4-part year-round interview prep plan

Many law students operate under the misapprehension that the interview “season” is limited to fall interviews and the judicial clerkship sprint. In real (not law school) life, interviews carry on throughout the year and throughout life. Preparation and practice should never stop.

With a 4-step-year-round plan, you will always be prepared.

1.   KNOW WHERE AND WHEN TO INTERVIEW

Where are they? Interviews may be held in organized programs (the dreaded OCI), sourced from school-based  job postings, arranged from referrals through friends and colleagues, and set up from items trolled from trusted internet resources. An interview might be conducted at school, in a hotel suite, in an employer’s office, at a happy hour or dinner party, at an airport, or in a coffee shop. Interviews may be in your city or town, in your target city or over the phone or by Skype. 

When are they?  At some schools, “fall” interviews start in mid-July and end in mid-September, at others they continue throughout the fall at the employer’s convenience. Other school-year interviews may be arranged without regard to your exam schedule, social life or other obligations. After graduation? Interviews can be held anytime and anywhere.

2.  PRACTICE. PRACTICE. PRACTICE.  If you believe that the best way to succeed in a professional interview is to wing it, you are delusional. Just as a hitting a home run or a nailing Double Axel on your first try is beyond unlikely, interviewing is a skill that needs to be parsed, practiced, and respected.  Without your practice, interviews are a waste of everyone’s time.

Practice answering interview questions.  Enlist friends, family, and career services professionals as coaches and ask them to quiz you. Give them a list of tough (not necessarily ridiculously tough) questions, and then answer each one out loud. Make them critique your handshake, posture, and eye contact. Encourage them to critique your language and speech patterns. Too much “umm-ing” is distracting, and “I’m like” and “sort of” undercut the power of your speech.  

Suit up. Wear your interview suit for some of the practice interviews. Do you look and feel comfortable? Is the skirt too short? Is your tie well-tied? Are your shoes shined? Ask to be critiqued for fidgeting, pen-clicking, and finger-tapping.

Understand Behavioral Questions.  Until the early 2000s, most interview questions were resume-based. “How did you pick your major?” “Why did you select this law school?” “What’s your favorite class in law school?” Winging those deceptively simple questions was always dicey because candidates never knew what “they” might have looked for beyond grades,  and untrained interviewers’ evaluations could be both subjective and inexplicable.

Interviewers today are likely to ask behavioral questions, which often begin as “tell me about a time when…” or “give me an example of” and they are seeking clues about problem-solving and leadership. When interviewers are well-trained and systematically debriefed, candidates’ answers can help to predict future performance when matched with employers’ markers for success. Behavioral interviews  are frustrating for candidates, because there is never a “right” answer. The best prep is to come ready with meaningful specific information about two or three activities in which you have overcome obstacles or shown initiative or leadership.

3. RESEARCH INDUSTRY ISSUES 

  •  Do you understand the work required in the job for which you are applying? Yes, law clerks do “research and writing,” but what does that mean? How do you start? What tools would you use? When can you know if you are finished?
  • What is your prospective employer’s primary work-product problem? Being alert to this can make you a star.
  • What kinds of clients or industries does your prospective employer serve? What are the primary issues that these clients present? 
An employment interview is neither the time nor the place to ask these questions. If you conduct systematic and strategic  networking and information gathering, you will be able to craft smart questions based on what you have learned. You will show that you have taken initiative, that you care, and that you are prepared.

4. REVIEW ALL DOCUMENTS

  • Are you prepared to speak for 1 minute about every item on your resume?
  • Have you read your writing sample in the last 36 hours? Are you prepared to discuss it?
  • If your writing sample is other than a 1L brief, are you prepared to explain why you selected the topic?
  • Have you scrubbed your electronic persona of things you would not like to see at NYTimes.com or abovethelaw.com?

Quick ways to damage your prospects are “I joined the group and went to two meetings,” “I don’t remember much about my writing sample,” and “Those are pictures from a really fun party.”

BOTTOM LINE: BE PREPARED. 

Going to Work: 2 toxic resume space-wasters

With resume real estate limited, why waste it with either of these pointless and potentially toxic sections?

RESUME OBJECTIVE
In addition to taking up space, Resume Objectives present three problems:
  1. Obviousness 1. The purpose of presenting a resume to an employer is to secure a job. Whatever language that might be shoe-horned into an objective has career-ending Pompous Potential (see #3), however, if well-edited, its essence might become part of a cover letter.
  2. Obviousness 2. The only real objective is a day’s pay for a day’s work. Everything else gilds the lily.
  3. Pompous Potential. The language in an objective can be a pompous, obscure, and contradictory set of sentences or sentence fragments.  Consider this real example and be glad that it isn't yours:  
My background has cultivated an aptitude to articulate solutions and reasoning in a concise and discernible format.  I am searching for opportunities, outside the jurisprudential sphere, which demand these skills, preferably in a public relational context.
REFERENCES AND WRITING SAMPLES AVAILABLE ON REQUEST
In addition to taking up valuable resume space, a candidate’s polite offer to provide these materials and information is silly. If an employer asks for either and a candidate declines to provide them, no offer will be extended. End of employment story.

Transition to Law School: Unsettling then and now

From a LinkedIn thread about the transition to law school and how it might be different from the past...On my first visit to the University of Baltimore Law Library in 1980, I said out loud "All these books look alike." Although they will spend much of their legal lives online, the all-alike books continue to create a strange and unsettling new space for incoming students.

Some other unsettling factors:
1.  WELCOME!  With the USNews-driven admissions programs, students are welcomed with much more enthusiasm and design than they were in 1980. What hasn't changed, though, is that we say "welcome," and proceed to speak in a new language and not share the dictionary.

2.  LAW TEACHING.  Even in a well-done Socratic-method class, students are must do what most have never been asked to do: identify important facts, analyze, synthesize, and draw conclusions in IRAC form. This switch in consumption style is critical and often not easily understood. Beginning in elementary school, they had been presented with coursework that took history from one year to the next, directed English majors to read a book or a poem, and set Chem majors to memorize molecules and their moving parts. Exams most often required memorization and recitation, as opposed to synthesis. Before law school (and in the rest of the world), they had also operated on the primacy of facts (corn costs $1/ear) or the importance of results (I sold 40 cars in July). Facts are not so important in first year, and there is rarely a straight line through the analysis in caselaw. It's no wonder law students are unsettled.

3.   LAW SCHOOL EXAMS.   After spending 12 or more years mastering quizzes, tests, regular reviews, and often an "A" on every paper, the ultimate high-stakes single test regimen is frightening. When a classroom participation component is included in evaluations -- the single most unsettling daily possibility for most 1Ls -- no one should be surprised that students have elevated levels of concern.

4.  SMARTEST KID IN THE CLASS.   Many law schools are comprised of lifetime "smartest kids." Whether or not they know Highlander, where there can “be only one,” they are unsettled because there can be only one Number One in The Class, and it might not be who they think it ought to be. To monitor their students’ mental health and stability, law schools now need uber-competent student services professionals linked with faculty who pay close attention to their students' performance and behavior, and a strong link to career services professionals who have yet another perspective to share, and often provide a final safety net.

5.  STUDENT DEBT.   When I borrowed a total of 15K for three years of law school, it was possible to get a job that would pay off my debt. The highest paying jobs are in short supply today, and students’ expectations for their immediate futures are dashed daily. Today’s law students require good guidance whose support begins with a Dean who understands that career paths are made by hard work and not by magical thinking, with counseling that demonstrates students’ responsibility for learning and exercising timely job search skills, and aggressive connection-development through alumni networks.

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE? Students, deans, faculty, well-funded student services, career services, and alumni relations professionals share responsibility for making law school a place to learn, to experiment, and to grow. The primary actor, though, is the student for whom law school may always be a strange, unnerving, high-stress endeavor, especially for someone who is  unprepared for the pressure or for the outcome.