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by Vault Law Editors | March 10, 2009

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Interviews can be the most nerve-wracking experience in law school, especially if they're on campus. Suddenly you have exactly 10 minutes to set yourself apart from the other 20 candidates this interviewer is seeing that day. It's not easy, but, like most things, becoming a good interviewee is something you can learn.

Before the interview: Prepare

Handling any high-pressure situation is largely a matter of preparation. Even the most relaxed, laid-back law student can be blindsided by a question or an issue she didn't anticipate. If you're surprised at the interview you can become flustered. The whole process can snowball -- with each difficult moment you end up increasing your anxiety. To help reduce your stress level, consider these questions before each interview:

  • What do I want this interviewer to know about me? Namely, what are your strengths? Always refer to your resume for this; it's what employers see first anyway. Whether it's your grades or your community work or your summer at a law firm, be prepared to expand on your experience. "Someone told me to have a couple of anecdotes to tell," recalls one litigator. "Some story that shows off your strengths. It really works -- people remember that." Be as specific as possible; you want to set yourself apart from every law student who says something generic like "I'm good with people."
  • What are some of my weaknesses? Yes, interviewers still ask this corny question, so be prepared. If you didn't get top grades your first semester, be prepared to give a logical explanation for why you're still the best candidate around. Have your grades gone up? Did you have a personal tragedy? Your answers here should be brief and simple. Don't make excuses. Acknowledge your mistakes and try to find something positive about each one.
  • What do I know about this firm? When you're looking for a job, it can seem like you have nothing else on your mind. Sometimes you feel like you'd be grateful to get any offer. This is NOT the attitude you want to convey. With every interview, you must have some idea of whom you're interviewing with and what they're looking for. "I would never go into an interview without at least logging on the web site or asking other students who might have worked for them," advises one junior litigator. At the very least, you can do a little research about the firm's practice areas -- talk to other criminal lawyers, for example, if you're meeting with a criminal defense firm. Memorize a couple of salient facts about the firm or the practice area and be prepared to talk about them.
  • How much time do I have? You'll probably have a scheduled period of time and it won't be much. Prepare short, interesting answers and explanations. You can plan them down to the word, but be prepared to deviate from your format so you don't sound too memorized.
  • Do I seem confident? No interviewer is going to hire you if you don't act like you really believe you are the best candidate for the job. This does not mean arrogance. This simply means that when you talk about your strengths, you are persuasive. When you talk about your weaknesses and try to put a positive spin on them, you believe -- or act like you believe -- your answers. You can be confident in your abilities and humble at the same time; just present yourself as someone who's been lucky in her opportunities and always tried to do the best she can.

There are other, practical details you need to consider. Make sure you have a couple of good interview suits in black, gray or navy. The more conservative the firm, the more conservative your attire should be -- don't get carried away with fanciful fashion! This is another area where you should do the research. As surprising as it may be in the 21st century, some conservative firms still frown upon a woman in a pantsuit. Do you know if you're interviewing with one of those firms? Women should make sure they have a few spare pairs of pantyhose, and everyone should have a solid pair of interview shoes that have been nicely polished. "Job aren't handed out according what you wear, but it does tell the interviewer something about you," says one litigator who participated in on-campus interviews.

Once you've got the right look and the right preparation, you're ready to go to the interview. Still, there is one more thing you can do. It helps to go through some kind of dry run or dress rehearsal, and many schools offer a mock interview program in which you can go through a practice interview and see what issues you still need to work on.

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