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Interviewing

The Office of Career Services provides resources to help you navigate many different types of interviews.

Below you will find information regarding interview preparation, questions asked by interviewers, questions to ask the interviewer, inappropriate interview questions, informational interviewing and networking, phone interviews, out-of-town interviews, second interviews, salary and benefits, post-interview etiquette and accepting an offer.

Interview Preparation

Good preparation is absolutely necessary for a successful interview. The impression you make in the first 30 seconds is critical.

Make a good first impression through your demeanor and build good rapport by:

  • Projecting confidence
  • Being enthusiastic and energetic
  • Using a firm handshake
  • Maintaining eye contact while listening attentively and responding to questions being asked
  • Avoiding phrases such as "you know," "like" and "um"
  • Not exaggerating or contradicting yourself. Never speaking negatively about a former employer
  • One of the most important aspects of good interview preparation is to learn as much as possible about the employer and the individual with whom you are interviewing.

Good research tools are:

  • The employer's web site
  • Martindale-HubbellTM listings, NALP Directory of Legal Employers, LexisTM, WestlawTM and other internet search engines.
  • The Office of Career Services: printed resources and personal knowledge of the firms and organizations.
  • Consult law students, alumni and personal contacts who work or have worked for the potential employer.

In any interview setting, be prepared to discuss the following:

  • Your resume, transcript and writing sample(s); have multiple copies of each with you at the interview.
  • Your strengths and weaknesses, your career goals, why you decided to attend law school and your major accomplishments.
  • Two to three things that are important to you in a job and why you are interested in the specific firm or type of law that the firm practices.
  • Courses you have taken in law school, why you liked or disliked them, how those courses led to your interest in the firm, your participation in journals or organizations, and why you are prepared to work at the firm.
  • The relevance of your previous work experience or, if your previous work experience is not relative, how /why you've changed careers; what skills are transferable from previous work experience.
  • Your appearance in an interview is important. It should be conservative, professional and not distracting. Being comfortable and confident in your appearance is of paramount importance.

General guidelines to follow:

  • White shirts are preferred for men.
  • Skirts are preferred for women, but professional pants suits are acceptable. If wearing a skirt, women should ensure that the skirt is an appropriate length for sitting.
  • Make sure that shoes are polished and accessories are kept to a minimum.
  • If you have long hair, make sure that it is neat, or pull it back.

Additional Interview Tips:

  • Plan to arrive 5 to 10 minutes early for your interview. Arriving more than 10 minutes early can be awkward. Never arrive late to an interview. If you arrive late, have a good excuse and communicate it to your interviewers immediately.
  • Do not to interrupt the interviewer when he or she is talking
  • Make sure you are thinking about your responses and answering the questions asked.
  • Schedule a mock interview with Career Services to identify negative mannerisms of which you may not be aware, to hone your interviewing skills and to build your confidence.
Questions Commonly Asked by Interviewers

In any interview, be prepared to go into deep detail about what is contained in your resume, cover letter, transcript, references and writing sample. Anything submitted in the application process, as well as the answers you give in the course of your interview, may be discussed - especially be prepared to answer questions about your personal background, career objectives, educational background and work experience.

In addition, you should be prepared to answer variations of the standard, basic interview questions, such as these:

  1. Tell me something about yourself.
  2. What are your strengths/weaknesses?
  3. What has been your favorite class in law school? Why?
  4. What has been your least favorite class in law school? Why?
  5. What made you decide to attend law school?
  6. Why Saint Louis University School of Law?
  7. Where do you see yourself in 5/10/15 years?
  8. How have you changed in the last 5 years?
  9. What attracted you to us as an employer?
  10. What do you know about this firm/organization?
  11. What do you think of our web site?
  12. Why did you apply for this position?
  13. What areas of the law are you interested in?
  14. Are you committed to this particular geographic area?
  15. How would your friends/classmates describe you?
  16. How would you describe yourself?
  17. How would you approach this job?
  18. What motivates you?
  19. How do you cope without motivation?
  20. What do you think you can bring to this position?
  21. Tell me about your writing skills.
  22. Describe your best writing.
  23. Tell me about your college experience/activities.
  24. What has been your most valuable work experience? Why?
  25. What is your G.P.A./class rank?
  26. What do you attribute your academic success to?
  27. Why have you not been more successful with your grades?
  28. What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
  29. What do you consider to be your biggest disappointment/failure?
  30. What do you like to do in your spare time?
  31. What things are most important to you in a job?
  32. Why should we hire you?
  33. What would you look forward to most in this job?
  34. In your view, what are the major problems/opportunities facing the legal industry?
  35. Have you ever attended a court hearing?
  36. Are you willing to work after-hours if necessary?
  37. What sort of advocacy experience do you have?
  38. Tell me about your volunteer work.
  39. Are you a social person? Tell me about your work/life balance.
  40. Tell me about a time that you experienced failure.
  41. Tell me about your leadership experience.
  42. Describe a time that you had to juggle several priority projects.
  43. Tell me about a time that you made a mistake.
  44. Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
  45. Give me an example of a time you had to make a split second decision.
  46. Tell me about a recent situation in which you had to deal with a very upset client or co-worker.
  47. Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.
  48. Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.
  49. Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem.
  50. Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.
  51. Tell me about a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision.
  52. What questions do you have for us?
Questions to Ask the Interviewer

Asking your interviewer good questions during the interview is absolutely necessary. Asking questions shows that you have researched the employer, and it demonstrates your genuine interest in the organization and the position. Different types of questions are appropriate at different phases of the interview process. If appropriate, you may ask questions during the course of your interview. You don't need to save all questions until the end. Interviews are more successful if they are more conversational. However, be sure to have a few of these questions prepared for the time when the interviewer asks "Do you have any questions?"

Some examples of good questions to ask your interviewer include:

  1. What does your firm look for in a candidate?
  2. How are decisions made regarding work assignments?
  3. What is the attorney/summer clerk evaluation process?
  4. Are summer associates ever made permanent offers?
  5. What are some of the qualities of your most successful summer associates?
  6. To whom will I report?
  7. How would you describe the "personality/culture" of this organization?
  8. I was impressed with the list of your firm's clients. Does a single client or industry dominate the firm's work?
  9. In what ways do you anticipate your business growing?
  10. In which departments do you anticipate the greatest growth during the next 5/10 years?
  11. What are your expectations regarding associates developing business for the firm?
  12. What types of outside activities do attorneys participate in on behalf of the firm?
  13. When will I begin to have client contact?
  14. What kinds of activities are considered "billable"? Recruitment? Bar associations? Is pro bono work counted in the billable hour target?
  15. Do most associates achieve their billable hour target? Do most associates exceed that target?
  16. After the initial minimum salary, are increases standard for all associates or is there an "award" system? If there is such a system, on what basis is the "award" made and by whom?
  17. What is the overall atmosphere of the firm? What are the firm activities? Do most people attend?
  18. If the firm has new areas of practice, how did those areas get started?
  19. What is special about this firm?
  20. What are the advantages to working for a firm this size?
  21. Describe the summer program, organized social events, how many 1Ls and 2Ls, official rotation.
  22. I see that your firm/organization uses a rotation program to train new associates. How is a permanent departmental assignment made?
  23. How are projects assigned, are the interests of the summer associate taken into account, is the summer program run by one person or more?
  24. What activities are firm members involved in that are not law related?
  25. For what reasons were summer clerks not extended offers?
  26. Why did you (the interviewer) choose this employer/city/practice area?
  27. Ask a young associate who participated in the summer program how many people he/she met over the summer.
  28. Ask a more senior member of the firm how many of the summer associates he/she met over the summer.
  29. What attributes do you see among the most successful lawyers of your firm/organization?
  30. As an attorney with your firm for 10 years, what are the most dramatic changes you have seen during your tenure?
  31. What training do summer associates receive during the summer program?
  32. Can I participate in pro bono activities over the summer?
  33. Does the firm have a training/rotation/mentoring program for new attorneys?
  34. What does the interviewer like about the firm, the practice of law or life in the city?

The following are examples of questions and topics that you should not broach:

  • Information you can or should be able to easily obtain from your research of the firm's Web site and/or other readily available material.
  • Generic questions about the summer program, practice areas, etc., as they reflect poorly on your preparedness.
  • Questions about benefits and compensation (How much money will I make?). Wait until you receive an offer before you ask, or find the answers from the firm's Web site or through other resources.
  • Questions about work/life balance for associates. Work/life balance is a benefit the firm may advertise, but it's a topic for them to address.
  • Questions that shed the firm in a negative light or questions that may put the firm on the defensive. Avoid asking why the firm does not compare to other firms in terms of pro bono, minority partners, etc.
Inappropriate Interview Questions

If you believe that an interviewer asked inappropriate questions not related to your ability to do the job in your interview, please notify the Office of Career Services. Your concerns will remain confidential. We want to ensure that the interview process complies with state and federal law and law school policy, but we must be made aware of issues in order to address them with employers.

Saint Louis University School of Law has a policy of Equal Opportunity that we ask all employers interviewing on campus to sign. An exception to this policy exists for military recruiters in response to the Solomon Amendment. This exception does not represent a change in the equal opportunity policies of the School of Law or the Association of American Law Schools.

Certain questions related to race, color, gender, age, economic status, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or veteran status should not be asked by an employer and used as a basis for making a hiring decision.

Some examples of these questions are:

  • What is your national origin?
  • How old are you?
  • When is your birthday?
  • In what year were you born?
  • In what year did you graduate from college/high school?
  • Are you married?
  • Do you have a permanent partner?
  • With whom do you live?
  • How many children do you have?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • Do you expect to have a family?
  • What are your child care arrangements?
  • How tall are you? How much do you weigh? (Questions about height and weight are always illegal unless it can be proven that there are minimum requirements to do the job.)
  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • Have you had any recent illness or operations?
  • Please complete this medical questionnaire.
  • What was the date of your last physical exam?
  • How's your family's health?
  • When did you lose your eyesight/ leg/ hearing/ etc.?
  • Where were you/your parents born?
  • What is your native language?
  • What is your country of citizenship?
  • Are you a U.S. citizen? (Unless it is a requirement for the job.)
  • What clubs or social organizations do you belong to?
  • Do you go to church?
The Telephone Interview

Employers use telephone interviews as a way of identifying and recruiting candidates for employment. Phone interviews are often used as a way to minimize the expenses involved in interviewing out-of-town candidates or even as a pre-screening for in-town firms and companies. It is important to be prepared for a phone interview on a moment's notice. You never know when a recruiter might call and ask if you have a few minutes to talk.

Pre-Interview
Think about your voice mail message. Is it professional? Is your name or phone number in the message so the caller knows they have reached the intended person? Return the call as soon as possible.
Do your homework on the company as you would for an in person interview. Prepare your questions.

Be Prepared
Prepare for a phone interview just as you would for a regular interview. Compile a list of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as a list of answers to typical interview questions.

  • Dress for the interview. Some even suggest dressing just as you would in a face-to-face interview as it will improve your confidence and poise.
  • Keep your resume in clear view, on top of your desk, or tape it to the wall near the phone, so it is at your fingertips when you need to answer questions.
  • Have a short list of your accomplishments available to review.
  • Have a pen and paper handy for note taking.
  • Take the call in a place where you will not be interrupted.
  • Clear the room - evict the kids and the pets. Turn off the stereo and the TV. Close the door.
  • If you use your cell phone, make sure you are some place where you have good cell reception -- the last thing you want is a "dropped call" during an important interview; make sure your cell phone is fully charged.
  • Remember to smile. Smiling will project a positive image to the listener and will change the tone of your voice.
  • Do not smoke, chew gum, eat, or drink.
  • Do keep a glass of water handy.

During the interview

  • Speak slowly and enunciate clearly.
  • Stand up. It gets your blood flowing, improves your posture, and improves your response time. Some people also feel like they think better on their feet.
  • Use the person's title (Mr. or Ms. and their last name). Only use a first name if they ask you to do so.
  • Do not interrupt the interviewer.
  • If there are multiple interviewers, try to keep track of who is asking the question. When one interviewer asks you a question, clarify who asked the question so you can direct your response to that person (see more tips regarding multiple interviewers below).
  • Practice with a friend - it is hard to know how your voice comes across on the phone. Are you a low-talker? Do you talk too fast? Is it easy to understand you?
  • Have questions prepared for the interviewer(s).
  • Take your time - it is perfectly acceptable to take a moment or two to collect your thoughts.
    Give short answers, but avoid "Yes" and "No" answers.
  • Compensation issues come at the end of the interviewing cycle, never at the telephone stage. You can truthfully say you don't know enough about the job to state a salary figure. And, of course, you would need a personal interview to really talk with the company. Which is another way to go for the personal interview. Re-affirm your qualifications, express your interest in the job and the company. Say you would appreciate the opportunity to talk about the job further - in person

Conclusion

At the end of the conversation be sure to thank the interviewer and ask what the next step is.
Follow up with a thank you note immediately.

Second Interviews

Second interviews are conducted after an initial interview or "screening". The employer has determined you may be a good fit and they would like to get to know you better. The second interview is typically longer than the first interview and it usually takes place at the organization's office. It may last several hours or an entire day. You will likely meet with several individuals to assess whether you meet the organization's needs and to determine if the employer is right for you. A lunch or dinner is often included to assess your social skills.

To prepare for a second interview:

  • Conduct comprehensive research on the employer and the attorneys/individuals who will interview you
  • Familiarize yourself with the employer's website and research the employer's cases/clients/work through Martindale HubbleTM, WestlawTM, LexisTM, google searches and search engines of the local newspaper(s)
  • Talk to friends, associates or alumni who work or have worked for the employer
    Prepare intelligent questions to ask the employer. See "Questions to Ask the Interviewer" on this site.

Tips for the second interview:

  • Scout the location of the employer and the parking at the office; bring money for parking, just in case.
  • Arrive at the employer's office about 5 to 10 minutes early; be courteous to the receptionist as he or she may have a say in the hiring decision
  • Bring extra copies of your resume, writing sample(s), transcript and references.
  • Ask each interviewer for his or her business card after you talk. During a break or after your interviews are complete make notes regarding the conversation to help you remember the interviewer and the content of your interview. This will help you draft original thank you notes and other correspondence.
  • You may be asked the same question by different individuals throughout the day. Do not assume that the person already knows the answer to your question because you answered it for someone else. Answer the question with as much enthusiasm as you did the first time it was asked.
  • Ask the interviewers questions. It is appropriate to ask the same questions to different people, as you may receive different responses to your questions.
  • You may be taken to lunch or dinner, which may be a more casual environment, but remember that the meal is part of the interview process. Your social skills and out-of-office behavior will be gauged during the meal.

The Large Firm Second Interview (Often referred to as "The Call-Back Interview")

If your second interview is at a large law firm, you will most likely initially meet the recruitment coordinator of the organization who is part of the interview process. After an initial introduction, you will meet with the attorneys who will interview you. You may meet them one at a time or you may meet several attorneys at once. Commonly, the recruitment coordinator will inform you of your call-back schedule/interviewer roster prior to your interview. Each interviewer will make his or her own assessment of you, so maintain your enthusiasm and interest in the firm throughout the process.

Out-of-Town Interviews

If an interview is located outside of your local area, you should discuss with the office manager, recruiting coordinator, or secretary, how the arrangements will be handled and who is going to be responsible for the costs. Some large firms will pay for your travel, accommodations and reasonable expenses. However, make sure you discuss this with the recruiting coordinator as to how the firm handles such matters. If you are traveling to a city for more than one interview, alert all the firms of this to give them the opportunity to split your travel costs between them. You should also contact other employers in the area that you are interested in to determine if you can arrange additional interviews. Small firms, government agencies and public interest employers generally do not pay for travel.

Thank You Notes and Interview Follow-Up

After your interview, send thank you notes promptly (preferably within 24 hours), expressing your gratitude for the opportunity to meet with the attorneys and your continuing interest in the position. Try to include something personal about each person, if possible. Make sure the note is concise, well composed and without errors. A plain handwritten note on note cards or a typed written note is acceptable. Email thank you notes are not preferred. However, depending on the firm culture, it may be appropriate. If you decide to email a thank you note, also follow up with a hand-written one. Send individual letters to all interviewers. If you have to send anything to the employer subsequent to your interview, enclose a well-written letter accompanying the materials you send. Additionally, send the requested materials to the firm as soon as possible after your interview.

It is appropriate to follow up with an employer one to two weeks after your interview to reiterate your interest in the position and ask about their timeline for hiring. The timing of this follow-up will depend on what the employer has told you about their timeline, of course. Following up more than once, or, in some cases twice, is generally not advised. You need to express interest and excitement about the position without pestering the employer.

Salary and Benefits

Some candidates make a mistake in discussing salary too early in the interview process. If an employer asks you for salary expectations during the initial interview phase and you are unable to answer the question, defer the question until later in the process. Or, you may respond that you expect the salary to be fair.

Before accepting an offer, have a clear understanding of what you will be doing and what the expectations will be. If you are unsure about whether to accept an offer, set up an appointment to see a young associate in the office after you have been given an offer and ask questions about the working environment and the expectations for billing hours. Seek information about the organization's working conditions through the Career Services Office, faculty, friends and classmates. The more realistic the picture of work conditions, the greater the chance you will be satisfied with your job choice.

Benefit provisions can have a significant impact on the entire compensation package. At the time of an offer (and not before), you will want to ask the entire range of questions about benefits. Some benefits may include:

  • Health, life, dental, disability and malpractice insurance for you and dependents
  • Sick leave
  • Vacation
  • Personal leave/personal days
  • Educational leave
  • Educational cost reimbursement for coursework
  • Maternity and/or parental leave
  • Health leave to care for dependents
  • Bonus system or profit-sharing
  • Stock options
  • Expense accounts for client entertaining
  • Dues to professional associations
  • Travel reimbursement
  • Fee sharing arrangements for clients the employee develops
  • Organizational memberships
  • Parking
  • Automobile allowance
  • Relocation costs
  • Professional conference costs/time to attend professional meetings
  • Time allowed for community service
  • Flexible work schedules
Accepting an Offer

After the employer makes an offer, you may want to ask the employer additional questions before accepting the offer. You may ask for more time to consider the offer and make your decision.

Some Additional Considerations Regarding Permanent Offers

  • Describe your compensation and benefits package.
  • How are raises and bonuses determined?
  • What is the percentage of the billing that associates retain for business that is brought in to the firm?
  • What is the partnership track? What financial investments are necessary when making partner?

Some Additional Considerations Regarding Summer/Temporary Offers

  • How much will the position pay? Are additional benefits included (e.g., parking)?
  • Will there be an opportunity to continue working during the school year?
  • How many hours a week are required? Will weekend or evening hours be required?
  • If you need to take time off during the summer, negotiate it at the time of acceptance. Most employers will be flexible if you are up-front about the needed time off.

Formal Acceptance of the Offer

  • An offer may be accepted by telephone, but also follow up with a letter formalizing the acceptance.
  • Clarify the starting date for a full-time position or the starting and ending dates for a summer position as well as salary, benefits, etc.
  • If you accept a position, terminate all other offers immediately by informing the potential employers of your acceptance of the position. This will help maintain a positive relationship with the other employers and will allow the opportunity to be offered to another student or attorney.
  • Do not accept more than one offer. Once you have accepted a position, follow through with your decision. Accepting more than one offer is unprofessional and likely to cause problems in the future. If you are feeling pressure about making a decision, ask the employer for more time to decide.