Interviewing for a summer associate position can be a daunting process. Competition is steep for spots at the top firms, and many law students are filled with uncertainty over which firms will complement their long-term career goals. The pressure to make the right choice as you launch your legal career can be overwhelming.
Even the best candidates can fall short during the recruiting process if they are not properly prepared or do not put in sufficient effort to understand the process and firm. Below are six things to avoid during the summer associate interview process.
Do Not Leave it to Chance
If you want to shine in your interview, do your homework even before you select firms. Determine your priorities for location, practice area, training, culture, and any other area that is important for your career growth.
Once you have bid on firms and received your interview list, research even deeper. When your interview rolls around, you should have a basic understanding of the firm’s practice areas, be aware of some representative cases or matters in your chosen area, and have a sense of some of the firm’s initiatives (e.g. training, pro bono offerings, diversity programs, etc.). Research with purpose—connect your own aspirations to the firm’s work, and come prepared with concrete examples of why the firm is a great match for your goals. This level of research will show your commitment to the firm and will better help you demonstrate who you are and why you would be a good addition to their organization.
While it is true that you cannot control who your interviewer is or what is asked, you can control your preparation level. Before you face an interviewer, you should review potential interview questions and practice answering them. Have a friend ask you questions so that you can try responding on the spot. Better yet, if your school or local bar association offers mock interviews, take advantage of the opportunity to simulate a real interview. You may feel silly answering questions for a fake interview, but when the real interview rolls around, you’ll feel much more comfortable.
Do Not Be Generic with Your Questions
You will answer countless questions throughout the interview process, but the questions you ask the firm are just as important. And while it is helpful to consult resources on sample interview questions, you should not rely solely on those examples. One way to shine is by asking thoughtful questions that are specific to the firm. Well-thought-out questions also demonstrate your commitment to your career. And, of course, you should give yourself flexibility to also ask about topics that arise during the interview.
Do Not Follow a Script
While you should practice answering interview questions in advance and be prepared with your own questions to ask your interviewers, you do not want to rely only on your prepared answers and questions. A critical aspect of lawyering is thinking on your feet and communicating in difficult and unexpected situations. When you practice answering questions, do not go back to the same answers over and over—try your hand at impromptu, on-the-spot responses. Ask the person with whom you practice to throw you some curveball questions. Get comfortable being uncomfortable so that on interview day, nothing will rattle you.
Do Not Forget to Network
Nerves can sometimes give you blinders. Remember that a summer associate interview is not just about the actual interview with the attorney(s). During OCI, make sure you stop by the hospitality suite if the firm offers one. Chat with the firm’s recruiting team and attorneys. One bonus is that the firm will often have summer associates and junior attorneys in their suite, and you may feel more comfortable conversing with a less senior crowd. When you go to the firm for your call-back, take time to talk to the staff and attorneys who greet you and interact with you in between interviews. And once you leave, consider to whom you should write a thank you note or connect via LinkedIn. Getting to know the individuals at the firm will only help you as you decide whether you fit in culturally.
Do Not Forget to Be Professional
When it comes to interviewing, you do not need to be stiff or entirely "buttoned up," but you should always maintain a professional demeanor. Regardless of the demeanor of the interviewer, it is important not to be too relaxed or too comical. Remember, this is a job interview! You are not trying to make friends; you are trying to get hired.
While it should go without saying, we still see the need to stress the importance of dressing appropriately for your interview. You do not want anyone commenting on your interview outfit—good or bad. By nature, the legal industry is a conservative one, so keep that in mind when deciding what you are going to wear for your interview. Business attire in classic colors is always a smart choice.
In addition, your body language often communicates more than you realize. It is important to maintain a level of engagement to convey to the interviewer that you are listening and care about what they are saying. It is true that, as lawyers, we love to talk, but we do not want to be speaking with someone who is entirely unresponsive. What we are saying is going to help you get a better sense of what we do here and if this is the place for you, so definitely pay attention.
Do Not Give Up
Searching for a summer associate position can be a stressful process, especially if your peers have received multiple offers and you have none. It is hard not to take it personally. But there are a myriad of reasons why a firm may not extend you an offer, and oftentimes, if the firm does not think you are a fit, it is probably better in the long run that you do not work there. If you have made any genuine connections along the way, you may consider requesting feedback on your interview. Although, refrain from pestering the recruiting department or lawyers if they decline to share insights or do not respond. Do not dwell on the non-offers for too long—keep preparing for your next interviews and researching any additional firms that could be matches.
Each summer associate interview you have will be different, and there is no right way to approach them. But by preparing yourself for the questions, the unexpected, and firm expectations, you can put yourself ahead of the pack from the start.