Here’s a look at each quality, with practical tips to help you shine.
Competence: Can You Get the Job Done?
When a firm is sizing up your potential as a lawyer, at least half of what they’re considering is your talent. And it isn’t just about your lawyering skills; your overall sense of professionalism also matters. They want to know you can conduct yourself well in front of existing and potential clients.
Strong academic performance and grades no doubt help create a presumption of competence. Here are a few other things you can keep in mind if you want to show you can get the job done:
- If there’s a job description, review each of the responsibilities and required skills. Which experiences—from your resume or in your life—can you expand upon in an interview to showcase your qualifications? Think about them beforehand so you can bridge the interview toward those skills when appropriate.
- Talk to insiders, including attorneys you (or your mentors) know at the firm, law students who interned there, and even those who have left. What can they tell you about the culture of the firm and the specific qualities that impress this particular firm?
- Think through the conversation or interview ahead of time. What strategic questions can you ask—without looking obnoxious—that might give you an opening to highlight or expand upon any of your capabilities?
- Keep in mind that every interaction is part of the interview. It's important that you write well and show your competence and professionalism when sending emails, coordinating interviews and informal meetings with attorneys or recruiters, and otherwise interacting with the firm.
Connection: Do I Like You?
Beyond assurance that you’re competent, a potential employer will also look for indications you’re a good fit for the firm.
According to Lauren Rivera, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, most employers view hiring as “a process of cultural matching between candidates, evaluators, and firms. [Employers seek] candidates who [are] not only competent but culturally similar to themselves."
Being a lawyer can mean grueling hours—late nights, weekends, travel—and it’s important for us to like the people we work with. An interviewer will consider whether you’re a good fit for the culture and personality of the firm as a whole. More than that, there’s likely a more selfish question hovering at the back of their mind: Are you someone they want to have around at 10 p.m., when they’re under stress and dealing with an emergency motion?
Here are a few preparations to help maximize the chance you’ll click:
- Read and analyze the bio of each interviewer.
- Talk to anyone you know with a connection to the firm to see whether they can pass along any insights into your interviewers.
- Tailor your interview strategy to your audience. For example, you may have multiple reasons for deciding to go to law school—but you can choose to focus your response on the points most likely to resonate with your particular employer.
- Ask a lot of questions. Everyone likes to talk about their favorite topic: Themselves.
Confidence: Can I Trust You to Run with Things?
There’s a lot you don’t know and, as a new lawyer, you’re bound to need supervision and guidance. But don’t let that lack of experience make you feel and act timid; you risk making your interviewers worry you’ll need too much handholding.
A supervising attorney wants to see you have the confidence and leadership to run with a project and carry yourself well in front of clients, even when you’re learning. Grab that attitude by believing in your value and your ability to learn quickly.
Here are some practical tips to help you feel more self-assured:
- Wear clothes that make you feel sharp and confident.
- Learn the basics of body language. In a TED talk about her research on body language, social psychologist Amy Cuddy explained that “fake it until you make it” works: Practicing a “power pose”—such as standing tall with an open posture, rather than sitting hunched over—can actually change your mind.
- As a general rule, make the first 20 seconds of your answers the best part—a concise positive statement that answers the question and makes you shine.
- When asked a hard question, take a moment to reflect and compose your thoughts. A short silent pause is more confident than a rambling answer that doesn’t go anywhere.
- Ask confident questions that show you understand the position from both a legal and business perspective.
Getting hired as a summer associate Every opportunity you have in your career will start with an interview, whether it’s a single question from a colleague or facing a high-stress panel. It all starts with a powerful first impression that reflects your competence, ability to connect, and confidence in yourself.
How you balance these during an interview depends on your unique situation. If you have stellar grades from a top-ranked law school, you’ll have a slight head start: You’ll enter the interview with a strong presumption of competence. If your academic credentials are borderline, however, it is paramount that your ability to do fantastic work shine through while you make a connection with your interviewer.