Five Tips for Summer Public Interest Job Interviews

Last week we reviewed best practices in drafting cover letters and resumes for summer public interest jobs.  Today we offer interviewing tips.  Cover letters and resumes get your foot in the door.  Interviews get you jobs.  So, even if you tend to shine in interview settings, you should do as much as possible to prepare before meeting a prospective employer.

Five Tips for Summer Public Interest Job Interviews

  1. Do mock interviews.  There is simply no downside to this, and no reason not to practice interviewing in a consequence-free environment before you have to do the real thing.  Mock interviews are the surest way to a) identify questions that could trip you up, and b) get useful feedback from someone who has experience on the other side of the interviewing table.  You will likely be able to arrange mock interviews through your career services office.  If not, use your classmates, friends, and contacts in the legal community to set them up.
  2. Enthusiasm and confidence are palpable.  These characteristics are perceived immediately by an interviewer, and they set the stage for more fluid conversation during the interview.  It’s hard sometimes not to appear nervous, overly serious, or both during an interview.  Remember to make eye contact and to smile (at least occasionally) while answering questions.  (Smiling while talking also is enormously helpful on phone interviews because, believe it or not, smiling will change the tone of your voice so that you’ll seem more engaging and confident to the interviewer on the other end of the phone.  You’ll probably look like a weirdo, but no one will be around to see you anyway.) 
  3. Be prepared for “Why do you want to work here?” or “Why are you choosing this kind of work?” questions.  Everyone knows these questions are coming – often at the beginning of an interview.  A lot of law students will begin answering with “I’ve always wanted to do this work; it’s why I came to law school.”  If that’s the truth for you, then fine, you should say it.  But let’s tease this out a little further.  We think that employers are really asking two questions:  1) Why do you want to be a lawyer?, and 2)  Why are you interested in being this kind of lawyer?  You should be prepared to answer both and to connect those answers.  For example, if you just say that you think your abilities and skills make you well suited to be a lawyer, you still need to explain why public interest is a draw for you.  On the other side of the coin, if you say you are interested in working with victims of domestic violence, a good interviewer may come back with, “Well, there are a lot ways to do that, so why do you want to help DV victims as a lawyer?”  Think ahead about what experiences and influences directed you to law school, and why you are interested in exploring public interest law.  This “why are you here?” question is one that almost all law students can hit a double on, so you should think about how to hit a home run.
  4. Ask some questions of your own.  For example:
    • What does your interviewer find to be the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of their job?
    • What are the main characteristics they wish to see in summer interns?  (This is a tricky way to sell yourself even further by explaining how you possess those qualities after the employer names them.)
    • How many practice groups or other departments within the organization will you be exposed to during an internship?
    • How did your interviewer’s career path lead them to their current job?
  5. Send a thank-you note or email within 48 hours of the interview.  Strike while the iron is hot, i.e. while the interviewer will still remember you.  And while the thank-you note should be brief, it could include a line that will remind the interviewer about a highlight of your meeting.  

Harvard Law School’s Office of Public Interest Advising has some terrific, detailed guidance on interviewing, which we recommend you review. 

Good luck, and feel free to offer your own tips in the comments section!

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    January 27, 2011 at 11:56 am

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