Interviewing - Long Form
The best advice for interviewing is to be prepared. Do your research. Many recruiters say job applicants seem to know very little about the firms and organizations at which they interview. There is no excuse for this. You can find out everything you need to know through research before your interview. Be familiar with your resume, cover letter, and writing sample. Be prepared to discuss your past educational, professional, and life experiences. Be ready to ask some detailed questions about the employer and the position. Your overarching goal is to show the employer why you are interested in the position and why you would be a good fit. What appeals to you about this particular position and this particular employer?
The interview is one of the most important steps to landing a job. You should think of the interview as a two-way street. On one side, you will be evaluating the employer and the position you are considering, while trying to convince the interviewer that your skills match the employer's needs. On the other side, the interviewer will be evaluating you and your qualifications, as well as ‘selling' you on the opportunity.
As part of the evaluation process, the interviewer will try to get clarification on three basic over-arching questions during the interview:
- Why should I hire you? Do you have the skills and experiences that the employer is looking for in a candidate?
- Is there a fit between you and the opportunity? Have you done your research on the employer? Does the opportunity match your career goals and demonstrated interests?
- Do I want to work with you? Basically, are you someone the interviewer would like to work with on a daily basis? This question addresses more of the interpersonal factors of the interview, rather than just your skills and qualifications.
You should arrive at the office approximately 10 minutes before your interview start time and be courteous and friendly to the receptionist and any other staff you meet. Out of an abundance of caution, however, you should arrive at the general area of the office building well in advance of that 10-minute window; you are better off gathering your thoughts at a nearby coffee shop than sitting in traffic or searching for parking as the clock ticks away.
You should bring several extra copies of your resume, cover letter, writing sample, transcript, and letters of recommendation and should carry them in a black leather portfolio or a dignified and professional-looking folder.
You should always wear a business suit to an interview. Even if the attorneys at the office wear jeans to work, you should still wear a formal suit. You should avoid any offensive accessories, fragrances, or makeup. Never wear anything distracting (i.e. low cut shirts, crazy shoes, unkempt facial hair, etc.). Turn off your cell phone for the interview. Be sure to present yourself in your best light and leave your prospective employer with only your skills, personality, and qualifications to discuss!
Always send a thank you email or note to each of your interviewers. You should do so within 24 hours of your interview – without exception. It is generally recommended that you send email thank you notes; however, if you are interviewing with a judge, the general practice is to still send hand-written thank you notes. See the CDO Guide To Thank You Notes for more information.
For most people, interviewing is a stressful experience. However, effective interviewing is a skill that all law students can master with practice. This rest of this guide will discuss interview preparation, common interview questions, sample questions to ask the interviewer, and types of illegal questions and suggested responses.
The key to a successful interview is careful planning, preparation, and practice.
Preparing for an interview involves evaluating yourself and researching the opportunity. First, it is important that you identify the key skills, attributes, and experiences that make you the best candidate for the job.
- Review your resume and cover letter– As simple as it sounds, it is amazing how frequently employers complain about students' inability to articulate experiences listed on their resumes. The inability to address in detail even one small item from your resume can lead the employer to question your honesty with respect to your entire resume. However, it takes only a few moments for you to carefully review your resume and prepare short responses to potential questions about anything contained within.
- Develop a Marketing Strategy–Regardless of what questions the interviewer poses, the major question facing an interviewer is "why should I hire you?" It is important to answer this question throughout the course of the interview, even though it is unlikely that the question will be asked to you directly. Your answer to this question becomes your hidden agenda. It should contain all the important facts that will persuade a prospective employer to hire you.
- Practice–When preparing your responses, say them out loud, schedule a mock interview with a CDO counselor, and practice with a friend, relative, or even in front of a mirror. Do your answers illustrate your skills and abilities? Do they demonstrate your knowledge and intellect? Do they reflect your motivation and work ethic? Are you able to articulate concise, yet complete, answers? If you need assistance with answering any of these questions, see a CDO counselor.
- Research the Employer–There are a number of resources that provide detailed information about prospective employers, particularly with respect to large firms and government agencies. The following is a list of resources that may be helpful to you in preparing for your interviews:
- NALP Directory of Legal Employers (www.nalpdirectory.com)
- Martindale-Hubbell (www.martindale.com)
- Vault (www.vault.com)
- The Insider's Guide to Law Firms
- Firm/organizational profiles available on prospective employers' websites or through search engines like www.google.com, www.infirmation.com, www.greedyassociates.com, and various other blogs.
- Bloomberg Law
- Faculty and CDO counselors
- Students who have previously worked for the employer (visit the CDO to view surveys completed by students detailing past work experiences)
- Alumni at the firm/organization (search through the firm's website or Pepperdine's alumni database, accessible at https://alumni.pepperdine.edu/login-page?bm=-2043193323)
At appropriate points during your interview, you can make the employer aware that you have conducted research on the firm. For example, you can mention that you spoke to one of last year's summer associates or an associate/partner alum, and, that as a result of that conversation, you were excited to learn about the firm's training efforts, for example. Be certain to let the interviewer know that you took time to learn more about the firm beyond simply visiting the firm's website.
Also, you should review the interviewers' biographical information before your interview (usually available on the employer's website). Be familiar with where s/he went to school, any articles s/he published, any notable client representations, and his/her professional memberships. You should research similar facts about other prominent members of the firm or organization. Is there an interesting similarity or diversity in your backgrounds? Do you share something in common that you can discuss during your interview?
You should prepare questions for the interviewer (have at least six prepared) – questions which demonstrate your knowledge of and insight into the office and the position. The more nuanced and intelligent the questions you ask, the more points you will score with your interviewer. Avoid questions seeking information that can be easily accessed through basic research (i.e., information on the firm's website or NALP form, such as other office locations, number of attorneys in the firm, or practice areas); however, you should feel free to include some of these facts in your discussion to show you have done your research. Stay clear of questions (1) regarding compensation or (2) that might lead an employer to believe you do not have a strong work ethic (such as, "what is your vacation policy?") These questions are appropriate only after you receive an offer.
Below, you will find the CDO's list of sample questions that an interviewer might ask you and sample questions to ask an interviewer.
Sample Questions An Employer Might Ask You
The following list contains samples of the types of questions that an employer might ask you during an interview:
Why Our Firm/Organization? (Employers will look for genuine interest in the firm/organization and general knowledge about their practice.)
- Why did you decide to interview with us?
- What do you think distinguishes us from similar employers?
- What do you think it takes to be successful in a firm like ours?
- Why should we hire you?
- Why do you want to work here?
- What have you learned from the attorneys you spoke with here?
- What would you like to know about us?
- How do your interests and/or experiences translate to the mission/goals of our organization?
Job Seeking Considerations
- Do you have a geographical preference? Why?
- What ties do you have to this area? (especially when interviewing for non-local positions)
- Have you been offered a job by any other firm/organization? If so, which ones?
- Are you interviewing anywhere else? Which firms? Any other cities?
- Tell me about yourself; How would you describe yourself?
- What two or three accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction?
- What do you consider to be your greatest strengths? Weaknesses? Challenges?
- What qualities do you have that will make you a successful lawyer?
- In what type of work environment are you most comfortable?
- What do you feel is the most significant item on your resume?
- Tell me something about yourself that is not on your resume.
- What do you do outside of work?
- Tell me about a time where you faced a challenge and how you overcame it.
- Do you know what type of law you want to practice? Why?
- Why did you choose to pursue a career as a lawyer?
- What do you see yourself doing five or ten years from now?
- How would you describe the ideal position for you?
- What are two or three aspects about a job that are most important to you?
- Why did you decide to go to law school?
- Why did you select Pepperdine University School of Law?
- What courses have you enjoyed the most? Least? Why?
- Tell me about your grades. Where do you rank in your class?
- How has law school prepared you to work here?
- Describe your most rewarding law school experience.
- Tell me about your senior thesis from college.
- Describe your recent work experiences.
- What did you like or dislike about the experiences? Why did you leave?
- What skills have you developed as a result of your other jobs?
- How is your work experience relevant to our practice/mission?
- Tell me about a time where you disagreed with your boss and what happened.
- Sample Questions You Might Ask An Employer
When considering questions you may want to ask an employer, remember to consider your audience. Some questions are better for associates, while some are better for partners. Similarly, some questions are a better fit during a government or public interest organization interview, while other questions are specific to law firms. You also need to consider how your questions will differ based upon where you are in the interview process: screening interview questions tend to be more general in nature; call-back interview questions may probe deeper; and as noted above, certain questions are only appropriate after you receive an offer.
The following list contains samples of the types of questions that you might ask an employer during a screening or call-back interview, or after you receive an offer (remember to be sensitive to the appropriate timing of your questions):
General Character of the Firm or Organization
- How would you describe the office culture of the firm/organization?
- What makes the office unique? What are some of its special qualities or traditions?
- How would you characterize its strengths and weaknesses?
- How do you think the firm/organization, or your department, will change in the next few years?
- What is the firm/organization looking for in an ideal associate/employee?
- How many partners started with the firm as associates?
- In which bar association, diversity, or pro-bono activities are members of the firm involved?
- How much emphasis is placed on bringing in new business?
- How does the firm support participation of members in: Continuing legal education? Pro bono cases? [Asking about pro bono work is best reserved for large law firm interviews]
- What practice areas have expanded in recent years? [This is an example of a question for partners]
- Is there a mentor program at your firm?
- On what basis is partnership determined?
- To what extent are new associates involved in training programs?
- What criteria does the firm use in admitting associates to the partnership?
- What does partnership entail in terms of compensation, legal and financial responsibilities, monetary contribution to the firm, and work load? [It is recommended that you only discuss these issues if you are a senior associate or are being brought into the firm with the understanding that you will be making partner shortly]
- What happens to associates who are not admitted to the partnership? Does the firm have career opportunities for associates that it does not admit to the partnership? If there are no opportunities within the firm, does it help place associates in other jobs? [It is recommended that you only ask this type of question after you receive an offer]
- What are some typical projects done by summer associates/law clerks?
- Are offers made by individual practice groups or from the firm in general?
- Does your organization/firm allow students to split their summers (with another firm/with a public interest organization)? [You should generally only ask this after you've received an offer or if you already know they support split summers]
- Are summer associates/law clerks exposed to a variety of practice areas or are they assigned to one practice/attorney?
- What is the decision-making process and when might I expect to hear back?
- How is the work assigned/supervised/evaluated?
- What types of associates/clerks succeed at your firm/organization and why?
- What are the criteria for advancement?
- What women/diversity-specific programs does your organization/firm have in place and for how long have they been in place?
- Does your organization/firm have a women/diversity network or affinity group?
- Does your organization/firm have programs that address key issues about retention and advancement (i.e., how to be a successful summer associate, associate, junior, mid-level, senior associate, how to start building networks, etc.)?
- Why did you decide to join this firm/organization?
- What is a typical day like for you? [Directed towards a junior associate]
- How do you delegate work to associates? [Directed towards a senior associate or partner]
- What is the most interesting matter/case/transaction you have worked on at the firm/organization?
- What was your background before joining the firm/organization? [Only ask if this information is not readily available through public resources]
- What do you like most about the firm/organization? About practicing law? What are some challenges you have encountered?
- What opportunities for advancement are there in this agency?
- How is work distributed among different attorneys?
- What kind of mentoring/training is available?
- Is the in-house legal staff departmentalized or does each attorney handle all types of issues?
- Do attorneys on staff consult on business issues in addition to legal issues?
- How often and for what matters does the corporation use outside counsel?
- What is the office's role with respect to managing or coordinating outside counsel?
- What kind of mentoring/training is available?
Public Interest Groups
- Will there be opportunities to work with clients directly and how often?
- How much staff turnover has the organization experienced?
- At the moment, what do you feel to be the greatest barrier to achieving the organization's aim and how can a fresh attorney help overcome this barrier?
- Have you felt that the economic downturn impacted your organization?
- Inappropriate Questions – Non-Discrimination Policy
Pepperdine University School of Law and the CDO are committed to a policy of equal opportunity employment. All employers receive a copy of our non-discrimination statement and are expected to conduct interviews and make hiring decisions in compliance with law school policy and applicable federal, state, and local laws. Nevertheless, students may encounter questions in the interview process that are illegal, inappropriate, or insensitive. Many students express confusion about what constitutes an illegal or discriminatory interview question. In accordance with EEOC and many state and local rulings, interviewers should refrain from asking:
- Original name or maiden name (may reveal race, ethnicity, religion, citizenship, or national origin)
- Citizenship or citizenship of relatives (although information about an employee's citizenship is required to be collected by employers at the time an employee starts work pursuant to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, this information should not be requested during the pre-hire stage; however, an employer may advise an interviewee that the information will be required once employment commences)
- National origin
- Religious background
- Holidays observed (may reveal religion, political views, etc.)
- Languages written, spoken, or read (may reveal ethnicity, national origin, race, or religion), unless an employer is seeking employees with expertise in a particular language or unless you have highlighted such language skills in your application
- Membership in organizations: clubs, churches, lodges, fraternities (may reveal race, ethnicity, religion, national origin)
- Age or gender related questions
- Marital status or questions about children
- Health/disabilities related questions
- Arrest record
- Type of military discharge
- Credit standing (particularly offensive to minority candidates as it reveals an unwarranted assumption about their socio-economic backgrounds)
- Ways to Respond to Inappropriate Questions
Handling a situation in which an insensitive or discriminatory question is asked can be difficult. A student's response will be affected by many variables including whether s/he still wants to be considered for the job and whether s/he immediately recognizes that the question is illegal. Regardless of your response, please discuss the question as soon as possible with a CDO counselor.
Possible "on the spot" responses to inappropriate questions may include:
- Politely refusing to answer
- Responding to the question by saying, "I am sorry, I am not sure I understand your question. Are you asking me…[rephrase to a more appropriate question]…?"
- Choosing to determine and address the potentially legitimate concern that may lie behind the question and ignoring the improper question itself. You might do this by noting "I think what you are asking is ..." and then go on to provide the information you would like the interviewer to have.
- Sample Questions and Answers
Marital Status and Childcare Issues
Do you have plans for having children/family?
Response: "I am not quite sure what the future holds, but I can assure you that whether or not I have children, it will not have an impact on my work ethic or commitment."
Are you single?
Response: "I am/I am not, but I can assure you that my relationship status will have no impact on my work ethic or commitment."
What are your marriage plans?
Response: "If you are concerned with my ability to travel or my commitment to my employer, I can assure you that I am aware of and prepared to fulfill the job's responsibilities and commitments."
What will happen if you or your spouse gets transferred or needs to relocate?
Response: "My spouse's career will not interfere with my career." "We would discuss any transfers or relocations at the time they arise. At present, and for the foreseeable future, our jobs (school, etc.) are where we wish to live."
Who will take care of your children while you are at work?
Response: "I have made arrangements so that my children are appropriately cared for outside of work."
How would you feel about working for a woman?
Response: "There would be no problem. I have effectively worked with men and women while in school/during previous job experiences/etc."
How old are you?
Response: "I believe I have the skills, competence, and experience to fulfill the requirements of this position regardless of my age."
How would you feel working for a person younger than you?
Response: "Age does not interfere with my ability to get along with others. I am adaptable and would respect supervisors of all ages."
Where were you born?
Response (only if you feel they are asking for inappropriate reasons, rather than just making conversation): "I am a permanent resident of the U.S. and have legal permission to work here."
As a physically challenged person, what help are you going to need in order to do
Response: "Actually I do not need help doing my work because I have been adequately trained to perform a job despite my disability. (If necessaryà) At some point, we may/will need to discuss some physical accommodations for my work station ..." or "The adaptations I have made for my physical limitations have only strengthened my motivation and commitment to practice law. I hope you as an employer would be willing to make the following accommodations ..."
Do you hold any religious beliefs that would prevent you from working certain days
of the week?
Response: "I work very hard and will fulfill my responsibilities regardless of my religious beliefs; I am prepared to discuss any specific requests you may have after you decide whether or not I am the person you wish to hire for this position."
Race or Ethnicity
Do you feel that your race/ethnicity will interfere with your job performance?
Response: "I have had extensive experience working with people of all types of backgrounds. A person's race or ethnicity, whatever it may be, will in no way interfere with my job performance."