Nailing the Interview

The interview is your key to a job offer and thus it warrants a high level of preparation. NEVER walk into an interview and just "wing it." Going into an interview without having prepared is a waste of your time and the interviewer’s time. Prepare for your interviews by scheduling a "mock interview" with a CSO career counselor.

Learn as much as you can about the prospective employer and the interviewer. Research will allow you to tailor your approach toward making the interviewer feel that you fit the requirements of the job and that office. Interviewers are trying to determine not only whether you can perform the work, but whether you will "fit" in their office.

If the interviewer is an attorney with a law firm, the Martindale-Hubbell site to find biographical information such as educational background, professional history, associations and activities, etc. If you know something about the interviewer and the law firm you are better able to engage in a meaningful discussion with the interviewer and demonstrate that you are prepared.

We HIGHLY recommend reading the article, "Ten Ways Law Students Can Be More Persuasive in Interviews".  

What Can You Expect From Employers?

  • Accurate information about their organization, employment opportunities, job responsibilities, career advancement opportunities, and benefits.
  • Freedom from undue pressure and a reasonable amount of time to make a decision about accepting a job offer. Note: Once you have accepted a job offer, it is considered unethical to continue interviewing with other employers.
  • Timely communication about your status in the hiring process and communicate hiring decisions within the agreed upon time frame.
  • Nondiscrimination in their recruitment activities and to follow equal employment opportunity and affirmative action principles.

What is Expected of You?

  • Provide accurate information about your work experience, academic experience and performance, grades, positions held and duties performed.
  • Interview genuinely and only with employers you are sincerely interested in working for and whose eligibility requirements you meet. "Practice" interviewing is misleading for employers – wasting both their time and money. It also deprives candidates who are really interested in the job from possibly getting the interview slot.
  • Adhere to interview schedules on campus or elsewhere, unless unforeseeable events prevent you from doing so. If you absolutely cannot make the interview, it is your obligation to notify the CSO as soon as possible. Harsh (but fair) penalties may be enforced against "no shows" which may cause you to lose your interviewing privileges.
  • Don’t keep employers hanging. Communicate your acceptance or refusal of an offer as promptly as possible so that the employer may notify other candidates of the availability or unavailability of a position.
  • Accept a job offer in good faith and with every intention of honoring that commitment. Accepting an offer only as a precautionary measure or starting a job with a two or three year commitment and not living up to that commitment, is misleading and considered highly unprofessional. The legal community is relatively small and word of unprofessional conduct usually travels.
  • Withdraw from recruiting when your job search is completed. If you accept an offer, notify the CPO immediately and cease interviewing with other employers. You must also inform other employers, who are considering you for a position, that you are no longer available.

Dressing for Success

When choosing how to dress for an interview, you should dress professionally and conservatively. By dressing in a professional manner you convey maturity, as well as sophistication. If you are uncertain about any appearance issues, consult one of the career counselors.

Although every interview and every interviewer is different, there are some general guidelines that can be applied for successful dressing.

For men
Choose a navy and gray suit in a high-quality fabric, preferably 100% wool with a long-sleeved, freshly pressed shirt in white (plain white or with narrow pinstripes) or pale blue. The tie should not be too bold, but need not be boring. Socks should be black or dark blue and should not reveal any part of your unclothed leg.

A note on men’s accessories: less is better. Avoid cologne, pins, bracelets, earrings, neck chains and rings (other than a wedding band and/or signet ring). Long hair and facial hair also may be an issue for some employers.

For women

"Professional" and "conservative" are still the guiding principles. Although the most suitable colors for interview suits are charcoal, medium or steel gray and navy blue, a skirt or pants suit in dark green, burgundy and dark brown still look professional. Pair it with a long-sleeved blouse in white or crème. With respect to jewelry, less is more. Generally, rings should be restricted to wedding bands, and a simple, subdued necklace, earrings and/or a bracelet are acceptable.


More often than not, confidence is what separates the successful from the unsuccessful candidate. In developing confidence, you must first recognize that fear is what tends to attack and weaken your resolve. With proper preparation, you can greatly minimize your anxiety.
FYI: Almost without exception, interviewers state that a sweaty palm is something that they overlook because they expect some degree of nervousness. However, despite the disclaimers, a sweaty palm is not a good sign. If possible, wash and dry your hands thoroughly before the interview. You may want to keep a handkerchief handy as well.

The Questions Interviewers Ask & Why

Essential to an effective interview is the ability to answer questions. Interviews are relatively short. Therefore, you should recognize that almost every question has a purpose. Be aware of "ambiguous" questions, "dual purpose" questions and "negative" questions:

  • An ambiguous question is one that suggests more than one interpretation. An example is "What are your goals?" It is ambiguous because people often have several types of goals – personal, professional, recreational, etc. How the interviewee interprets the questions and the assumption he or she makes tells the interviewer something as valuable as the content of the answer. The best way to handle such a question is to ask for clarification.
  • The dual-purpose question has a purpose other than the one that appears from its content. For example, "What have you done that you are most proud?" seems to ask for an outstanding accomplishment. However, it is also a test of your ability to make a decision. A question such as this is calculated to flood the mind with recall of many accomplishments. An indecisive person may be unable to choose which accomplishment to discuss. Whenever a question about past accomplishments is asked in a vague and general manner, it is often asked to probe your decision-making ability.
  • A negative question is any question which prompts you to say something less than positive about yourself. Examples include: "What is your greatest weakness?" and "How could you have improved your past performance?" These are direct invitations to put your head in the noose. Decline the invitation. Answer the questions with some minor point of a job where you lack knowledge (but that you could easily pick up) or citing something in the past that you have already corrected. You may also turn it into a positive by talking about your weakness being "too dedicated", "too much attention to detail", etc. You may also talk about improving your past performance by "getting additional experience" in the area you choose to talk about.
    Another question to beware of is "tell me about yourself." Although this may seem easy enough, many people find themselves stammering through an answer – not sure what to discuss. The best way to handle this question is to prepare your answer before the interview. When prepared, this can be an excellent opportunity to sell yourself! But – don’t start with "I was born on _____ in _________.

Personal Questions & Discrimination

Occasionally you will be faced with a personal question during the course of an interview. These types of question often catch the candidate off guard and make him or her feel uncomfortable or angry. It is frustrating because you should not have to answer these questions, and yet if you don’t, it appears as if you have something to hide. Before getting upset and threatening the interviewer with Title VII, try to gauge the interviewer’s motive. Illegal and personal questions tend to arise, not out of brazen insensitivity, but out of an interest in the candidate. The interviewer is familiar with your skills and background, feels that you can do the job, and is trying to get to know you as a person. Another case in which these types of question arise is where the interviewer is inexperienced and honestly doesn’t know he or she is violating the law.

As with all other questions, your response to an illegal or personal question should be positive. If you are comfortable answering the question, then do so, but add that you don’t feel that the area being probed has anything to do with your ability to perform the job. If you don’t feel comfortable answering the questions, you should politely decline to answer the questions.

The law relating to what may and may not be asked during an interview is fairly straightforward. Questions may not be asked for the purpose of discriminating on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, or marital status.
While an interviewer may not ask about your church, synagogue, parish, the religious holidays you observe or your political beliefs or affiliations, he or she may ask, "Thi job requires work on Saturdays, is that a problem for you?"

An interviewer may not ask you about your national origin or birthplace but may ask whether you are a United States citizen or a resident alien with the right to work in the United States.

A Note on Interviews Over Lunch or Dinner

An interview which involves having a meal with the interviewer is arguably one of the toughest situations an interviewee can face. The setting offers the interviewer the opportunity to see you in a social setting rather than the office environment. Your social graces and general demeanor can tell as much about you as your responses to interview questions. The following guidelines should be helpful in avoiding a serious social faux pas at a business lunch or dinner:

  • Do not over order food or drink - It can suggest a lack of self-discipline.
  • Treat the waitstaff with respect - It shows maturity and the ability to get along with subordinates.
  • As a general rule - Do not order alcohol at lunch. During dinner, if pressed by the interviewer and you want to have a drink, you can order one, but probably should not have more.