience in this field prior to working there?
4. Tell me a little about some of the work new attorneys do there.
5. Describe the work environment.
6. What opportunities do you have for professional development?
7. Are there specific recommendations that you have that might help me prepare for my interview?
8. Would you mind sharing the name and contact information of 1-2 others that I might ask similar questions of?
Finally, remember to thank the person for talking with you.
Athletes swear by this. Either on the day of, or just prior to your interview, visualize how your successful interview will look – from the moment you don your suit, through the farewell handshake. Visualizing your success will ease some of the nervousness you may feel.
Prepare for tough questions.
Consider some typical interview questions that you know you struggle with. Then write out some ways you might skillfully answer. Better yet, have a career counselor help you prepare a model answer. Then, learn your key talking points, without strictly memorizing your answer. This prior preparation eliminates some uncertainty because you will have answers at the ready if those bothersome questions arise.
For example, employers often ask a variation of “What’s your greatest strength?” This question sounds deceptively simple. Yet, it can be tough to answer without preparation because you are likely strong in many areas. But for the interview, you must deliver a tightly-worded answer, and this is much easier if you have one prepared. Your answer should include 4 subparts for this type of question: (1) state your strength, (2) state one or two reasons as to why you chose it, (3) share a brief example that demonstrates your strength (by describing a time you used it), and finally, (4) explain the result of how your strength helped you achieve a successful result.
Now practice answering – aloud. Interviews are never casual and comfortable, though they can be pleasant (enough) if you are well-prepared. Thorough preparation involves practice. So, practice answering interview questions with your career development counselors. Or you can reach out to an attorney with whom you have a good relationship. Share some questions and answers with them and seek their feedback. If you have actually spoken aloud several answers prior to your interview, you will feel so much stronger when those same questions come on interview day. You can easily locate some interview questions you’re likely to encounter by performing a Google search for “'typical' or 'common' interview questions.” Pick from among the list some questions that make you uncomfortable, and practice answering them.
After the Interview
Manners. Manners. Manners.
Send thank-you notes. Every time. You can email within 24 hours, but also take the extra step to hand-write a note. You will stand out favorably from the crowd.
Finally, within a few hours’ post-interview, write down who you spoke with and some key points from your conversation. These notes help you connect with the person in the future. They also provide tailored talking points for a thank-you note. And, the notes help you remember important details from the interview before the stress and excitement cause details to fade from memory. Even if you don’t get the job, you can remain in touch with people with whom you’ve connected. Often, these connections may ultimately lead to job openings in the future.