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Five Tips on How to Nail the Big Job Interview

By Alexander T. MacDonald


So you landed the big interview. Things are looking good. Your prospective employer has seen your credentials, reviewed your writing sample, and chosen you out of a stack of applicants. You’re clearly a good fit for the job. Now, all you have to do is show up, avoid drooling on the interviewer’s desk, and prove you’ve got a pulse, right?




There may have been a time when job interviews were perfunctory; merely a check to see whether the candidate had horns. But that time—if it ever existed—is gone. In today’s brutally competitive legal job market, employers have their pick among armies of qualified job applicants. Candidates, therefore, must set themselves apart. That means nailing the job interview. But how do you do that? These five tips will help.


1. Do your homework.

Going into an interview, you never know what will pique the interviewers’ interest. Be ready to talk about anything. This means doing some research. Start by learning everything you can about the employer. First, check out its website, then move to news articles and social media. If you know someone who works there, get the inside scoop.


If you know who your interviewers will be, research them too. Find out where they went to school, where they’ve worked before, and whether any of their projects have been in the news. Even if you don’t learn anything worth mentioning in the interview, you’ll get a better picture of the interviewers themselves. And that will give you an idea about what they’re looking for in a candidate. Remember, your goal is to vacuum up as much information as possible. You never know what small piece of trivia will prove useful.


You also need to research yourself. Run your name through Google; your interviewers almost certainly will. You need to know what they’re going to see. If anything needs explaining, prepare to explain it.


Go back over your résumé—carefully. You could get a question about anything you’ve listed, so prepare to talk about each item in detail, whether it’s your time on law review or your volunteer work with disabled homeless kittens.


2. Be positive.

Employers hire people they want to work with, and they want to work with positive people. That’s the image you need to project—energetic, friendly, and relentlessly positive.


The interview is not the time for balance, nuance, or shades of gray. You have a limited time to leave an impression with the interviewers, and you don’t want that impression to be tainted by doubt, regret, or negativity.


This rule holds true no matter what the interviewers ask you. They might actually try to lure you into giving a negative answer (“What was your least favorite class in law school?”). Don’t take the bait. Instead, answer the question, but find a way to turn a negative into a positive (e.g., “I was disappointed in Constitutional Law. I’m really into Commerce Clause jurisprudence, but we only spent two weeks on it!”).


3. Sell yourself.

The interview exists for one purpose and one purpose only—prove to the interviewers that you’re worth hiring.


In this way, the interview is like a product sales pitch, except that the product you’re selling is you. That’s true of any job interview, but it’s especially true of law-job interviews.


No matter where you’re interviewing, part of your job as a lawyer will be advocating for a client. If you struggle to advocate for yourself, the interviewers may see you as a weak candidate. That means you’ve got to make a case for yourself. At every opportunity, highlight your strongest traits. Tell the interviewers why you’re perfect for the position. Don’t hold back: if you don’t sell yourself, no one will.


A word of caution: you can take this advice too far. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Giving a good interview means knowing where that line is and walking right up to it.


4. Dress for success.

Of all the things to get right on interview day, this one is the easiest. That also makes it the least excusable to get wrong. The rules are simple:


Guys: dark suit, white shirt, conservative tie, and polished shoes.


Gals: business suit, work-appropriate blouses, and shoes with moderately sized heels.


Your guiding principles (at least for your wardrobe) should be neutral and professional. The one thing you don’t want the interviewers focusing on is your clothes.


5. Ask the right questions.

Most people think about the interview exclusively from their own perspective. So when it comes time to ask questions, they make the mistake of asking me-centered questions: What are the hours? What is the salary? How are the benefits? Is there a dress code? Does the employer allow telecommuting?


That’s wrong.


The interview isn’t about you—it’s about the interviewers. You want to convince them that you’re going to contribute something to their organization. Frame your questions around their needs, not your own. Instead of asking about job perks, ask about the organization’s needs. What does the organization look for in a candidate? What skills does it value? What’s driving its hiring decision? What kind of candidate is typically successful in the organization?


By asking interviewer-centered questions, instead of you-centered questions, you’ll show the interviewers that you’re interested in helping them meet their goals—not just on how many hours you’ll work and how big your paycheck will be. Those things are important, and you should ask about them, but only after you’ve received an offer. In the interview, your only goal is to get that offer.

Alexander T. MacDonald is a 2012 graduate of the William & Mary School of Law. He is now an Honors Attorney in the Office of the General Counsel for the U.S. Postal Service and Executive Editor of the Docket Call. He can be reached at