ABA Career Advice Series moderator Kathy Morris answers career questions every Monday on the Under Advisement website at www.underadvisement.com.
Q: Are there common mistakes people make in interviews?
A: Aside from the obvious ones like being late, calling the person the wrong name, having your phone ring, using inappropriate language, or talking out of turn about your current job or boss, there are some other oft-made mistakes to avoid.
The number one reason people don’t get hired is a lack of enthusiasm. You may want the job, but so do others, and one differentiating factor is how you show or express your interest. Another misstep is being negative throughout the interview, even saying that the required tasks would be ” no problem” rather than something positive, such as “I am comfortable with everything you need me to do
and welcome the opportunity.” And, instead of focusing on what the new job could do for your skill building, emphasize what you could do for the employer to further their goals or enhance their client service. Small shifts in your interviewing
mindset can yield the desired results.
Q: What do lawyers think is the hardest interview question to answer?
A: Oddly to me, most lawyers hate an interviewer’s invitation to “Tell me about yourself.” I say oddly, because as practiced as we are in introducing others, or in describing our clients, lawyers might turn to jelly or rattle on without strategy, when asked, in an open-ended way, about themselves.
This is an interview opener you can anticipate. Identify two or three main points you want to make about yourself to ground the conversation from the start. Keep your conversational response short though not curt, and set a tone as well as impart facts.
For example: I chose a career in litigation not knowing how satisfying it would be to help clients seek redress in areas of such import to them…and have spent the last X years enhancing my ability to write, advocate for, and stand by them throughout many types of cases. At this juncture, I want to work with you—on behalf of your clients—because you concentrate in ____ litigation, which I especially enjoy and have decided to focus in on.
At this point, stop talking, cede the floor to the interviewer, and listen intently for the next question, knowing you have helped kick off the conversation well, having “[told] something about yourself” that was responsive, cogent, and compelling.
Q: How can you discuss your background effectively at an interview without coming across as boastful?
A: It always helps to be humble and human while you advocate as to your accomplishments. For example: “It really means a lot to me that I had the chance to argue in the appellate court and to see my work for the client pay off in a victory. It was also fun to make new law on a cutting edge issue” -OR- “I’m really proud that both the firms in which I’ve worked have given me great evaluations… and I’m pleased to have been able to put such a strong foundation under my career.”
Your question is a good one, because it’s important to find the line, when interviewing, between underwhelming the interviewer and seeming self-absorbed. Set your intentions firmly in your mind as you enter the interview room; that hopefully will keep you focused and grounded, and help you get the offer.
Q: If an interviewer asks me who was the worst boss I ever had, and why, can I be honest?
A: Yes, of course–you always want to blend truth and advocacy in job interview responses…but by the same token, you don’t want to get drawn into being perceived as disloyal or critical. So, this question can be answered directly, without naming names or going on at length. For example, you might respond (if true):
“One of my prior supervisors was great at giving feedback, but not as skillful in giving assignments. Thankfully, he had a good memory, so when he was critical of me for what he first thought was my missing an issue or going in a certain direction, I learned how to repeat that part of the assignment to him, without being argumentative, and he would simply nod his understanding. Still, the
process resulted in more fees for the client or his having to write off some of the time, so I also learned to repeat the assignment back to him at the time he gave it, which tended to crystallize the assignment at the outset.”
This sample answer shows you to be forthcoming, to be someone who sees the practice of law through the lenses of the client and the business, plus someone who is a practical problem solver. As such, you would have turned a potential land mine into a positive interchange. Like a litigator in court or a transactional lawyer negotiating a deal, think quickly before speaking in an interview without appearing hesitant or conveying a conflicting message. Interviewing is an art–learn to paint the picture people will see in your responses, with realism and skill.
Q: Can a person show too much personality at an interview?
A: Yes. Although it is important to be personable, and even to use a little wellplaced humor, you don’t want to hog the floor or overwhelm the interviewer with a continuously loud laugh or too much energy. Most lawyers are actually introverts, but if you’re an extrovert with a huge personality, think about reeling it in for the first time meeting someone for an interview. Show your personality advisedly and appropriately and you can’t go wrong. Good question.
Q: Is there a relationship between interviewing well and being a good lawyer?
A: In many cases yes. If you can think quickly and artfully tailor your response to a question, delivering information confidently, clearly, and cogently, you have skills needed for interviewing and practicing.
However, in practice you also need to be efficient with your time and collaborative as well as competitive. Some great interviewees turn out not to be team players or have the work ethic it takes to excel in a service role. So while there is a relationship between interviewing and practicing law, the differences are what makes it hard to be right 100% of the time in hiring.