Preparing for an Interview

Preparing for an Interview

Receiving an invitation to interview with an employer is an exciting accomplishment, but there is still more work to do.  You should have already thought a great deal about what you want out of a career, what your interests are, and how the employer fits into the picture.  The task before you now is to think about how you will articulate this information in a clear and intelligent manner.

Self-Assessment

You must go into the interview with a clear understanding of yourself and your goals.  Be able to talk comfortably about your strengths and weaknesses, your vocational interests, and how your skills and experiences prepare you for the employer’s specific needs.  Check out the Self-Assessment section of the website for more information on this topic. 

Specifically, be sure you are able to answer the likely first question: Why do you want to work here? 

Research

Call the employer ahead of time to find out your schedule and with whom you will meet.

Talk to other people about the employer: CPD staff, professors, clinic fellows, adjunct professors, 2Ls, 3Ls or UST alumns who work of have worked for the company, and contacts of all of the above.

Review the corporation, firm, agency, office or organization’s website.

  • Find out areas of law in which they specialize
  • Find out who their primary client base is
  • If corporation or law firm, figure out how they market themselves to clients larger firms & corporations will have a clear theme, e.g., innovation, teamwork, and leadership.
  • If governmental agency, non profit or legal aid:
  • read their mission statement.
  • find out any recent statistics about their client base or about federal or state funding cuts or initiatives that affect or might affect their work. 

If you can find out names of attorneys working there, you can do other research, such as:

Finally, you can also find out whether they have spoken at other events, fundraisers, CLEs, whether they have written articles in online newspapers, newsletters, other journals: www.google.com

Preparation Pointers

One of the best ways to prepare for an interview is to do a mock interview a few days before the real one.  This is an excellent way to organize your thoughts, pace yourself, and boost your confidence.  Your mock interviewer will be able to provide you with feedback to help you improve before the interview with your potential employer.  Call CPD at (651)962-4860 or email lawcareers@stthomas.edu to request a 45-minute mock interview slot.

For every interview, prepare your 3 three’s:

  • Three reasons they should hire you (with examples);
  • Three reasons you want to work there (specific to them); and
  • Three questions for them.

The Day of the Interview

What to Bring

  • Extra copies of your resume, your list of references, a copy of your transcript, and a copy of your writing sample.  Be sure everything is formatted using the same header. This is better organized, more professional, and will help the interviewer keep all of your documents together.
  • Pen and paper.  Use these to write down the answers to the three questions you ask, if it feels appropriate. You shouldn't be writing much during the interview.
  • Leather portfolio.  This will add to your professionalism and give you something to do with your hands during the interview. 

First Impressions: the first five minutes are critical!

  • Your attitude should be confident, but not arrogant.
  • Greet the interviewer by name (use "Ms." or "Mr." and make sure you know how to pronounce it) and use a firm handshake.
  • Relax, use good posture, maintain good eye contact, and avoid nervous mannerisms.
  • Expect to make small talk during the first five minutes of the interview.  Your ability to relate to the interviewer and to build rapport is as important as your answers.

The questions

  • You must be enthusiastic and appear genuinely interested in the employer and the position.
  • Keep your answers brief and concise.  Limit yourself to a 2-3 minute response per question and avoid long, rambling answers.  If you are unsure whether the interviewer wants more detail, ask the interviewer, "Have I answered your question?"
  • When answering a question, look for opportunities to tell a story or give detailed examples from your past experiences and positions.  Sell yourself by accentuating strengths, abilities, and experiences.
  • Think about organizing your answers like a paragraph state your main idea, provide support, conclude.
  • If you are asked behavioral questions, e.g., Tell me about a time you demonstrated great leadership skills, organize your answer using the SCAR format :
    • S = Situation (one sentence)
    • C = Challenge or Task you faced
    • A = Action you took (meat of the answer)
    • R = Result (Make sure you have a conclusion)
  • When asked about a shortcoming or weakness, be honest and candid, but turn it into a positive by expressing what you are doing to improve in that area or what you have learned from the experience.  Do not make excuses or blame others.
  • Stay engaged in the conversation; listen actively and focus on the interviewer rather than planning your next answer.
  • Do not fear silence.  When you are asked a question, don’t be afraid to pause and collect your answer before speaking.
  • Employers will evaluate you on a number of different factors during the interview:
    • Work ethic
    • Poise, confidence, competency, maturity, and good judgment
    • Ability to communicate clearly and professionally
    • Initiative
    • Ability to set goals and establish priorities
    • Personality and fit with the employer
    • Interest in and commitment to working for the employer
    • Academic achievement
    • Ability to ask intelligent questioned, indicating that you are prepared

 

Follow-Up

Evaluation

  • Immediately after your interview, you should make notes on your impressions and the people with whom you spoke so that you can properly evaluate the employer and how it might fit into your career plans.
  • Also consider the questions you stumbled on and how you might respond differently in your next interview. 

Thank You Letters

  • You should follow up on every interview with a thank you letter within 24 hours.
  • Address your note to the interviewer. Be sure to ask for the interviewer’s business card before you leave. If you have any questions, call the interviewer’s assistant to confirm names and spellings.
  • If you met with more than one person, send a note to each of them.
  • The thank you note should be short, never more than one page. Many prefer a handwritten note, though emails and typewritten letters have become more common.
  • Incorporate something from the interview that you found interesting or had in common with the interviewer. You may also use this opportunity to briefly emphasize something that was not discussed or clarify something you said.
  • Include an address and phone number where you can be reached.
  • For OCI (on-campus interviewing), time is of the essence, so send a very professional email thank-you as soon as possible after your interview (no more than 24 hours).

Follow up

  • It is completely acceptable to inquire about the status of your candidacy if you have not heard anything at the end of two weeks (or whatever time period the employer gave you).
  • This is a way to demonstrate your continued interest and obtain the information you need.

Unique Situations

Inappropriate or Illegal Questions

  • Discrimination in hiring is clearly prohibited by the Minnesota Human Rights Act. In fact, the statute expressly prohibits interview questions about race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, disability, sexual orientation, or age. Nevertheless, you should be prepared for these kinds of questions. Unfortunately, many employers still ask illegal or inappropriate questions as a way of testing your response to stress, while others are simply trying to be friendly.
  • If you are asked an illegal question, give the employer a chance to rethink the question by politely responding, "Are you asking me _____?" This will alert the employer that they may have asked an illegal question, and they will likely rephrase it. If the interviewer is seeking legitimate information, but simply phrased the question inappropriately, this gives him or her a chance to save face. If the employer asks the question again, inquire tactfully as to why the information is important. If the employer continues to press you, answer the question and proceed with the interview. If you feel you have been asked an inappropriate question or are otherwise being discriminated against, please report the incident to the Director of Career and Professional Development.

Reimbursements / Out of Town Interviews

  • Some employers will reimburse the expenses you incur in visiting their office. Clarify the employer’s reimbursement policy ahead of time to determine which expenses they will cover and which they will not (e.g., parking, airfare, etc.). You will need to submit receipts for any expenses the employer is reimbursing, so be prepared to do so.
  • If the interview is out of town, make sure your plane does not leave before the end of your last interview – allow more time than you think you will need to wrap up and get to the airport.

Sample Interview Questions

 

  • What accomplishment are you most proud of?
  • Why are you interested in our firm?
  • Why did you attend St. Thomas?
  • Why did you decide to go to law school?
  • What is your biggest regret from your first year of law school?
  • What area of law are you most interested in?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Tell me about a time you were challenged to learn a new skill “on the job”.
  • What do you want to be doing in 5 years?
  • Tell me about a time you didn’t achieve a goal.
  • What distinguishes you from other candidates?
  • What were you least and most favorite courses in law school and why?
  • What is your biggest fear?
  • When have you ever given up and why?
  • What have you liked most about law school?
  • What are you looking for in a law firm?
  • If you could be anything other than a lawyer, what would it be?
  • Who do you most admire and why?
  • Did you ever play competitive sports?  If yes, what did you like most about the experience?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What is one of your weaknesses?  What are you doing to improve in that area?
  • Why should I hire you? 
  • What do you have to offer that somebody else doesn’t?
  • Tell me about a time you had to deal with a major problem in your life and how you resolved it.  
  • Why do you want to work in this city/state?
  • What are your long-term/short-term goals?

 Sample Interview Questions (PDF)

  • What was it like growing up in _______?
  • What community service activities have you most enjoyed?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?
  • What kind of person are you least likely to get along with?
  • How would others (friends, supervisors, coworkers, etc.) describe you?
  • Give me an example of your leadership abilities.
  • Tell me about a time you faced adversity.   How did you overcome it?
  • Do you think your grades adequately reflect your academic ability?
  • Which extra-curricular activities on your resume do you most enjoy?
  • Why did you choose your undergraduate major?
  • What criteria are you using to assess employers?
  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • What interests you about this position?
  • What would you like to know about us?
  • What kinds of things give you the most satisfaction in your work?
  • What do you value most in a work environment?
  • Tell me about a time when you improved or changed a system or process.
  • What is your biggest accomplishment from your most recent job?
  • What is the most important thing you learned from your past jobs?
  • Tell me about a situation where you were under a lot of pressure and explain how you handled it.
  • Describe three contributions you made to your last employer.
  • How does your background relate to our needs?
  • What are the top 3 reasons you came to law school?
  • Describe your perfect day.
  • What do you see happening to the legal profession in 10 years?
  • If I were to call and ask, what would your friends say about you?
  • If I were to call and ask, what would your previous boss say about you?
  • What do you want to get out of this law clerk (or summer associate) position?
  • What will we learn about you in your first 3 months of employment with us?

What You Should Ask

You must be fully prepared to ask a prospective employer questions at the end of an interview.  Not only is this your chance to gather the information you’ll need to make an informed decision should the employer extend you an offer, but you will be evaluated on the quantity and quality of questions you ask.  This is one of the best opportunities to distinguish yourself from other candidates, so use this to your advantage.  Consider these examples to get you started: 

  • What kind of work/tasks can I expect to be given?
  • How much client or case involvement will I have?
  • What kinds of training opportunities do you offer?
  • What type of supervision can I expect?
  • What manner of evaluations can I expect?
  • How would you describe a successful person in this position?
  • Tell me about your own experience with the organization.
  • What have you enjoyed most about working here or in your position?
  • What type of person thrives in your organization?
  • What challenges do you see for your organization in the future?
  • What does a typical day/week look like in your organization?
  • What would you consider a successful first year to look like for this position?
  • What is the biggest challenge for the person in this position?
  • What is the next step in your hiring process?  When can I expect to hear back from you?

Public Sector or Public Interest Interviews

Public Sector or Public Interest Interviews 

For both public sector (i.e., government) and public interest employers, they want to see a commitment to their cause.  This could be a commitment to public or community service generally. 

Government employers are more likely to ask ethical or hypothetical questions geared to evaluate your ethical barometer.  An example of an ethical question would be: "define justice?"

There is no real way to prepare for such a question, but bear in mind that when asked this type of question, the interviewer is more interested in how you think through the problem than if you gave the “right” answer. 

You need to tell them what motivates you. 

What does this mean for the interview?  In preparing your 3 three's, keep in mind the following: 

Three reasons they should hire you:

The single most important reasons they should hire you is that you have experience with their client base.  If you do not have experience with their client base, you can cite to experience with a disadvantaged population with something in common with their client base (some examples might be: low-income, people of color, GLBT, non-native English speakers, elderly, disabled, at-risk youth).  

Regardless, you need to demonstrate an awareness of the special issues or sensitivities of the clients they are serving (e.g., victims of discrimination and systemic oppression, victims of domestic violence or torture, recent immigrants, the elderly, or individuals with disabilities). 

Look at the job description to see what other skills they want or tailor the skills you highlight to the job description.

If the job is in greater Minnesota, you should also highlight any connection you have with the area, the community, and possibly any intention you have of working in the area post graduation, if appropriate.  

Three reasons you want to work there:

One of the reasons you want to work there should be that you believe in their cause and in how they are working for their cause. In short, you think their work needs to be done and they are doing it right!   

Now, the tricky part: how do you convey this?  

Don't:

  • Lecture them / preach to the choir
  • Spout platitudes 

Do:

  • Know their mission statement.
  • Know their client base.
  • Know why their client base needs free
    legal serices or advocacy and convey that you "get it."


You can do this in a personal way – but not too personal. Give information about an experience that helped you “get it,” inspired your passion, etc.   This must be concise and clearly linked to why you want to do this work.   

Extra points:

  • Know any recent cases they have fought, recent articles they’ve written or CLE’s they have taught.  (See attached tips on researching.)
  • Know any recent statistics that may affect their client base.
  • Know any information about state or federal funding initiatives or cuts that may affect their client base. 

Tips on Telephone Interviews

Here are a few pointers for preparing to succeed with your telephone interview:

  • Treat a telephone interview like a real interview.  Dress up, don’t do it in your pajamas!  A suit or business clothes will make you project like a professional.
  • Clear the area around the telephone so that you are not distracted.
  • Have copies of relevant materials, such as resume, cover letter, and questions for the interviewer in front of you.
  • Write out the three reasons the employer should hire you and have it in front of you. Make sure you get those points out during the conversation.
  • Don’t forget to send a thank-you note!  

Remember if you need to do a phone interview during the day, you can come to the Student Services Suite and use an empty office. Please contact our front desk in advance so that we make sure a room is reserved for you.