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November 22, 2016 Practice Points

Tips for a Successful Interview

By Rachel S. Nevarez

It can be nerve-wracking to apply and interview for a new job as a law student. I regularly interview students for law clerk positions at my firm, and my top tips for submitting your application and the interview process are below.

Include Grade Point Average
If your GPA is above 3.0, it should be on your resume. Most employers know this rule and if you choose not to include it, it may lessen your chances of getting an interview if the prospective employer has strict guidelines on grades. If your GPA is below 3.0, be ready to explain it. Be honest about the reasons for a lower GPA, including admitting that you messed up at some point. The interviewer will appreciate your honesty.

Have Career Services or a Trusted Mentor Review Your Application Materials
It can be intimidating to have someone else look at your resume, but that person will catch things that you may not have thought of. Inform the person of the type of employer you are applying for, and ask them for tips on ways you can make your experience applicable to that area.

Ask career services what they know about the firm and if they have feedback from former students who clerked or worked for the firm. Look through your professors' previous experiences and ask for advice if they worked for the firm or in the area of law that you are interested in.

Pay Attention to Detail and Make a Positive Impression
Make sure there are absolutely no typographical errors in your resume, cover letter and writing sample. Many prospective employers will not consider applicants who submit materials with mistakes.

Your writing sample should accurately reflect your writing abilities at the time you are applying. While the writing sample you submit should not be heavily edited by others, you do not have to provide the same version of a writing sample that you submitted to a professor or former employer. Proofread your writing sample multiple times and fix any mistakes.

During the interview, be enthusiastic and make sure to convey your excitement for the position. Do not bring up negative past experiences unless it is in response to question and you are able to present the experience in a positive light. Similarly, if asked about prior experiences, do not volunteer that you landed a prior job because of family connections. Even if you did, offering this information suggests that you do not think you could have obtained the position on your own merits.

Don't stress too much if you do not have work experience that is directly in line with what the employer is looking for; most employers interviewing law students understand that this may be your first job in the legal field. You should try to provide specific examples of how prior experiences make you a good fit for the position, but do not try too hard to oversell past experiences that are not truly on point.

After the interview, send a thank you email the same day. Formal thank you letters are nice to receive, but you never know when the employer may make a decision. If the employer wants to decide soon, it is best to send a thank you immediately to maximize the impression you make.

Research the Employer and Interviewer
Thoroughly research the areas of law the employer specializes in, and if the firm handles multiple areas of law, research the interviewer's area of expertise. You should tailor your cover letter to the specific type of employer you are attempting to interview with, and include specific details of how your experience applies to the area of law at issue. 

Do not ask questions during an interview that are easily found on the employer's website. Study the employer's website and look up the firm on legal search engines to determine if there are recent or noteworthy cases or opinions that interest you or that help bridge any gaps between your experience and the firm's accomplishments.

Consider adding your interests to your resume. Not all professionals agree that it is a good idea to include interests on a resume, but in my experience, this has been something that leads to more interesting conversations during interviews. As a rule of thumb, it is probably safe to include interests on a resume if the firm's biographies of attorneys include the attorneys' interests or information beyond their legal background.

Rachel S. Nevarez is with Wiedner & McAuliffe, Ltd. in Chicago, Illinois.

Copyright © 2016, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).