Whether you’re a recent law school graduate or a seasoned professional, handling the job interview is when candidates often falter. The prospective employer will be evaluating your every word and action, from the moment you check in with the receptionist to your departing handshake. Here are the 12 things you should never say or do when interviewing for a legal job.
1. Don’t be late.Arriving even five minutes late for your appointment could sink your chances of landing the job. Hiring managers look for traits such as professionalism, reliability and respect, which they can’t count on if you’re not punctual.
2. Don’t be too early. Conversely, arriving more than 15 minutes ahead of schedule may signal that you’re overly eager. Make it a priority to check-in with the receptionist five to 10 minutes before your appointment. If you reach the office much earlier, use the extra time to visit the restroom, double-check your appearance and review your notes.
3. Don’t be shy. You’re there to show the manager you’re a good match for the position, and you can’t do that if you don’t have much to say. Even when the interviewer asks a yes-or-no question, don’t let your only answer be “yes” or “no.” Instead, offer follow-up information and details. Even better, tell a personal story that puts you in a good light. Be interested and interesting.
4. Don’t over-answer.When you’re passionate and knowledgeable about a question, or if you’re nervous, it can be evident in your speech. Don’t over-share. To keep yourself on topic, answer each interview question directly and succinctly. Doing so will leave more time to discuss the many other ways you’re a good fit for the position.
5. Don’t fake it. When you don’t know the answer, don’t pretend you do and make up something. Interviewers can see through that, and lying is a sure deal-breaker. If you need a few moments to organize your thoughts, ask for clarification, which could buy you some time.
6. Don’t rehash the resume.The hiring manager already knows about your education and work history. Now is the time to go beyond your documented skills and professional and academic accomplishments. When answering interview questions, play up the qualities that aren’t apparent on a one-page resume. For example, share professional experiences in which you’ve demonstrated initiative, used diplomacy and exhibited grace under pressure.
7. Don’t be negative. Unless you’re a recent graduate, the interviewer may ask why you left your previous position. Never badmouth a former employer or say how much you disliked a job. Doing so makes you appear unprofessional. Remember: The legal world is a close-knit community and you don’t want to burn any bridges.
8. Don’t use filler words.Do you clutter your responses with “um,” “like” and “you know”? People who fall back on these verbal tics may be smart, but they make you sound inarticulate. If you have a tendency to use fillers, pause before answering. Then speak clearly, deliberately and authoritatively.
9. Don’t get flustered.The interviewer may pose difficult questions such as, “Tell me about your employment gap” or “You don’t seem to have much experience in X.” Don’t be defensive, and don’t stress about gaps in your career. The fact that you were invited for an interview says the firm already thinks well of you and simply wants more information. Anticipate these questions and prepare thoughtful responses.
10. Don’t jump the gun. The first interview is not the time to discuss pay, bonuses and benefits. Concentrate on making the case that you’re a good fit for the company and the role. If and when you get a job offer, that’s the time to negotiate salary.
11. Don’t brag. Yes, the job interview is when you should sell your skills, but don’t be a show-off. Unless you’re asked about it specifically, mentioning your near-perfect LSAT score won’t help you land that legal job. Instead, when talking about the assets you would bring to the firm, play up in-demand soft skills such as collaboration, communication, flexibility, initiative and problem solving.
12. Don’t dwell on blunders. Everyone makes mistakes. If you knock over a cup of coffee or get an interviewer’s name wrong, apologize and move on. Beating yourself up makes everyone uncomfortable. Laugh at yourself and shake it off.Interviews can be nerve-racking. But with your dream legal job at stake, you don’t want to lose this opportunity. With preparation, practice and a positive attitude, you’ll greatly increase your chances of landing the position and moving up in your career.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.