Preparing for Interviews
What type of interview are you preparing for?
Law Firm Interviews
Law firm interviews for summer associate and post-graduate entry level positions typically consist of a screening and callback.
- Screening – Screening interviews are generally brief, 20-30 minute interviews that allow the employer to get a better sense of your skills, experiences, and level of interest in the position. Screening interviews are usually held on or near campus, at an employer’s office, or over the phone.
- Call-Back – Call-back interviews tend to be longer and you may meet with multiple attorneys in a series of back-to- back 20-30 minute-interviews, usually in the employer’s office. In addition to letting the employer learn more about your skills, experiences and level of interest, callback interviews provide an opportunity to assess how well your personality and demeanor “fit” with the others in the office and with the organizational culture and values. Sometimes these interviews include lunch, coffee, or some other type of social interaction.
- Read now: Let’s Eat! The Ins and Outs of the Interview Lunch, by Rebecca Calman, Legal Recruiting & Personnel Manager for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer US
- Note: Travel expenses for callback interviews are sometimes reimbursed by the employer, especially large law firm employers. More information on expenses ».
Public Sector Interviews
Employers interviewing students for public sector internship often conduct only one round of interviews, and they will be interested in assessing whether you have a demonstrated commitment to the organization’s mission and to public service, more generally. Since you may have only one interview, be aware that it may be your only chance to meet with the employer before they decide whether to hire you.
In the case of public sector interviews for permanent employment, organizations typically conduct both screening and callback interviews. Public defender and prosecutor interviews are an exception, as most entail three rounds of interviews (screening, panel, and meeting with the chief defender/prosecutor).
Understand the interview process.
Not sure what to expect in your interview? Need guidance on preparing responses to interview questions? Looking for sample questions an employer might ask in an interview? We’ve got you covered! Read the interview skills overview to for tips on how to prepare for interviews and following up with employers after the interview.
Do your research.
Try to learn as much as possible about the organization, its attorneys, and its clients. You will want to be current on high-profile cases, major transactions, or other noteworthy events. If you have the names of the interviewers, find out about their backgrounds, the nature of their practices and any recent matters. That said, don’t over-stress if you don’t have the names of the attorneys. Remember that attorneys are busy and that schedules change so it is important to be prepared and flexible. For resources on researching firms, see the Resources for Research page.
Have a plan and focus on the positive.
Prepare your responses to the most commonly asked questions. In preparing responses to the most commonly asked interview questions, go to your interview with an agenda. Don’t simply let the interviewers steer the interview in any direction they’d like. Carefully consider the main points you would like to convey, and have concrete examples of your work experience as evidence of your skills. Use the STAR method (see the Interview Skills Overview for details on the STAR method) and focus on your strengths. Be confident and enthusiastic, regardless of your GPA or level of experience.
Prepare your questions for the employer. Remember that the interview is also your chance to find out about the employer. Ask questions that are meaningful to you. While you may ask about the interviewers’ own experiences, their answers may not give much insight into whether the employer is a good fit for you. Instead, you might consider asking what is the most challenging or rewarding aspect of working at the specific organization. Students who have multiple interviews may find it useful to ask some of the same questions to all firms. Of course, avoid questions about salary, benefits, or work hours; those questions will have to wait until after an offer is made.
Practice, practice, practice.
Schedule a mock interview with the Career Center. This is the single best thing you can do to prepare for your interview. You may think to yourself, “I’ve interviewed well in the past so I don’t need a mock interview.” While it might be true that you’ve interviewed well in the past, interviewing is a skill that can continually be refined and improved. You don’t want the feedback from the employer to come in the form of “no offer.” Get honest feedback and tips for improving your interview skills BEFORE the interview. It is imperative that you practice articulating your responses in real time, rather than simply thinking through what you will say.
Advice from interviewers.
We interviewed GW Law alumni who are associates and partners at law firms for their advice on screening interviews and callbacks. Hear from a partner at Wiley Rein, associates from Fried Frank, and a recruiter from Morrison Foerster and get their insights to help you prepare for law firm interviews.
Note: While some of the employers in these videos mention contacting candidates for call back interviews within a few days to a week, some employers may take two or more weeks to contact candidates for call backs. Offers made after call back interviews may take several weeks. Please contact the Career Center if you have questions about when to follow up with employers. In almost all instances, employers do their best not to leave candidates hanging and will send letters if you have not been selected. Accordingly, often times, no news is good news! Don’t assume you are eliminated simply because classmates have received phone calls and you haven’t!
At the Interview
Emphasize your skills and stay engaged.
At the interview, highlight your skills with examples from your past experience – this is the evidence you will present to support your claims.
Listen to the interviewer and pay attention – do not simply focus on what you are going to say next. It’s ok to pause to compose your answer.
Make sure to listen for compound questions and address each component of the question asked.
After the Interview
Take careful notes.
After your interview, jot down notes about the people you met, and your impressions of the employer. This is especially helpful right after the interview because it may be weeks before you have contact with the employer again. For students with multiple interviews, this also helps you organize your notes and impressions of each employer while the information is still fresh in your mind.
Send a thank-you note.
Email thank-you notes within 24 hours (preferably on the same day.) Email everyone you met if it is a smaller employer. For larger employers, send the thank-you note to the recruiter and/or hiring partner and ask them to send your thanks to the other people with whom you met with (by name).
- Thank the interviewer for her time and reiterate your interest in the position.
- If possible, include something about yourself to remind the interviewers who you are.
- Thank-you notes are not necessary for OCI screening interviews (although they are not considered inappropriate), but you should send them after any callback interview.
- Hand-written thank-you notes are acceptable, but if hiring decisions will be made in a compressed time frame, email is preferable.
A sample thank you note can be found at the end of the Interview Skills Overview.
Follow up again 2-3 weeks after the interview with the recruiter or an attorney with whom you spoke to reiterate your interest in the employer if you have not heard from them. A substantive follow-up mentioning a new grade, activity, paper, or other information is ideal. Ask whether any additional information is required. You may follow-up by phone or email, but be respectful of the employer’s hiring timeline.
Offers and timing.
If your interviews result in an offer – Congratulations! Many employers will extend offers by phone, followed with a formal offer letter by email or regular mail. Do not feel compelled to accept the offer on the spot (there are some exceptions to this for post-graduation judicial clerkships).
Acknowledge receipt of the offer by phone or email within 24 hours (preferably the same day).
For large law firms participating in OCI, make sure to follow the NALP Guidelines for timing of offers, reaffirmation, and holding offers. You may use the NALP Directory of Legal Employers to get a sense of which employers are NALP members. Please note that not all employers are NALP members and most government agencies do not follow the NALP guidelines. Contact the Career Center for more information on timing of interviews and offers from non-NALP employers.
Our office is here to help answer any questions about offer protocol, offer evaluation, and accepting or declining offers.
NALP has published a series of videos to help students prepare for the upcoming recruiting season. Hear from law firm recruiting managers about topics such as email etiquette, professionalism, general protocols for navigating the recruiting process, how to accept or reject offers, and much more.
A fun 3-minute video featuring Pillsbury lawyers – who interview on campus. They share some additional interview do’s and don’ts.