YourABA: December 2013
YourABA December 2013 Masthead

Interviewing tips for lawyers

In the ever-changing and competitive job market, lawyers seeking to start or advance their careers must be prepared to interview well if they want to move ahead in the profession, experts said during the American Bar Association Career Center panel "Interviewing Wisely in a Challenging Market."

Research the law firm to which you are applying, and convey competent knowledge about the firm during the interview.

"I advise my clients to really prepare and research like they are studying for an exam. Be prepared to answer tough interview questions, and know what you are going to say in advance," said Evan Anderson, director of BCG Attorney Search's Diversity Recruiting Practice.

"Research and mention recent high-profile cases, firm milestones, anniversaries and accomplishments — all that stuff goes a very long way," he said.

Some common interview mistakes include being late, leaving cellphones turned on and dressing unprofessionally, Anderson said.

During the interview, avoid telling the employer that you view the job as a gateway to future career plans.

"One mistake relates to statements that people make to indicate that this job that they're interviewing for is just a stepping stone to something bigger and better," said Elizabeth Price, a partner at Alston & Bird LLP.

If the employer asks, "Where you see yourself in 10 years?" do not say you would like his or her job.

"I would focus on things you would like to learn and gain while you're with the company. For example, 'I hope that I would have developed a method to budget for a major litigation' or something that shows value to the company without making your boss nervous about his or her job," Price said.

Be careful not to frame comments in a way that is all about what you will gain from the position and not enough about what you will give to the employer.

For example, Price said, avoid statements such as "I am looking for a place that will give me training and support," and instead say, "I want to contribute to a team that thinks creatively to solve a client's problem."

When faced with broad questions such as "tell me about yourself," speak for up to two minutes and lead with something personal.

"You can look at this as an excellent opportunity to work in your personal narratives in a way where you can make a connection and leave an impression," Price said. "The response should never be, 'Well, what do you want to know?'"

Pay attention to body language. Maintain eye contact, give firm handshakes, and "be engaged but not overly caffeinated," she said.

"If you see someone's eyes glazing over, wrap it up," Anderson added.

For employed lawyers looking to move on from their current job, never paint your current firm or boss in a negative light.

"Often when candidates start to feel a rapport with the employer, they start to kind of unload and discuss the negatives they are experiencing at their current job, and that is just a no-no," Anderson said. "Those things leave an impression on an interviewer."

For lawyers who have been laid off from their jobs, let the potential employer know if the company had to cut employees for budgetary reasons.

"In this market, I don't think employers are surprised that jobs are being cut and people are being laid off, not because of performance but because of capacity," Price said.

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