Interviewing

Before an LL.M. will be offered a position with an American legal employer, he or she must pass through one or more rounds of interviews. There are basically two kinds of interviews: the screening interview (which typically occurs at a job fair or in the employer's office) and the "flyback" interview at an employer's office.

Screening interviews usually involve a 20-30 minute conversation with one or two interviewers. Flyback interviews usually are a series of interviews with several attorneys, which may last several hours and include lunch.

Interview Preparation

Part of your preparation should include learning to be an "active" interviewee. While a passive interviewer may provide sound responses to interviewers' questions, he or she lacks effective interview skills by failing to take charge of an interview, even if only briefly.

To "take charge" of an interview, you must first research the firm, its attorneys, and its clients. Not only should you read the firm's resume, but also newspapers and other legal publications for news about the firm's growth, legal victories, and other noteworthy events.

This research will allow you to prepare thoughtful questions that will make you stand out. Unique questions not only demonstrate your ability to interview, but also your positive commitment to and interest in the firm.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Interviewers will assess your questions and responses not only in terms of their informational content, but also in the manner in which they are asked and answered. Your sincerity, enthusiasm, candor, humor, precision, and style are among the many aspects that will affect the impression you make. Firms look for people with both sound academic and interpersonal skills.

Before you interview, you should carefully assess the positive qualities that you can offer. These may include your experience, connections, writing ability, or personality. If you cannot convince yourself that you have something to offer, it will be impossible to convince an interviewer. Some of you may believe that promoting yourself indicates a lack of humility. But Americans expect you to promote yourself and to persuade them that you would be a positive, persistent, and resourceful employee.

Further preparation for interviews include studying possible questions that may be asked and thinking about potential answers. (You do not need to memorize answers, nor should you deliver your answers as if they were rehearsed.) However, practice interviews are an excellent ideas. Duke will offer a number of practice interviews conducted by staff members, alumni and others. Take advantage of these opportunities.

In the interview, use tact to answer questions directly and honestly; your self-confidence says more about you than almost everything else. Never apologize for shortcomings; instead, anticipate confident responses to potentially uncomfortable questions. Interviews are also not the appropriate place to complain, because interviewers will assume your negative attitude will continue during your employment.

The Anatomy of an Interview

The first few minutes of the interview are very important because they set the tone of the interview and have a major impact on how the recruiter views the applicant.

When you go into the interview room, shake your interviewer's hand firmly, make good eye contact, and smile. You may remember the interviewer's name better if you respond when you shake hands by using his or her name, saying, "It is nice to meet you, Mr. (or Ms.) So-and-so." Do not use the interviewer's first name unless he or she instructs you to do so.

Sit down where the recruiter indicates and sit up attentively; slouching and sprawling are indicative of sloppiness. Place your hand on the arms of the chair or in your lap. Avoid playing with your hands, your watch or jewelry.

As a rule, you should not take notes during the interview. With only 20 minutes to make a positive impression, this time is better spent concentrating on the interviewer and his or her questions.

If you have a transcript or a writing sample, put them in a portfolio and bring them out when necessary. If you take a portfolio with you, set it on the floor next to your chair.

After you leave the interview, take a few moments to make some notes about the interview, your reaction to it, what was said, and your impression of the interviewer(s) and the firm. These notes will help prepare you if you are invited for a second visit.

Flyback Interviews

Interview Take Two!

U.S. firms usually will invite applicants who impress them during the first interview for further interviews at the law firm (a "flyback"). This second round of interviews may be a bit more relaxed than your initial interview, as you have already proven yourself with at least one of the firm's attorneys. Your flyback interview will likely involve a series of 20- to 30-minute interviews in individual attorneys' offices, perhaps followed by lunch with younger attorneys.

It is acceptable to phone the recruiting coordinator in advance so that you can learn the names of your interviewers and research their background and practice areas; these areas make excellent interview topics. You may also ask about interesting things in the interviewer's office, such as photographs, plaques, or college memorabilia.

Don't worry if you find that you ask more than one interviewer the same question throughout the day; it is acceptable to seek different perspectives on the same issue.

Remember that everyone who interacts with you at the firm may be assessing you and whether you will fit into the firm's "personality" as well. Be courteous to everyone you meet, from the senior partner, to the recruiting coordinator, to the receptionist.

Dress for Success

Before you go into an interview, remember that how you dress is important. Your attire should reflect your professionalism and contribute to your confidence level. Make sure your clothes are clean, neat and in good repair. Shoes should be shined and well-heeled. If you smoke, avoid smoking in your interview suit - the smell will linger during your interview!

You want to stand out because of your credentials, not your outfit. There are few exceptions to the surefire guidelines that follow:

Women

* Wear a suit in a dark neutral color: navy, black, grey. In the most conservative law firms, suits with skirts are best, but suits with pants are now acceptable at most firms.
* If you wear suit with a skirt, the skirt should be no shorter than two inches above your knee.
* Do not wear a low-cut blouse or tight, revealing clothing.
* Keep makeup understated.
* Keep nails trimmed and use only a clear or pale shade if your nails are polished.
* Jewelry should be at a minimum; wear simple, non-dangling earrings and a plain bracelet, if any.
Hair should be neat; if it is long, keep it controlled.
* Shoes should be plain pumps, 1-2 inch heel in good repair, in the same color as your suit; wear sheer hose in the same color as your suit or neutral tone.
* You may carry a small purse, briefcase, or portfolio.

Men

* Your suit should be a dark, neutral color, with or without a faint pinstripe; gray and navy are preferable.
* Your tie should match your suit - ask the sales associate if you have a question.
* Your tie should be conservative silk in a simple stripe or repeating pattern, and no more than 3 colors; the background color should be neutral, like navy or burgundy.
* Men should wear black or burgundy leather shoes, polished and un-worn heels; wing tip and plain lace up shoes are best.
* Socks should be over-the-calf and should match your pants - no white gym socks!
* White shirts are a safe bet.
* Your complete ensemble should be clean and pressed - especially your shirt.
* If your hair is long, trim it; if you have an earring, don't wear it; if you have a beard or mustache, trim it.

Thank-You Letters

As soon as possible after the interview, you should write thank-you letters to the interviewers. It may not be necessary to write everyone you spoke with during a fly-back interview, but do write to everyone with whom you had a meaningful conversation.

In writing thank-you letters, the goal is to confirm your interest in their firm and to elicit a response. Remind interviewers of some concrete fact about you that you want to highlight, or refer to some part of your conversation that will help them remember you.

The first paragraph should combine thanks with context. Polite openings are, "I enjoyed meeting you on [date]" or "Thank you for the interview I had with you on [date]."

In the second paragraph state your interest in working with the firm, give concrete reasons for your interest, and state why you would be good for the firm.

A third paragraph is optional. It might refer to some concrete or personal fact that you discussed that made a connection to the interviewer. It might also refer to enclosures you have been asked to send, such as transcript or writing sample.

The final paragraph should repeat thanks, offer to answer further questions, and indicate that you are awaiting a response.