When you interview for legal jobs, you know hiring managers will be asking about your skills and experiences. But as you’re answering these questions, they’re scrutinizing much more than just your words. Here’s a look at how interviewers evaluate candidates for today’s in-demand legal jobs.
- Appearances matter.
You know the importance of dressing professionally when interviewing, but legal hiring managers check out more than your wardrobe choices, such as body language and interpersonal skills. In addition to what you say, they’re also attuned to how you say it. Do you tend to talk too fast or fill space with too many “ums” or “likes”? Make a conscious effort to speak calmly and confidently. To find out how you sound to others, record yourself talking and play it back. Better yet, ask a trusted friend to give you honest feedback during a mock interview.
- Interviewers think, “Will this person fit with our corporate culture?”
They already know about your experience and skill set from your resume. What’s harder to discern from the written word is how well you’ll get along with your future colleagues. But how do you, an outsider, find out what type of personality a particular prospective employer is looking for? One way is to look at the firm’s website. If the text and images are traditional and serious, you should dress conservatively for an interview. If the homepage stresses corporate social responsibility and invites visitors to connect with them via social media, then make sure you highlight the innovative work you’ve done and your technology proficiency.
- They’re gauging your interest.
If you’re ambivalent about working at a firm, chances are that you’re conveying this message through in your tone and body language. What this means is that if you really want to work at an organization, you should maintain positive eye contact (look at the interviewer but don’t stare), have an upbeat voice, convey enthusiasm without hard-selling yourself, and ask informed and intelligent questions when it’s your turn.
- Second (and third) opinions count, too.
You may think you’re just interviewing with the person or people in the conference room, but you’re not. There’s a good chance that every person you encounter, from the parking lot to the front desk and back, will be asked their impressions of you. So be cordial and professional with everyone you meet: security staff, janitor, receptionist and parking lot attendant.
- Diplomats wanted, not bashers.
Interviewers won’t stop you from putting down former employers. But if you do, don’t be surprised if you don’t get the job. Tales of work woes give the impression that you’re a malcontent, unprofessional or a difficult employee. What’s more, the legal world is surprisingly small, and you don’t want to risk badmouthing a possible friend, classmate or former colleague. If the hiring manager asks why you left previous legal jobs, give a reason, stay positive and don’t go into war stories.
- How are you at boundaries?
While personable candidates often get job offers, be careful not to go overboard. Not matter how well you and the interviewer are hitting it off, don’t cross the line from professional to personal, and steer clear of questionable questions.
- How are you at follow-up?
Thank-you notes are not just something for wedding gifts and older relatives. Not every interviewee will go the extra mile and pen a follow-up letter, which is all the more reason you should. Be sure to customize it with highlights from the interview, reiterate your enthusiasm for the company and the position, and proofread several times before sending.
Interviewers have an hour or less to make up their mind about you, and they’re looking at and listening to more factors than most candidates realize. Heed these do’s and don’ts, and you’ll greatly improve your chances of impressing hiring managers and landing the position you want.
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.