Legal Interview Advice from a Fortune 50 Hiring Authority

Our first guest blog comes from a hiring authority at a Fortune 50 company. This is great advice, and most of it applies just as well to law school admissions interviews as it does to legal hiring interviews. Enjoy and dig in!

Interviewing is a strange skill requirement. You’ll use it very few times in your life, but, when you do, it’s extremely important, as it definitely determines whether you’ll make it past the interviewing person with a "yes."

Fortunately, it has residual value. Probably, at some point in your career, you’ll be the person conducting the interview. The skills you learn will be equally useful then. Also, truthfully, first-time meetings are akin to interviews, though they normally lack the hierarchy of a job interview.

Most interviews start with the inevitable question, “Tell me about yourself,” and end with “Do you have any questions for me?” So be prepared to answer each of these multiple times and with equal enthusiasm each time. If feasible, prepare different answers. It keeps you more involved. And if the interviewers collaborate, it will be beneficial if they each have something different to add.

About yourself—first and foremost, be honest and sincere. The interviewer values his/her time and is really seeking something that will steer them toward their line of questioning. So give it to them. Don’t say anything off-topic, e.g. “I love baseball”—irrelevant. Don’t try to be funny or clever. “I enjoy new people and new challenges” could lead to “tell me some examples,” so determine your answer and pre-think what you’ll answer next.

If you’ve just graduated, you’ll probably be asked for your favorite course and why. If you have a true favorite, state it. However, this is an opportunity to offer a bigger answer than the question, which can leave an excellent impression. So, if you were genuinely interested in an area of law that is relevant to the firm, answer that business law is (notice the switch to present tense) the most interesting to you. Don’t be too specific, though, such as saying mergers and acquisitions if it’s an M&A specific firm; it sounds like pandering.

Be prepared to expand, again briefly, on all your recent work experiences. Only go into the last couple of jobs though; interviewers assume each job builds on previously acquired skills, so your current position holds the true relevance. They can always ask for more information if they want it.

If asked about a particular person (a judge you clerked for) or company (a rival firm), always be positive. It establishes both a trust and respect for your political savvy.

You may be asked for your best/worst experiences and almost always for your best/worst skills. Again, be honest and relevant, but present yourself in your best light too. If your worst skill is your impatience, say something like “I expect a lot of myself and others.” Be ready with examples.

You may be asked to explain cases you won and lost. Again, being prepared and answering positively is more important than a long explanation of the specifics. Adding what you learned in each experience shows growth too.

Prepare questions for the interviewer. Most like to brag on their company and appreciate the opportunity to recruit you. Research the company so your questions are specific. Prepare multiple questions for different recruiters.

Some general advice may be helpful. If you’re asked a question that takes you by surprise, it’s useful to say, “That’s a good question; let me think a second.” If you feel you’re talking too much, try to get the interviewer involved with a question such as, “Who’s the person you’ve worked with that you learned the most from?”

If the person asks you an illegal question such as “do you have children?” just go ahead and answer it if possible, but silently document it to yourself. If you don’t get the job offer, you can complain to HR, and, probably for the only time in your interviewing career, you may learn the actual reason you weren’t offered a job (companies can’t answer that question, so don’t bother to try to pursue it otherwise). If you really can’t answer it because it’s too offensive, try to fend it off with something like, “Gee, I can think of no answer for that.”

If you determine during the interview that the position just isn’t for you, be careful about terminating the interview. If it’s at a firm with peers in the area, just finish the interview. Unless there is some strong reason, just go ahead and waste your time and finish the interview; you’re at least getting interview experience. If it’s truly not something you want and you can do so politely, it can be okay to say that you really thought the job was in a different area and that you don’t want to waste their time.

Thank you notes to the people interviewing you are probably passé, but they can’t hurt. Emails are fine instead.

The most important part of interviewing is the preparation, but the most rewarding part is the experience. Enjoy it.