Interviewing for a position as an attorney, paralegal or legal assistant calls for the same attributes you would bring to any job interview: preparation, focus, articulate responses and respect for the people on the other side of the table. But legal interviewers tend to have certain additional expectations from candidates. Here are a few.
Decide what key messages you want to convey about yourself and rehearse them.
Legal interviewers may follow a script, but more often they use a free-form, conversational approach designed to put the interviewee at ease. In either case, you can’t take it for granted that you will be asked specifically about your strengths and interests. So look for opportunities to mention what you believe the interviewers should know if they are going to hire you.
Be prepared to discuss your weaknesses.
In a highly competitive legal job market, you must be willing to address shortcomings in your knowledge or experience—because your prospective employer is sure to zero in on them. Acknowledge your potential weaknesses, explain them, and then talk about how you intend to overcome them. And remember, while nobody feels comfortable discussing personal flaws, you can’t get defensive. Keep your responses upbeat and nonargumentative. Think of this as a chance to demonstrate grace under pressure.
Arrive on time.
Better yet, get there 15 minutes early. In the legal universe, everything revolves around schedules and deadlines and billable hours. Arriving early for your first important meeting clearly shows that you manage your time well and take the issue seriously.
Even if you know the firm you’re interviewing with has a business-casual dress policy, you should always dress conservatively. Men should wear a dark suit—preferably black, gray or navy—with a plain white shirt and a simple striped or solid-color tie that is bold but not flagrant. Women also should wear a dark suit—with a skirt, not pants—together with a white blouse and minimal, tasteful jewelry. Ladies and gentlemen both remember to polish your shoes.
Refrain from criticizing other firms or individuals.
This applies particularly to your former employer, even if you left on bad terms. The legal world is small, and your interviewer may have a personal connection to the person you’re bad-mouthing. It can also send a message that you have a negative outlook.
Finally, be sure to thank your interviewers.
Send a thank-you note—two or three sentences, handwritten, on a note card, via the post office—within 24 hours of your interview. This is a simple matter of etiquette, which applies even in the business world. It's also a great tactic for getting yourself invited back for a second interview.