January 27, 2023

Career Services Blog

Interview Series, Part One: Before the Interview

by Alice Emerson, Director of Public Interest Law and Jess Peterson, Assistant Director

So, you landed an interview. You are very likely feeling a mix of excitement and nerves, so let’s first take a moment to share in the excitement and celebrate. Congratulations! The employer sees something special in you and wants to get to know you more– that rocks and you deserve it.

Now, as far as the nerves, we get it. It’s okay to be nervous– it means that you care, and that you want to do well. And we are here to help.

In Foundations, you’ve learned and practiced techniques for answering different kinds of legal interview questions. But there are other dimensions of interviewing that contribute to the overall impression you make, that are softer skills around etiquette, expectations, and how to show what makes you the right person for the job other than your experience alone. Consider this three-part series a guide for the less-concrete aspects of the legal interview, with this first post in the series concentrating on how you can best prepare before the actual interview.

A quick note: while much of the world has returned to doing things in person, remote work and interviewing has also become common practice. The advice in this series is meant to be applicable to both in person and virtual interviews, and we hope you find it helpful regardless of if you are going to an employer’s office or hopping on Zoom. If you are seeking guidance that is specific to remote interviews, we’ve got you covered–you can find all kinds of great remote interview advice here and here.

Now, let’s get into it. You got the news that you’ve been selected for an interview– now what? Do your best not to sweat it too much; nervousness is not the most helpful emotion to be driving the car right now. It can come along for the ride, but keep it away from the steering wheel and gas pedal (and brake pedal. And maybe even the radio, while we’re at it). Instead, let your most collected self take the driver’s seat and shift into a mode of preparedness.

Preparation goes a long way towards soothing stress and anxiety, but also generally improves your performance. In the days leading up to the interview, there are tangible things you can do to prepare, such as:

  1. Review possible interview questions, think about how you would answer, and practice answering them with people you know. You won’t know everything they will ask, so you need to stay flexible and not go in thinking that there won’t be surprises. But there are plenty of relatively common interview questions that you can practice, and it’s very worthwhile to do so. What is a common interview question that you have a tough time answering? You don’t want to be blindsided by it in the actual interview and have to scramble on the spot for an answer.
  2. Be prepared to talk about/explain your transferable skills. No legal experience yet? No worries. Any work you’ve done has likely helped you develop skills that make you an excellent candidate in the legal world, too.
  3. If there are gaps in your resume or other issues - career change, grades, lack of experience, frequent job changes - be prepared to explain them. Try not to get flustered and keep your explanation brief and honest without making excuses or blaming others. See if there is a positive spin you can give, or if you can make it a memorable part of your story.
  4. Think about how you can demonstrate through your demeanor/answers how you are a good fit. Think about which of your strengths seem to resonate most strongly with their organization/connect to their work. Use the job posting as one clue, but also research the employer. Consider a Westlaw search for recent cases, a general google search, and whether there are any big new developments in their area of law.
  5. Prepare questions for the interviewer - about the organization, about the job, about them, about the area of law, etc. You want to make sure that this is a good fit for you! It also benefits you to demonstrate that interest. Ask questions throughout the discussion, but you are likely to be asked at the end whether you have any questions, so make sure that you have something clever left to ask then, or think up another great question based on the conversation. If you can’t think of anything fresh, ask for additional info/clarification about something already touched on lightly during the interview!
  6. Plan your outfit and gather your clothes in advance so you aren’t scrambling the night before (or, yikes, the day of). Choose something that makes you feel professional, confident, and comfortable in your skin. If you are in need of professional attire, some of the awesome affinity groups here (BIG shout outs to APALSA, NALSA, SALSA and the Latinx Law Society) have started a Community Closet! You can schedule a time to visit the closet here.
  7. If you’re interviewing on Zoom, tape a small picture of someone that you feel really comfortable talking to next to your camera ahead of time. This helps ease nerves by allowing you to direct your conversation to that person, helps you remember to smile, and also helps you maintain virtual eye contact. How heartwarming and practical is that?

Other than all this, be sure to build in soothing and joyful activities of your choosing to keep yourself in a positive headspace–not only because it will help you bring your best self to the interview when the day arrives, but because you deserve and need these things regardless of any exciting developments in your professional life. Prepare, take care, and when you’re ready for day-of interview advice, we’ll be here with Part 2.