Competition is fierce. Law firms interview hundreds of students for the coveted spots in their
summer associate classes. At the most basic level, firms often seek a similar candidate—a very
smart student who the firm believes will be a successful fit. So how do you get noticed? How do
you stand out? Pink scented resume paper worked for Elle Woods in the movie Legally Blonde,
but I would not recommend that tactic. There are, however, other effective ways to stand out
and get the offer. Here are ten ways to stand out during the interview process:
1. Proofread—and Then Proofread Again.
Your resume is the first impression you make at a firm. If there are typos, you won’t make it out of the gate. Same if you send a thank you note—be sure you read it carefully.
2. Know Thy Firm.
This sounds so simple and obvious, yet I cannot begin to tell you how many students are knocked out of consideration because they did not understand the size of the firm, the geographic locations of the firm's offices, or the firm’s practice areas.
3. Ask Thoughtful Questions.
Websites are great, and you should certainly look at a firm’s website before interviewing. But websites are not human beings. Human beings have experienced life at a firm and offer unique perspectives of firm culture, work assignments, and firm strategies. Please, please, don’t say you have no questions because you have done your research on the firm’s website. Make sure you have a list of thoughtful questions that will show that you care about learning more about the firm. As a bonus, the answers may help you decide if the firm is a good fit for you.
4. Always Be Engaged.
At Kramer Levin, we typically have four interviewers with two more junior and two more senior. As the Hiring Partner, I can assure you that we consider the evaluation prepared by each and every interviewer—and at times, the views of people who are not formally on an interview schedule. EVERYONE is evaluating you. Whether it is a legal recruiting staff member who greets you, someone’s assistant who walks you to the next interview (hopefully because that lawyer received an emergency call and therefore could not walk you his or herself), or the most junior person who interviews you or takes you to lunch, be respectful and engaged. It is so easy to see through the candidates who play up to the senior folks on the schedule and are disengaged with the more junior ones.
5. Be Positive.
Interviews are not times to complain. Imagine someone who hated their job and decided to leave to attend law school. That person should not spend their time talking about why he or she hated their last job. Instead, they should explain why he or she was excited for the new challenges presented in law school. An interview full of positive energy bodes much better for the interviewee.
6. Show Your Love for the Firm.
Explaining what sets you apart from other candidates is critically important, but make sure you do not forget to convey why you want to work at this law firm. One of my favorite questions to ask candidates is “Why Kramer Levin?” The students who can coherently and enthusiastically answer that question often rise to the top.
7. Connect with Your Interviewers.
If you are going to leave your friends and family to go to work every day, you want to enjoy the people around you. Relationships are important. Lawyers need to connect with their peers, their clients, and (for litigators) potential jurors. How can you connect in a 20/30-minute interview? Be an active listener. Don’t sit there thinking about what you are going to say next. Be in the moment. Listen to what the interviewer is asking or discussing, and be engaged in that conversation. The best connections are formed through natural conversations.
8. Show Your Smarts.
Lawyers tackle complicated issues daily. You need to prove that you are up for the challenge. Be ready to talk about a substantive matter that you enjoyed. If you have something on your resume, you must be prepared to discuss it intelligently. If you are writing a note and have just picked your topic, know enough to be able to explain your interest in the topic. The students who can most easily explain legal issues (without waiving privilege, of course) certainly stand out.
9. Be Heard on Important Matters.
Students often have something that they want to say or explain. Make sure you are heard. My last question to each interviewee is always the same: “Is there anything you want to tell me that you have not had an opportunity yet to say?” I often hear the most interesting things at that point in the interview. Some tell me how being captain of their college sports team has helped them to develop strong leadership skills. Some tell me that their first semester grades were significantly lower than second semester because of a death in the family. Others tell me about a matter that shows why they think they are well suited to be a summer associate at our firm. I’m so glad I asked. But you are not always offered that opportunity in an interview. If you have something important to say, make sure you find a way to say it.
10. Be Yourself.
There is an obvious formality to every interview. You are trying to convince someone you just met to take a chance on you. Your verbal communications and your body language tell the interviewer a lot about you. But don’t lose yourself in the formality of the process. Relax. Enjoy it. Make sure the interviewer sees and understands the best parts of you.