I recently had a lovely reader send me an email asking for my thoughts on interviewing for jobs, specifically attorney-kind-of-jobs. The truth of the matter is, I was pleasantly surprised someone asked me for advice. In my grandiose dreams I like to think of myself as an advice giver. Perhaps all of you are willing to contribute to my therapy fund, for round one, The One Where We De-Bunk My Feelings of Superiority & All-Knowing Powers. On second thought, perhaps that will encompass round two as well.
In addition to my other lofty blogging goals- Menu Monday (haven’t done that in two weeks…), Confession Monday (hmm perhaps I should have thought that through), sharing photos of Baby Z (these pesky thoughts of child safety & privacy sort of shriveled that one up…) and my holiday gift-giving guide (still sitting on gift suggestion number one, which some people liked and others reminded me that dude, collar stays are so not every day vocabulary for non-lawyer-people, aka, real people)- I’m going to start throwing out some nuggets of interviewing advice.
I’ll start by admitting that I’m no professional at this. (I am in fact related to one of the best professional advice/coaching people in the country, and so I must remember that I’m nothing but a newbie, throwing out my occasional pearl of wisdom.) I have tanked an interview or two in the past, but I’ve also worked hard at slam dunking interviews. My current manager has informed me that I beat out people with 10+ years of specific experience in my field because I was just so charming professional & engaging. Interviews, once granted, are the key to your professional success. So, lets start with the basics.
Generic Questions Do Not Deserve Generic Answers
Managing Partner: So, tell me about yourself Alice.
Alice: Oh, well. Lets see. Well, I graduated from the University of California, Berkley with a bachelor’s in economics, and then I went straight to law school at Georgetown University where I focused on corporate transactional work. Um, I also clerked for a district court judge in my third year. I’ve always loved business, so I figured I should study something I’m truly passionate about. (Smugly pats self on back and awaits the next soft-ball of a question.)
Managing Partner: So, tell me about yourself Alice.
Alice: I grew up as the oldest of three children in suburban Lexington, where I played lacrosse for 18 years and spent my summers working as a lifeguard at our local pool. In college I discovered I really enjoyed my business courses, so I studied economics while spending my summers interning for a variety of Fortune 500 businesses. While interning at Coca-Cola I realized that my favorite projects included legal research and policy aspects of business, so I then moved to the East coast to attend law school and live near my younger siblings who were in undergrad in Philadelphia and New York. During law school I continued to enjoy my corporate law courses and clerking experiences, while still finding time to play intramural lacrosse and train for a marathon. My parents still live in Lexington, but I’ve convinced my younger sister to buy a condo in DC with me and we are hoping one of us learns how to cook in the near future- you can’t live on take out for forever!
The difference between the two?
Boring-Alice recited her resume back to the managing partner. She wasn’t prepared to truly tell him about herself- which is what he asked. Instead she provided little personal information, wasn’t particularly articulate, and provided information already at his disposal. In essence, she wasted her breath and his time.
Interesting-Alice actually told the managing partner about herself- while weaving in themes of responsibility (working since high school), endurance and dedication (18 years playing a sport, training for a marathon), a desire to stay in the geographical area she is interviewing in, and a discussion about why she is interested in corporate transactional work. She has outside interests- although none too risque or controversial- and while she provided information that is on her resume, she did it in a natural manner that provided personal background information behind the career choices she has made. She also presented herself as a human- she has family, a sibling she lives with and she admits she can’t cook but is willing to learn. She told a story while answering a question. Managing partners and HR coordinators want to hire people- people who are qualified- but people nonetheless. Inject some personality into yourself, no matter how boring or transactional or numbers-based the open position might be.
The other huge difference between the two answers it that Interesting-Alice was prepared for the question. She clearly practiced- no answer like that is going to come rolling off your tongue, no matter how smooth you are. I’m assuming that if you are mailing resumes out, you are also practicing answering all of those generic questions- out loud, to a wall, to the mirror, to a video camera. If you haven’t been, now is the time to start. Make a list of the generic questions you are always asked- and then write articulate answers to them. Practice them. Provide concrete examples of times that you succeeded on a project, a tight deadline, a legal theory, what have you. Prepare for variations of the same question, and prepare varied answers. Then- practice, practice practice. Practice again. Become comfortable with your resume and your background and why you are sitting in that chair looking for a job.
And then? Practice again.