This section briefly discusses the interview process across sectors, including law firms, public interest law, consulting firms and investment banks, and describes the unique aspects of telephone and video interviews. Students are encouraged to read Chapter 5 of the Introduction to Career Development Guide which provides extensive information on interviewing with different types of employers.
Additional CDO interviewing resources include:
- CDO program videos on interviewing (in Job Search Skills section)
- Conducting an Informational Interview
- Interviewing Tips (including attire advice)
- Inappropriate Interview Questions and How to Handle Them
- Sample Interview Questions
- Turning a Callback into an Offer
- TRI PI (Travel Reimbursement for Interviews in the Public Interest)
Law firm interviews are usually structured as a conversation, with your resume used as the tool to ask questions and learn your interest in the practice and your fit with the firm. Academic achievement is often important, although substantive legal questions are rarely asked.
A few law firms include situational-based “behavioral interviewing” questions which focus on your past performance and achievements. A typical question may be “tell me about a time when you needed to work under pressure.” General, vague, or hypothetical answers will not suffice; instead, provide specific examples of how you successfully dealt with a particular experience or assignment.
Law firm interviews are often a two-step process, with a screening interview followed by a callback interview. Screening interviews can be at the employer’s office or by telephone, but often take place during an interview program, such as the Fall Interview Program (FIP). During FIP, screening interviews are 25 minutes in length. If the screening interview is positive, the usual next step is to invite a candidate to the employer’s office for a callback interview.
During a callback interview, the employer is choosing to spend a substantial amount of time getting to know you better. Typical callback interviews last for half of a day, and involve you meeting individually with four or more attorneys. Most law firms will make the travel arrangements for candidates during the callback process and also reimburse reasonable travel expenses.
Students are encouraged to read Chapter 3 of the Law Firm Practice Guide, which includes a further discussion on interviewing with law firms.
Public Interest Law
Although some public interest employers participate in structured interview programs such as the Fall Interview Program (FIP), the Equal Justice Works Annual Conference and Career Fair, or the Public Interest Legal Career Fair for the most part interviews for summer positions with public interest organizations are usually less formal than those for permanent positions. Often interviews for summer position may involve only a brief telephone interview. In fact, some public interest employers hire summer interns on the basis of a resume and cover letter alone.
Public interest employers seek students with a commitment to service and the mission of their organizations. Many of the interview questions will be structured to gauge your commitment.
Some government employers, including district attorneys and public defenders, ask hypothetical questions to see how well you think on your feet. For example, interviewers at public defenders offices may ask: “If your client were charged with the crime of molesting small children, how would you react? Could you defend your client? If your client made it clear that he or she would commit perjury on the witness stand, would you let him or her testify?”
Other government employers, such as the Department of Justice, have unique interview processes that vary depending on the particular division or field office. Chapter 2 of the Public Interest Careers Guide includes further information on interviews, and CDO also has a handout on Sample Interview Questions.
Public interest employers typically are not able to reimburse for travel expenses to the interview. If you cannot afford to travel to an interview, don’t be discouraged but instead ask for a telephone interview. If you are a 2L or 3L, CDO’s Travel Reimbursement for Interviews in the Public Interest (TRI PI) program provides some reimbursement of interview expenses for 2Ls and 3Ls seeking public interest work.
Consulting interviews are a combination of behavioral and case interviews. The behavioral part is a typical interview with questions about you, your resume, and your accomplishments. The case part is meant to test your analytical, verbal and presentation skills. There are many resources for you to use in gearing up for consulting firm interviews, including several available in CDO’s Library. In addition, many of the large management consulting firms including McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company have interactive practice cases available on their websites.
For more information on preparing for a consulting interview, refer to Chapter 2 of the Lawyers in Business Guide.
Following their often aggressive work atmosphere, investment banks tend to use a hard sell approach in interviews. Interviewers will question you extensively about your analytical skills and interest in banking. In addition, specific topics that come up in these interviews include valuing a company, discounted cash flow, market multiples, financial rations, general accounting information, and stock analysis.
For tips on how to properly prepare for an investment banking interview, refer to Chapter 3 of the Lawyers in Business Guide.
Telephone & Video Interviews
Telephone interviews have become very common, particularly in the case of interviewing for summer employment in the public interest. In addition an increasing number of private sector employers have found telephone and video to be an effective use of time and financial resources.
For the substantive part of the interview, you should prepare just as you would for an in-person interview, with adequate research and practice. One added preparation piece for a phone or video interview that cannot be overstated is the importance of testing the technology ahead of time. With a video interview, be sure your voice and image comes through clearly on the screen and that you are comfortable with how you will appear on the employer’s side. With a phone interview, test your speaker phone if you intend to use it, and when possible use a land line phone to ensure a strong connection.
With video, you still have the benefit of seeing your interviewer, and although questions asked during a phone interview will be similar to those asked in-person, the dynamics of the interview do change when you are not able to see the interviewer. Therefore a few additional preparation tips should be kept in mind for phone interviews.
- Turn call-waiting off so your call isn't interrupted.
- Clear the room of other people and pets. Turn off the stereo, TV and close the door.
- Keep your resume in clear view, on the top of your desk, so it's at your fingertips when you need to answer questions.
- Don't eat or drink during the interview.
- Smile, as it will change the tone of your voice.
- Speak slowly and enunciate clearly.
- Don't interrupt the interviewer.
- Take your time - it's perfectly acceptable to take a moment or two to collect your thoughts.
- Give concise answers.