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by Vault Law Editors | March 10, 2009

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The interview might seem like an ordeal in which you have no power. After all, the interviewer is the one who asks the questions -- he's in charge of what's going to happen, right?

That's only partly true. If you've done your preparation, you have some things you want to emphasize about yourself. You should never let an interviewer go without knowing your strengths. This doesn't mean that you blurt them out at the end. Think of the interview as more of a conversation. Let the interviewer lead with his questions, but find a way to be yourself as well.

The initial interview will be brief, especially if it's a campus interview. Here are some tips for approaching the interview:

  • Be early. Getting there early will allow you a moment or two to compose yourself. You don't want to seem out of breath and you'll get a chance to review some of the things you've prepared. Do not be late. "Lateness is unforgivable in most cases," warns one interviewer. If you think one interview is going to make you late for the other, try to work something out with either the interviewer or the recruiting coordinator at your school. This is the only acceptable reason to be late since, given the number of students who interview on-campus, it may not be possible to reschedule.
  • Answer the interviewer's questions. Always. Never brush over something that the interviewer seems interested in. If he wants to know about your experience as an extra on Law & Order, talk with him about it, whether you think it's relevant or not.
  • Listen. When the interviewer is speaking, really listen to his questions or concerns. This sounds simplistic, but often when we're nervous, we tune out the other person's words because we're so busy preparing our next answer! "I want a student who can stay focused on the issues, and I notice when they don't answer my questions," says one litigator involved in the hiring process. In fact, it's good to get this skill down now. Anyone -- especially clients and judges -- can be offended when they feel they're not being listened to.
  • Ask questions. If you've prepared well, you should already have questions about the firm. If you've been doing your homework, you might even have some questions for this particular interviewer. You can also ask for explanations of subjects you don't understand. Don't fumble your way blindly if you're confused by the interviewer's question. "Questions show involvement," notes one attorney. The interview isn't only a time for the firm to get to know you, but also for you to get to know the firm. Do you really want to make an uninformed decision?
  • Emphasize your strengths. This is very important. It's rare that you won't have an opportunity to speak about your interests and accomplishments. Be alert to any chance the interviewer gives you to speak freely. You should have something to say, whether it's a story, an anecdote or a quality you'd like to emphasize.
  • Be human. This sounds ridiculous, right? But interviewers make their decisions based on more than your resume. You want to be the kind of person with whom they'd like to work. Even though the interviewer won't be making the hiring decisions alone, she will be the one to recommend, and maybe even fight for, you. Share some of your interests or show a sense of humor. You can even reveal some personal information about where you're from -- briefly. You don't want to get carried away by this tactic, but at the very least, try to be relaxed. According to one interviewer, "I make allowances for nervousness, but I do look at the student and think, Would I enjoy working with this person?'" Remember, the interviewer is human, too!

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