The Onion identifies critical deficiency in interview prep (and resources to overcome it)

When career services and recruiting professionals get together, their conversation will eventually turn to candidates and their interview skills -- or lack thereof.  After the stories about the law student who dropped his drawers to show off his Shamrock tattoo, and the young woman who interviewed at the heretofore unknown intersection of interviewing and scrapbooking, the laughter stops, and these professionals share their best advice for candidates, and for the counselors who must train them.

Read The Onion's assessment of the situation, which snarkily blames the unemployment rate on candidates' poor interview skills. After their laughter subsides, law students and lawyers are fortunate to be able to benefit from resources vetted by NALP.  My three favorites from the NALP bookstore are:

Guerilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams (2nd edition, 2008)  The second edition of this classic is still the best resource for law students because it contains all of the best advice that Kimm Walton could extract from law school career services professionals.  The chapters on interviewing are more than worth the cost of the book. 

An Insider's Guide to Interviewing: Insights from the Employer's Perspective (3rd edition, 2004)  While the focus is on large firms, the advice about understanding the employer and what it does, applies to anyone, anywhere,  in any interview.  Written from the employers' perspectives, it helps candidates begun to think about "what are they looking for?"
Maximize Your Lawyer Potential: Professionalism and Business Etiquette for Law Students and Lawyers (2009)  Author Amy McKim offers valuable, career saving advice that helps candidates look beyond the interview. Why is this important to candidates? Part of being a smart and sophisticated candidate is understanding the wide world of work as well as the intricate details of relationships and responsibilities that are the hallmarks of success.

Hiring a law clerk? Ask yourself these questions first (a post)

Ask yourself these questions and then, answer them.


Going to Work: "Travel" is not "Business Travel"

Mentioning that you love to travel to your seasoned-business-traveler-interviewer is one way to sound impossibly naive.  "Travel" is on your schedule, your own dime, and, within limits,  your own behavior and dress code. "Business travel" is on someone else's schedule, someone else's dime, and on someone else's behavior and dress code -- 24/7. Never confuse the two -- especially in an interview.

There may still be business cultures with unlimited budgets, but for most business travelers, this troubled economy is bounded by spending limits and security concerns. Business travel that once might have been moderately pleasant, takes more time than it should, has more technical details to follow (3 ounce liquids? baggage fee-or-free? where is the Wi-Fi?), and puts you into a potentially uncomfortable space that is definitely not your own bed.

In Suite Dreams, Bob Greene notes that hotels are trying extra-hard to make business travelers comfortable. Why? Because they know that today's business traveler isn't seeking party-time, but "a night of deep shuteye, with no distractions."

Tips for business travel:
1. Dress for the Road   Business travelers must show up on time and dressed appropriately.  If you are to go straight from the plane to an interview or a meeting, wear your suit, or carry something that can make you look professional in a pinch.  Showing up in jeans, even with the absolutely believable excuse that your luggage is in an undisclosed location, will distract from your candidacy or your business pitch.

2.  The Budget   Candidates should know the limits of the potential employer's budget.  Do not order champagne and oysters from room service, and do not call a limo when a cab will do. Business travelers who overspend their per diem must be prepared to pay the difference.

3.  Spending quantity/quality time in airports   Yes, your laptop and smart phone can make airport time into productive work time, but what if you don't want or need to work every minute? Bring a book, an emergency book, and an emergency back up (or get a Kindle.)  Artists: carry pencil and paint for small projects. (I travel with 100+ paint colors and a small watercolor block which fit into a make-up bag). Knitters and fiber artists should find out whether their needles will imperil national security.  Make time for yourself.

"What does it take to fail?" -- a "Going to Work" interview question

A cynic would "blah-blah-blah" through the boiler plate interview sections when the Interviewer lists the characteristics of a successful candidate (smart, energetic, entrepreneurial spirit, team player who can work independently, excellent writer and researcher), and the Candidate explains why he is exactly the person to fill the bill. 

Who, after all, would seek a candidate who is lazy, illiterate and generally incompetent and, who would admit to being such a loser?

Both sides are looking for information, something to round out the employer's web information which was prepared by a PR firm, and the candidate's resume which was edited by his career services office. Typical interview questions that explore the candidate's resume don't achieve anyone's real goals.  While a great many interviewers are trained to conduct behavioral interviews, how the answers are evaluated is anyone's guess.  All of this leaves the candidate with no more information than he gleaned from the website.

Candidates waste large chunks of  20-minute callbacks when they ask about how or why an interviewer joined the employer.  People who are chosen to interview have been vetted by the hiring committee.  They are not prone to blurting "Nothing bad has happened lately."  Fifteen years ago this was, indeed, the response of a very junior associate to the question "What's it like to work here as a woman,"  but such candor is beyond rare.

With time of the essence and no reason to review what he already knows, a Smart Candidate might ask "What does it take to fail here?" This leads the Interviewer to think about the people who either flamed out or drifted away, and those stories are often revealing.  The Smart Candidate can gain insight into the employer's culture that can't be found on a website.

Going to work: Networking should be purposeful -- not puzzling

Although networking is season-less, it should never be puzzling. If, when asked, you cannot provide a common interest or acquaintance in common, don’t be surprised if your attempts to connect fall flat.

Lacking telepathy, I remain at a loss to explain this conversation that I had with an Unknown Person who wanted to connect on Facebook with me. Yes, I know that I could have ignored her, but the Former Career Adviser in me wanted to be helpful...But what did she really want?

UNKNOWN PERSON:  [Facebook request]

ME: Can you tell me how we are connected? Thanks, Susan

UNKNOWN PERSON: Fb! Network Marketing.

ME: I need more info about how I might be helpful. I have three very distinct businesses: Pass the Baton (generation shift consulting), nanoscapes (abstract watercolor painting and design), and susan-cooks! (a modest cooking school and food blog). What's the connection?


ME: Dear [first name]:

Perhaps I'm not making myself clear, but I am coming from a quarter of a century of work in career services, much of which was spent advising law students about making the connections that are buzz-worded with the label "networking." I am trying to figure out what information or connections that I have that might be helpful to you.

Here is some of the advice that I offered to students and alumni:
1. Ask questions that people can answer. I would not be a great connection if you had interest in the construction industry.
2. Help people help you by sharing the information that helps them make connections or share useful information. Since I know nothing about you other than your goal of "networking," I don't yet see what I can do to be helpful to you.

Thank you.

UNKNOWN PERSON: Thank you for that information! You are an inspirational person!