by Charles Volkert, Esq.
Whether you’re a recent law school graduate or a seasoned professional, handling the job
interview is when candidates often falter. The prospective employer will be evaluating your
every word and action, from the moment you check in with the receptionist to your departing
handshake. Here are the 12 things you should never say or do when interviewing for a legal job.
- Don’t be late. Arriving even five minutes late for your appointment could sink your chances
of landing the job. Hiring managers look for traits such as professionalism, reliability and
respect, which they can’t count on if you’re not punctual.
- Don’t be too early. Conversely, arriving more than 15 minutes ahead of schedule may signal
that you’re overly eager. Make it a priority to check-in with the receptionist five to 10 minutes
before your appointment. If you reach the office much earlier, use the extra time to visit the
restroom, double-check your appearance and review your notes.
- Don’t be shy. You’re there to show the manager you’re a good match for the position, and
you can’t do that if you don’t have much to say. Even when the interviewer asks a yes-or-no
question, don’t let your only answer be “yes” or “no.” Instead, offer follow-up information and
details. Even better, tell a personal story that puts you in a good light. Be interested and
- Don’t over-answer. When you’re passionate and knowledgeable about a question, or if you’re
nervous, it can be evident in your speech. Don’t over-share. To keep yourself on topic, answer
each interview question directly and succinctly. Doing so will leave more time to discuss the
many other ways you’re a good fit for the position.
- Don’t fake it. When you don’t know the answer, don’t pretend you do and make up
something. Interviewers can see through that, and lying is a sure deal-breaker. If you need a few
moments to organize your thoughts, ask for clarification, which could buy you some time.
- Don’t rehash the resume. The hiring manager already knows about your education and work
history. Now is the time to go beyond your documented skills and professional and academic
accomplishments. When answering interview questions, play up the qualities that aren’t apparent
on a one-page resume. For example, share professional experiences in which you’ve
demonstrated initiative, used diplomacy and exhibited grace under pressure.
- Don’t be negative. Unless you’re a recent graduate, the interviewer may ask why you left
your previous position. Never badmouth a former employer or say how much you disliked a job.
Doing so makes you appear unprofessional. Remember: The legal world is a close-knit
community and you don’t want to burn any bridges.
- Don’t use filler words. Do you clutter your responses with “um,” “like” and “you know”?
People who fall back on these verbal tics may be smart, but they make you sound inarticulate. If
you have a tendency to use fillers, pause before answering. Then speak clearly, deliberately and
- Don’t get flustered. The interviewer may pose difficult questions such as, “Tell me about
your employment gap” or “You don’t seem to have much experience in X.” Don’t be defensive,
and don’t stress about gaps in your career. The fact that you were invited for an interview says
the firm already thinks well of you and simply wants more information. Anticipate these
questions and prepare thoughtful responses.
- Don’t jump the gun. The first interview is not the time to discuss pay, bonuses and benefits.
Concentrate on making the case that you’re a good fit for the company and the role. If and when
you get a job offer, that’s the time to negotiate salary.
- Don’t brag. Yes, the job interview is when you should sell your skills, but don’t be a showoff.
Unless you’re asked about it specifically, mentioning your near-perfect LSAT score won’t
help you land that legal job. Instead, when talking about the assets you would bring to the firm,
play up in-demand soft skills such as collaboration, communication, flexibility, initiative and
- Don’t dwell on blunders. Everyone makes mistakes. If you knock over a cup of coffee or
get an interviewer’s name wrong, apologize and move on. Beating yourself up makes everyone
uncomfortable. Laugh at yourself and shake it off.
Interviews can be nerve-racking. But with your dream legal job at stake, you don’t want to lose
this opportunity. With preparation, practice and a positive attitude, you’ll greatly increase your
chances of landing the position and moving up in your career.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal®, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. The company also offers a full suite of legal staffing and consulting services. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and global markets.
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Question & Answer
I’m doing OK in my current job, but I think I need to expand my professional network so I can take my legal career to the next level. I’m not exactly the extroverted type and could use some advice on how to improve my networking know-how.
You’re right that better networking can be a boon to legal careers. However, you don’t need to have 500+ contacts on LinkedIn to get ahead. Whether you’re an introvert or the life of the party, quality trumps quantity when it comes to effective networking. It’s better to nurture a handful of solid professional relationships than to have hundreds of contacts you barely know and who can’t vouch for your work. Here are some ways to build a strong and mutually beneficial network:
- Get on social media. Take full advantage of the power of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and the legal-specific sites like Martindale.com Connected. Social media offers an effective way to meet new people, stay in touch with classmates and former coworkers, and strengthen relationships with those you admire. If you belong to these sites but don’t do much with them, now is the time to upload a professional headshot, complete your profile and post comments. There are many legal networks and groups out there, so follow some that look interesting and then start interacting.
- Meet people in person. Virtual interactions are easy and valuable, but to really make your network work, nothing beats a face-to-face. Legal conferences and other industry events are beneficial for increasing your knowledge as well as expanding career opportunities by putting you in the same room as hundreds of other professionals. Although it may not come naturally to you, take the initiative to strike up conversations. If verbal give-and-take is not your forte, showcase your listening abilities by asking well-placed questions or making well-timed comments and letting the natural talkers have their say. These events also provide ideal settings to reconnect with old friends over coffee or lunch.
- Follow up.
Don’t let the first time be the last time you communicate with someone new. After you meet people you’d like to add to your network, jot down something about them on a business card or in a mobile app, such as what you talked about and their particular interests. Within a few days, send a LinkedIn invite and even a quick email saying how much you enjoyed meeting them.
- Be a giver. Legal careers are built on active, reciprocal relationships. Ask for help when you need it, but also be generous. When a qualified former colleague or employee asks if you’d serve as a reference, say you would be happy to. Come across a cool job opportunity that seems just right for a friend? Write a quick message and share the link. Your network will appreciate your thoughtfulness, and your actions will likely be repaid in kind.
- Increase in-house networking. Don’t forget to look inward when growing your professional circle. Unless you have a solo practice, get to know the people in your firm or company on more than a superficial level. Also let them get to know you. Ways to do that include attending company-wide social events, going out to lunch with coworkers and volunteering to be part of a pro bono team. Boosting your profile leads to all sorts of benefits, including better teamwork and more recognition for your skills.
A strong network won’t happen overnight. It takes steady work, self-initiative and occasionally venturing outside your comfort zone when the situation calls for it. But robust legal careers are built on quality relationships, so your extra effort to build a first-rate network will likely result in knowing the right people in the right places to help you get to where you want to be.
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Submit a career-related question to Charles A. Volkert, Esq., executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing
service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal
professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Charles will answer one question