Dear Law Students Heading in to Interview Season:
You’re in the midst of what can be a very overwhelming process. Before jumping in to my advice on how to navigate interviews, I should share that before becoming a dedicated diversity professional, I spent almost 8 years practicing as an attorney in Big law, and another two years a legal recruiter. Thus, I’ve seen the process from many angles. I also recently served as a panelist on a program dedicated to the summer associate hiring process. During the discussion, I interacted with a number of students and found myself repeating the same advice. To help you as you prepare, I’ve summarized that advice here. It includes a few recommendations that you may not have heard before and addresses some of the challenges faced when interviewing virtually.
I guarantee that you will be asked this question. It is the first question you’ll be asked in most of your interviews. Therefore, you should enter the (zoom) room already knowing how you’ll respond this. Also, when I say practice, I literally mean practice. Practice it out loud. It should be a 30-60 second response that hits on your biographical highlights. Pro tip: Practice while in Zoom, or whatever platform you’re using. You can simulate the environment, record your response, play it back and see if you like it.
If your screening and/or callback interviews will be virtual, log-in to the platform well-before the time of the interview. Make sure your lighting is decent, that the sound works (do you need a headset?), and that your background isn’t overly cluttered/distracting (if it is, figure out how to use a virtual background). I know we’re all confident with technology these days. But, do yourself a favor and make sure that everything is working in advance. By the way, if you do have technical difficulties during the interview, know that you can likely use your phone as a hot spot should you lose internet. And, if all else fails, please pick up the phone and call the attorney you’re interviewing with. You can find the phone number for your interviewer on the firm website.
It’s fine to keep your questions limited to things like how the summer program works and how pro bono is structured at the firm. But, thoughtful (appropriate) questions about the interviewer are even better as they allow you to make a connection with the person interviewing you. You can ask the interviewer what they like most about their firm, how they decided on their practice, and what they’re currently working on. These questions will elicit personal responses and engagement. These questions will also give you a better sense of the firm. But please, avoid inquiring about anything overly personally. For example, don’t ask if the person plans to get married, have children, or if they think they’ll make equity partner one day.
Interviews may seem like regular conversations but really they’re a forum for personal advocacy. Therefore, you should be prepared to work in information about yourself (in a tactful way) as there’s no guarantee that the interviewer will ask. And know, it’s important to us as the law firm to get to know you. We want to hear about your life and who you are. But, chances are that the person interviewing you will not ask the one perfect question that will give you a platform to share what you want to share. Share it anyway. Work it in to your answer to “tell me about yourself.” Or, in the last few minutes of the interview say something like “I see that our time is winding down, but I just wanted to mention X.”
Also, for diverse law students, feel free to discuss your life experiences in the interview. Your experience as a member of an underreprested group are a part of who you are. As long as you’re comfortable sharing, there’s nothing wrong with mentioning that you’re a first generation American or that you found the initial transition to law school difficult, but the Black Law Student Association helped immensely. (Or, whatever your particular story is.)
This is perhaps the most important piece of advice. Don't take 7 minutes to answer one question during a 20 minute interview. I’ve seen it many times before. Nerves can get the best of us. And, for many of us that results in nervous chatter. No one wants to interrupt you. Thus, if you don’t give your interview an opportunity to ask the next question, they will politely wait until you stop speaking. And while they’re waiting, you will be burning up valuable time. Answer the question somewhat succinctly, and allow them to ask the next question. (Also, please don’t take me too literally and only give yes/no answers.)
I hope you find the above helpful. If you have questions, please feel free to reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Also, for more advice on interviewing and navigating the interview process, checkout Episode 56 of Foley’s The Path & The Practice Podcast. The episode features Bob Scher, partner and chair of Foley's National Recruiting Committee, and Amy Moynihan, Director of Legal Recruiting, discussing all things summer associate recruiting.