Avoid These Five Interview Deal Breakers
by Charles Volkert, Esq.
You have an enviable legal career, and you possess the in-demand skills and major credentials for most legal jobs. You’ve been invited to several job interviews, yet you have not secured a job offer. What could be the problem?
One possibility: you may be sabotaging your job search by committing one or more of the deadly initial interview sins. To improve your odds of landing a new role and moving up the ladder, we offer a refresher on what hiring managers are looking out for and five tips for avoiding the most common legal career interview deal breakers.
1. Failing to dress the part. Even though many businesses have adopted casual dress codes, law firms and corporate legal departments remain conservative when it comes to workplace attire, especially at the interview stage. You want to convey respect, decorum, neatness, comfort and commitment to your legal career, so choose your interview attire carefully.
- Men and women both should wear crisp, classic, well-fitting suits.
- Have your interview outfit professionally pressed (or do it yourself, so long as it looks good).
- Mind hemlines on pants and skirts. Don’t go too short on skirts or necklines and don’t allow your pant legs to drag. The pant leg should break forming a gentle V-shape above the dress shoe.
- Avoid loud colors, wild patterns and busy prints, though a tastefully interesting tie or scarf can help you stand out in a good way.
- Jewelry and makeup should be conservative; avoid wearing strong cologne.
- If you’re concerned about unexpected spills, carry an instant stain remover.
- Do a quick check in the restroom mirror at the interview site to confirm you look your professional best.
2. Failing to do your homework. Before every interview, you should take time to research the potential employer. Find out everything you can: their history, client base, practice areas, who’s who among senior management, pro bono work, awards and recognitions, and so forth. For the latest news and happenings, enter their name and click the News button on your favorite search engine. Also check out what others have to say about working for the company on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Glassdoor.
This background information will help you speak intelligently during the interview. If you happen to know someone who works for the company, contact them and if they reply, ask about the company culture, management style and general employee satisfaction — including if they themselves are happy, and why or why not?
3. Being caught off guard by unexpected questions. Your prospects will lessen if you respond to an interview question with only a few words or stammer your way through it. Although you don’t know exactly what interviewers will ask, you can rehearse answers to common interview questions. Hiring managers are looking for more than just what you know; they also want to see what kind of communicator you are.
- To land legal jobs, you need to prepare, prepare, prepare before the big day.
- Do a mock job interview (or Q&A) with a friend who knows your background, has read the job posting and is familiar with the company’s mission.
- Ask your friend to throw in some off-the-wall questions to see how well you respond on your feet.
- After the mock interview, ask for feedback on not only content, but also on delivery. Did you maintain positive eye contact? How was your body language? Did you avoid verbal fillers like “you know,” “umm” and “like”?
The more you practice, the smoother your delivery will be during the actual interview.
4. Failing to ask questions of your own. Near the end of the interview, many hiring managers will ask whether you have questions about the position. This is the time to leave them with final impressions about your initiative, inquisitiveness and fit for the role, so take full advantage of the opportunity.
Come to the interview with a few questions that demonstrate your sincere interest in the position and desire to help the company achieve its goals. Asking about the specific position and office culture are a start. Here are a few other suggestions for delving deeper:
- What will I be expected to do on my first day, 30th day and 90th day? What does a typical day look like for the professional in this role?
- Does this person work independently or in a team setting?
- Please describe the organization’s management style.
- What is the in-house legal career trajectory for this role?
- Does the firm offer a mentorship program?
- What sort of training or professional development does the company offer?
5. Rushing ahead to a foregone conclusion. During the initial stage of the hiring process, it’s important for you to keep your focus on impressing the hiring manager (or hiring panel) and not worrying about details you can delve into once they make you an offer. The first interview is not the time to ask about extra vacation days, raises, remote work options, etc. Those are topics you can bring up once you know you’re their lead candidate. At that point, you’ll be in the catbird’s seat.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what an employer is looking for in a new hire. However, you increase your odds of landing legal jobs and boosting your legal career when you avoid deal-breaking mistakes during that crucial first interview.
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
After nearly a decade working for the same firm, I am ready for a change. I plan to apply for other legal jobs with the goal of moving on to a more challenging and rewarding role. My legal resume, however, is sorely outdated. What advice can you offer on how to freshen it up?
First off, congratulations on your decision to explore your options! It’s not easy to get out of one’s comfort zone, but taking that first step can lead to professional growth, developing new skills and relationships, and even a higher salary.
It’s exciting to get back in the mix of the job hunt — studying different companies’ websites, networking at professional conferences, weighing the pros and cons of various job postings. Granted, some things have changed since you were last in the legal job market, but your task is very manageable.
Here are nine tips for making your legal resume relevant and appealing.
- Peruse your peers’ resumes. Go on your favorite search engine or legal job search website and sift through some of the resume tips offered. You will find best practices, but don’t make your legal resume a carbon copy of something you saw on LinkedIn. Make it your own. Let your unique career trajectory and professional narrative shine through.
- Nix the objective statement and lead with a summary instead. Objective statements are no longer necessary, and often seen as self-serving. Instead, go with a career “summary,” which should succinctly (in two, at most three sentences) address the skills and experience you bring to the company. Try a summary, in a bullet or sentence format, that brands yourself and lists the ways you are the best candidate for the position. Think of it as a mini-cover letter. Here are a couple of examples: “Trial lawyer with notable first chair trial experience,” or “IP lawyer with six number of years of industry experience.”
- List your professional experience, in chronological order. Lead with your accomplishments and special skills for each position. You can use a bulleted list or short sentences. Keep each job to one paragraph, if possible, unless you were with the firm for more than eight or 10 years, then only go to two short paragraphs. Remember: Recruiters and hiring managers are reviewing dozens of resumes at a time, so keep yours short and to the point. Law firms and corporate legal departments want professionals with in-demand hard skills and expertise, so highlight those, such as e-Discovery, project management, as well as soft skills such as teamwork and client relations. Put these abilities front and center of your revamped legal resume.
- Tailor your legal resume for each job. Create a different resume for each role you, reapplying for. Why? The popularity of applicant tracking systems (ATS) means software, not a hiring manager, will be taking the first pass at your application. As such, you need to incorporate keywords found in that particular job posting. Do this as naturally as possibly, and use action-oriented language. The latest ATS can spot keyword stuffing.
- Set up a LinkedIn profile. If you don’t yet have a profile on this popular business-oriented networking site, you should. Some online application systems will ask for your LinkedIn URL. Even if they don’t, hiring managers will very likely look you up online as part of the vetting process. You can take much of what you’ve written on your new resume and use it for your LinkedIn profile. Go a step further and ask past supervisors or professional mentors to write recommendations on your behalf on your LinkedIn profile.
- Continually update your legal resume. Once you’ve overhauled the document, keep it fresh, both on your computer and on LinkedIn and the job search websites you’ve chosen. Add every accomplishment as it occurs and every new skill after you master it. For example, under the education section of your legal resume, keep a running list of continuing legal education (CLE) credits in popular practice areas.
- Don’t embellish. Don’t exaggerate or use ambiguous phrases on your resume. Focus on actual experience. Seasoned recruiters and hiring managers will see through your ambiguities and charade. They are going to ask specific questions and for examples of the work you’ve done in the screening process. Ask an objective mentor to review your resume for appropriate context and content. At all times, lead with integrity and honesty.
- Keep the design clear. Use formatting that minimizes clutter. Keep it to one or two pages (max). Use bold type, italics, and capitalization in a consistent manner. Keep font style simple and at a readable size (Times New Roman, Trebuchet, Garamond, Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, 10 to 12 point is acceptable). All text should be the same font style and size with the exception of your name, which can be a couple font sizes larger. If printing, use high-quality bond resume paper in white or off-white.
- Proofread it. No grammatical error or typo is acceptable on your legal resume. Print it out. Check and re-check all spelling, grammar, dates, your phone number and email address, titles, certifications listed, etc. Ask a friend to proofread it as they may catch errors you missed.
It takes effort to bring your legal resume up to date, especially if it has sat untouched for almost 10 years. But since a solid application is your key to getting job interviews, invest the time to make your resume stand out from the rest.
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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
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