Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who offers an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.
I have received numerous emails from law students requesting advice about the Biglaw interview day. I once again solicited the input of other recruitment professionals in order to compile a list of the items that candidates should keep in mind on their interview day.
Please recall that, as members of the recruitment staff, we are not the individuals who conduct the interviews; rather, we hear secondhand about the reasons why a candidate is or is not advanced in the process. The following list contains our collective thoughts, but, ultimately, a candidate needs to be true to him or herself during the interview process:
1. Lack of Focus. Over the last five years, it has become more common for interviewers to report that candidates use the interview as an opportunity to discuss their broad career interests. In other words, candidates are using the interview time to discuss with their interviewer a variety of possible employment interests, including interests outside of Biglaw. Interviewers often report that these candidates seemed “poorly prepared” or “immature.” Interviewers want the candidates to focus only on the job on offer and to prove during the interview why this job should be given to them. Discussions about your other interests should be saved for meetings with your law school career placement staff.
2. Steering the Interview. We are often asked whether a candidate should try to take control of an interview if he or she feels as though the interviewer is not asking them any questions of substance. The answer is YES. Many candidates are rejected because, after the interview, the interviewers report that the candidate was nice but that he or she lacked “gravitas” (or the like). It is your job to leave the interviewer with a clear sense of your abilities, even if he or she fails to direct the conversation accordingly. You may say to the interviewer, “I appreciate that we have a limited amount of time together. Before the time gets away from us, I wanted to let you know about xxx.”
3. Inappropriate Questions. Despite our efforts to educate interviewers about the types of questions that are inappropriate, we receive feedback from candidates that they have been asked questions about their age, their intention to have children, and whether or not their romantic relationships were solid enough to withstand the strain of long working hours. Yes, these questions are inappropriate. If you are asked a question of this nature, please respond by telling the interviewer that you are not comfortable answering the question. Please do your best to then move the interview forward. If this happens to you, please let the director of recruitment know by email right after the interview that you were asked an inappropriate question. If we have this information in hand, we can do our best to ensure that you are not penalized for being put in this position when your interview feedback is reviewed.
4. Dress. Law school recruitment staff members often encourage candidates to dress conservatively for their interview days. This appears to be sound advice – for women, in particular. All of the recruitment staff members reported that they have encountered interviewers who passed on a woman candidate because she was dressed too provocatively for a law firm environment.
5. Enthusiasm. It is imperative that a candidate demonstrate a passion for the law during his or her interview. A candidate may assume that his or her decision to go to law school, to pursue the interview, etc. is evidence of an interest in the law. However, in 2014, many law students feel that they have made a mistake by attending law school and that they must work in Biglaw for a few years in order to pay off their debts before leaving the profession. You must ensure that your interviewers know that you did not make a mistake and that you feel that are indeed on the right career path. The interviewer wants to believe that his or her firm is the only place that you wish to work and that you wish to be there for at least two years.
6. Specificity. Candidates will often report that they wish to be tax lawyers, for instance, because they “have always found tax law fascinating.” Often interviewers will not press the candidate to explain this declaration any further. Later, in a hiring committee meeting, the interviewers are often unable to advocate for the candidate because the candidate is not memorable; the candidate has, in effect, failed to explain with specificity why he or she wants a certain job. Please answer questions of this nature with a more personal response. If you are able to explain with specificity why you love tax law, you will be remembered.
7. Social Media. We are often asked whether we search social media to gather further information on candidates. My firm does not engage in this practice; however, I am aware of several firms that do research candidates to see if there are any smoking guns lurking out there on the Internet. I imagine that in the coming years it will be standard practice for all firms to research candidates online before an offer is extended. Please remove all questionable photographs and posts from any public social media account. Problematic photographs that were reported include: a female candidate taking a hit off a bong and a male candidate with his face buried in a female’s covered breasts. Problematic posts that were reported include: a 2L who wrote “Day 2 of OCI. Another day lying to sad old men. Just give me the money!”
8. Additional Interests. At the bottom of the résumé, candidates often put a few items under the heading of “Additional Interests.” These items tend to get candidates into trouble in two ways. First, if a candidate writes that he or she is interested in the political unrest in Crimea, the candidate must be ready to discuss this situation and to have definitive views on this matter. Apparently, it is not uncommon for candidates to list supposed interests but then to be unable to discuss them intelligently. Second, on occasion, a candidate puts an additional interest on his or her résumé which is so odd/inappropriate that it pulls focus from the candidate’s accomplishments. Problematic “additional interests” that were reported include male attorneys interested in: “all-night raving”, “photographing small children” and “collecting vintage underwear.” On interview day, please be ready to discuss in depth your additional interests.
9. Anxiety. It is becoming more common for interviewers to report that candidates are so nervous during their visit to a firm that the interviewers were made uncomfortable. Unfortunately, there is a view that lawyers should never be anxious and that, in order to succeed in their roles, they need to present themselves with unwavering confidence. This is a tough subject. Sadly, anxious candidates often are not advanced in the process. I would recommend that, if you are prone to anxiety, you must take extra time with your law school recruitment staff to practice, practice, practice. The more you prepare your answers to possible interview questions, the more relaxed you may be in the interview setting. Also please bear in mind that attorneys are at heart a decent group of people; for the most part, they are quietly rooting for you to do well and to make their job easier by taking the job on offer.
10. Honesty. As one would expect, it is not a good idea to let your interviewer know that you are not sure if you wish to work at his or her firm. While this may sound obvious, a number of candidates fail to receive offers because they report during the interview that they are hesitant about joining the firm because of the long hours, competitive environment, etc. If you wish to receive an offer, it is best to keep your concerns to yourself until after you have received the offer. You may then return to the firm, offer in hand, and openly discuss your particular concerns with staff members.
11. Materials. Please bring a few copies of your résumé and transcript with you to the interview day just in case your interviewer misplaces them. It happens.
My last column focused on recruitment staff pet peeves. Based on the feedback that I received, it appears that there are varying views on the importance of a thank-you note after an interview day. While the note will not tip the scales in favor of a candidate who has not made a connection with his or her interviewers, many firm attorneys wrote to say that that these letters are welcome and that a candidate should send a note if he or she feels a strong desire to do so. There appear to be certain markets — for instance, Washington, D.C. — where thank you notes are more common.
Anonymous Recruitment Director is the head of recruitment for a leading international firm and has 20 years of law firm recruitment experience. Anonymous NYC Recruitment Director can be reached at NYCRecruitmentDirector@gmail.com (please note that job applications sent to this email address will be deleted!).