Legal Interviewing: How to Impress the Firm

by Sheanna Morgan

You’ve been searching for weeks on every career site possible, and you’ve finally found the posting, the one that details exactly what you’re looking for. The interview process is crucial to landing any job, and you want to make sure you ace this one. Maybe you’re fresh out of college or you’re looking for a great change. You may have had fifteen professional job interviews in your lifetime or this may be your first. How do you make sure you’re putting your best foot forward?  To help you in this process, I’ve outlined the things I’ve learned at Gutwein Law on getting your resume noticed and making the best impression on your potential employer. This list is not all-inclusive, and you may think some are common sense – you may be right, but we all need refreshers sometimes, right? I know I do!

Application Materials:
The very first impression a hiring professional will have of you comes from your application materials. Starting with the cover letter, detail what makes you qualified for the position, and tell us why you want this job with our company. Your cover letter should be drafted for each position you apply for. And please, please be sure you attach the right cover letter. It is an almost instant rejection if we receive a cover letter intended for another law firm or company. For me, a good cover letter should take up at least two thirds of the page. If an applicant submits one that’s only a short paragraph or two, it seems thoughtless. (I’ve read recently that cover letters are becoming a thing of the past; before I came to the firm, I would have agreed. And maybe in other professions, they are. However, now that I’m on the other side of the hiring process, I couldn’t disagree more. The cover letter is doing more than just discussing your work history – we’re getting a sense of your character, what you think is important, and so many other things. Don’t disregard this step.)

When drafting your resume, keep in mind that the person reading it will see dozens, if not more, for this one position. Make it easy to read, without the frill. Stick to black text, and clearly outline your education and qualifications for the position. Be sure to include your contact information at the top. 

Before you submit your documents, have someone review them for not only grammar and spelling, but also layout and alignment. You don’t want to look sloppy or careless. This is an instance when you need to pay attention to all the details. Formatting errors stick out easily on resumes. Furthermore, to avoid formatting errors with different operating systems, make sure to PDF both your resume and cover letter.

Someone once told me that when you’re interviewing, you should always dress a level up from what you believe the standard dress code will be. If you’re interviewing at a law firm, please realize the standard will be a suit or equivalent, at least for your interview.

Also make sure you’ve got a decent handshake. I can’t think of a single interview that hasn’t started out with a handshake, and I promise you it can set the tone for how I see the interview going. A firm handshake makes me confident in the next thirty minutes I’m spending with you.

For starters, you need to prepare just like it’s any other meeting. Do your research. I always ask candidates what attracts them to Gutwein Law, and I expect them to be specific. Our website is overflowing with information about the firm – all it takes is a quick look around to see what we’re about.

An interview is where you should be selling yourself; it will be to your advantage to answer questions with more than one word. If you are asked how heavy your caseload is in your current position, don’t just give a number and stop there. Elaborate. When we ask you what your hobbies are, let your personality show. We truly want to get to know you. After an interview just last month, one of my fellow interviewers said, “I feel like we got to see the real her. It’s not often that happens. It was refreshing.” Showing your personality will be one more thing that sets you apart from other candidates.

Another of my standard questions is what you like about your current or last position. What aspects of your day-to-day make you excited to go to work? Are you the type of person who looks forward to research? Do you enjoy the days you spend hours doing discovery? What makes you love your profession? That’s what we want to know. Don’t say flexibility. This answer gives off the impression that you are most in love with the time you’re not at work. While we all prefer to be home with our families, employers are looking for passionate people. We want to hire someone who wants to do their job.

Do not be afraid to ask questions about the position or clarify points already discussed. We want you to have a clear understanding of the position and our firm. On the flipside, try not to make it feel like an interrogation. I’ve been in interviews where the candidate had more questions than we did, and some of them didn’t seem to be relevant at all.

Social Media:
In this day and age, it’s a pretty standard practice for an employer to check out potential employees, and that includes social media. Employers are going to search the web looking for you; we want to know who we’re hiring. This may happen before you come in for your first interview, so it could be the first impression you’re giving. If you’re looking for a professional job, keep in mind what you’re sending out into the world via the internet.

While ethical rules are still evolving around social media, in recent years it has been up for debate whether attorneys’ social media should be monitored and held to Professional Code of Conduct regulations by the Bar. Either way, it’s important to keep a clean online presence since the standard for lawyers is so high.

Follow-Up Note:
I welcome a nice thank-you email from candidates. Keep it simple, and send it out a day or two after your interview, not as soon as you get home. While we appreciate your excitement about the position, the purpose is to bring you to the front of the employer’s mind again. Give us some time to think about other things on our plate before you remind us why you are a great fit for this position.

Interviewing can be nerve-wracking and stressful, but hopefully this blog helps you feel more prepared. Start before you apply by drafting a great cover letter and resume (and don’t forget to employ your friends to review it!), research your prospective firm, and finish strong with your follow-up. So there it is – my tips to ace your interviews and land the job you want!

Are you currently in the market for a new job? Head over our careers page and see what’s currently open at the firm!


Sheanna Morgan is the Office Manager at Gutwein Law. She oversees the firm's office administration and human resources. 

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