Question & Answer
Bright Lights Dos, and Big City Don'ts
June 26, 2012
I have three upcoming interviews with large NYC law firms, for second year summer positions. They will be coming to Toronto to interview me and other students.
Do you have any advice on how I may best be able to stand out from the other students being interviewed, so that I am asked back for a second interview in their NYC offices? Thank you.
You have your work cut out for you, no question about it. I say this simply because not only are you facing competition from other students at your own school but you are facing the fact that you are trying to get a job in another country where there are scores and scores of rising 2Ls who are also interviewing with these same large NYC law firms. Not only do you have to stand out from the other students in your class so that you are asked back for the call-back round but you have to be so good that you overcome the hassles that the firms must deal with in terms of immigration issues.
So, let's remember the first and most important thing about this first round of interviews…what they are really all about: selling yourself to the firm. That's it - the bottom line.
First impressions are critical. Somewhere, someone once said that a hiring person makes a decision to not hire someone in the first sixty seconds of an interview. If that is true, and from years of hiring people, I believe it is, keep in mind how important that first impression will be. What should you wear? There is no question in my mind that you should be dressed in business attire suits for men and women. You may receive notices that certain firms allow students to attend their interviews dressed in "business casual." Forget it! You have no idea who is going to show up to interview you. It might be a third year associate from that firm who is casually dressed or it might be a senior partner who only wears custom-made suits. Keep in mind those first sixty seconds. Better to be dressed professionally than take a risk.
Although the firms already have your resume, it never hurts to be prepared that somehow the interviewer lost it. Make lots of extra copies of your resume and put it in a folder, portfolio or briefcase and bring it with you to the interview. You never know. Be prepared!
And speaking of being prepared, readers of this column know what I always advise: do your due diligence before your interviews! Know everything about the firm before you walk into the interview. Understand what the firm does and especially what the firm doesn't do. You won't score points when you start telling the interviewer about your great interest in a practice area that his or her firm doesn't have! However, when you know what practice areas the firm does specialize in and you talk about those areas and let the interviewer know that is why you are interested in his/her firm, you will get the his/her ear.
If possible, find out who will be interviewing you. Frequently the interviewer's name is listed prior to your interview and you will be well advised to go to the firm's website and study this person's bio and background.
I mentioned at the beginning that the most important thing you can do in these brief on-campus interviews is to sell yourself. That doesn't mean to walk in and go over your resume and your transcript. The interviewer can do that on his/her own. It means that after you have done your due diligence you are able to convincingly discuss why you want to come back to this specific firm and meet more people and have an opportunity to work there during your 2L summer. It means to discuss more than just the law. It means to try to be able to find some common ground between you and the interviewer and establish some kind of relationship where s/he sees you as more than just another twenty minute meeting.
None of this easy. These on-campus brief interviews are tough. But if you put some time and effort into learning about the firms and interviewers prior to stepping into the interviewing room, you might just find that you are able to click with that person sitting across from you and that's what it takes to get that magic invitation known as the call-back. In doing your homework prior to these interviews you might even come across some people at these firms that you know; give them a call and ask them for some information about their firms for some extra hints. Search through the NALP books. Speak with the people at your law school's career center. Leave no stones unturned. And please write us back after your first round of interviews and let us know how things went. Best wishes!
Ann M. Israel
Location, Location, Location
If you grew up in Seattle, you'll have no difficulty proving your intention to return there. But if you spent your entire life in L.A., interviewers may be skeptical about your sudden desire to work in, say, Boston.
Mark Weber, director of career services at Harvard Law School and former assistant dean for career services at the University of Illinois School of Law, suggests the following strategy if you don't have any ties to the target city at all: "Put your money where your mouth is. Visit the city, and if possible, try to arrange brief meetings with the firms that you are interested in. Even a casual vacation can turn into an interview offer if you seem truly bent on going to that city. Firms are making an investment in you when they train you in the first year. If you can't prove that you're serious about staying, the firm isn't going to gamble all that time and money."
Kuehn warns, however, that "you don't want it to look as if you merely signed up to interview with every firm in the relevant city that comes to your campus." Make sure you have an arsenal of firm-specific comments that go beyond geographyto use in response to the inevitable question: "Why did you sign up to interview here?"
Put on a Happy Face
Did you hate your civil procedure course? They'd never know it from your answer. This isn't the time for brutal honesty; it's far wiser to talk about the insightful professor, the interesting subject matter, and your intelligent classmates.
Interviewers eschew any hint of a negative attitude. Demonstrate that you can find silver linings in the stormiest of legal clouds: "Try to describe what was positive about the experience, even if you disliked it. If you didn't get along with your 1L summer employer, don't bash them in future interviews. As far as the firm is concerned, you'll probably be saying the same things about them next year," says Weber.