The job market for the legal industry remains highly competitive, especially for recent law school graduates and less-experienced lawyers. It’s important therefore, to put your best, most professional self forward every time you meet with a hiring manager. Surprisingly, however, a significant number of candidates encounter problems at the interview stage, even though they are qualified for the position. Thirty-two percent of executives polled for a survey commissioned by our company said the interview is where professionals make the most mistakes.
Some kinds of interview missteps can be chalked up to nervousness. But in other cases, candidates may simply be using poor judgment. Committing an interview faux pas can seriously impair your chances of being hired, however. Here are a few important but often overlooked rules to keep in mind.
Forget the moveable feast. You may be wearing your best “interview suit,” but if you bring your breakfast, lunch or a snack to the meeting, you’ve already put yourself at a disadvantage. No one wants to watch a candidate munch on a muffin or slurp a latte while answering questions. Leave all food and beverages (including water bottles) behind when you’re meeting with hiring managers.
Turn off the technology. In today’s hyper-connected world, many people think they should always be reachable. In fact, some feel it makes them appear more important. But during an interview, shut off your connection with outside world. Some hiring managers and recruiters have reported experiences with candidates who glance at incoming e-mails or ask to be excused to take a phone call. Needless to say, these candidates don’t get very far. The hiring manager expects – and deserves – a job seeker’s full attention. If you must carry a cell phone or portable e-mail device into an interview, be sure to turn it completely off – not just to the vibrate setting, which is often audible and distracting.
Don’t be too candid. Although interviewers are looking for candor and a glimpse into a candidate’s personality, be careful not to go overboard, especially in offering personal details. Avoid becoming too chatty about topics that aren’t relevant to the interview. Not only do you risk making the interviewer feel uncomfortable, but divulging such personal information could raise doubts about your judgment and discretion if hired. Try to keep the conversation focused on your work history, qualifications and on-the-job experiences.
Don’t be negative about former employers. Criticizing or gossiping about previous employers you worked for will only hurt your chances of receiving an offer, even if the interviewer seems interested in hearing such details. For this reason, you’re wise to tread carefully when making small talk, especially about any potentially controversial topic. Even an offhand comment about a mutual acquaintance or a former client could be misinterpreted.
Be confident but humble. Your qualifications may be exceptional and you may have three other interviews scheduled, but you should still strive to strike the right balance between presenting your accomplishments in a positive light and coming across as boastful. In another Robert Half survey, 50 percent of executives polled said that being arrogant was the worst mistake a candidate can make when interviewing. Job applicants can come across in a negative light by claiming all the credit for past accomplishments or conveying a “you’d-be-lucky-to-have-me” attitude. It’s helpful to remember that the interviewer is not just trying to determine your qualifications but also is evaluating what you would be like as a colleague.
Ask as well as answer. The best job interviews are two-way conversations, and most hiring managers expect candidates to ask questions about the firm or company. In fact, an interviewer may think you’re not really interested in the position if you don’t. Coming to the interview prepared to ask questions shows you’ve done your homework. One exception: Avoid questions about salary, vacation time, benefits and similar matters unless the interviewer has expressed serious interest in hiring you.
Conduct graceful follow-up. Even after the interview ends, it’s important to observe solid professional etiquette. Don’t forget to send a hand-written thank-you note to the interviewer, expressing your gratitude for the opportunity to speak with him or her – or an emailed message followed up by a handwritten one. Reiterate your interest in the position and mention one or two key qualities that make you a viable choice.
If you don’t hear back from an employer within the expected timeframe, it’s acceptable to follow up with a phone call or email – not a text message, which is too informal and may seem presumptuous. If the interview does not ultimately lead to an offer, don’t become discouraged. Add the hiring manager to your network of professional contacts and move on, using your professional etiquette in the next round of interviews.
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.