Alameda County
Bar Association

10 Interview Tips for Attorneys 

I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing lately, and it’s got me thinking about the process of interviewing, and the reality of the job search. So here are a few thoughts, purely my own. Interview Tips v41) Confidence is one of the key ingredients in an interview It sounds like something from a self-help book, but it’s true – if you have confidence in yourself, it’s easier for us to have confidence in you. I once interviewed two people for the same position. Both had essentially the same experience and education levels – but one of them was visibly nervous, with hands shaking and a quaver in her voice, while the second seemed calm and self-assured.  The nervous one made us, the interviewers, nervous. Our reaction was rational – maybe she doesn’t know as much about this as she says she does, and that’s why she’s nervous? Would she be this jumpy all the time? – but also empathetic – we felt sympathetic edginess. It wasn’t pleasant. The self-assured one made us feel confident, and inclined to take her statements of competence more at face value. 2) Overconfidence can be a real turn-off At the risk of sounding like Ms. Picky, don’t go into that interview sounding cocky. You are looking for quiet confidence in yourself, not a brash assurance that you are the best thing since sliced bread.  Trust me, you’re not. (How could you beat sliced bread?) No matter how experienced you are, you do not know everything about how to handle this particular job at this particular employer. 3) Practice Get a friend to play the employer, and practice the interview. This is particularly important if there are questions you are worried about, like “Why does your resume say nothing about what you were doing between 2004 and 2007?” “Why did you leave Dewey, Cheatham and Howe?” “I see you used to work for Tenants United Against The Power Elite. Why do you now want to work for Corporate Property Owners, Inc.?” 4) A firm handshake is important What is with the limp handshakes? Are you trying to be polite? In the world of law, this type of handshake comes off as tentative and lacking in confidence (see above). Will you be able to hold your own in the business of law? 5) Be prepared for experiential questions Many of us have retreated significantly from questions like, “Do you like having multiple responsibilities at the same time?” and “How do you handle stress in the workplace?” These questions have obvious “right” answers, and don’t tell us anything about you other than how well you see through these extremely transparent gambits. The alternative is often an experiential question: “Tell us about a time when you… (disagreed with your supervisor. Went above and beyond the job requirements. Had to deal with a difficult co-worker.)” Done well, these questions give us a chance to see your values and approaches in action, instead of the way that you’ve learned to recite them. “I love stress!”  is pretty different than, “My boss asked me to do two things at the same time and it was really stressful, so I told him I couldn’t handle that.” How to handle these questions? Take a moment to think (and say that – give me a moment to think of an instance) and find a story that responds to the question, and hopefully puts you in good light.  Don’t make something up – the questioner is likely to probe, and you will find yourself in trouble in no time. 6) Reach out to people you know in their 50’s and 60’s As you might know if you read Tipping Point, some of us are Connectors – and the older we are, the more likely we are to be Connectors. Connectors are people who know lots of people, and who love to make connections and introductions between them. These people can be tremendously helpful to you.  We may well know someone who works at the firm you’ve applied for. And in any case, it can’t hurt to ask. (Of course, it’s important to build a network that includes lots of Connectors – more on this in a future blog.)

Resumes – a few thoughts

7) Some people seem to like the idea of a resume that focuses on the skills you possess, rather than the jobs that you have had I am not one of those people. Those resumes often go in the circular file.  Now, this could be because I am in my 50’s.  On the other hand, many of the people hiring in today’s market are in their 50’s.  And think about it from our perspective.  You tell us that you have “experience in employment law.”  Yes, but in what context?  Were you an associate, or was this in your paralegal days?  Did you work on the side of employees or employers?  And, most critically, did you work there for 4 years, or 4 months? Your resume should tell an employer what you have done, as well as who you are (or would like to be). 8) Typos in a resume or cover letter will kill the deal right there In positions where there are a lot of applicants, we need some way to distinguish among the tens or hundreds of resumes flooding in. The first cut is usually the base qualifications: if the job requires a license to practice in California, or two years of employment practice experience, those without it go into the “unlikely” pile. But the second round is often the question of attention to detail. Is there a typo? Is there parallel construction between the paragraphs of the resume (in other words, does on paragraph have full sentences while the other does not?)? Is my name misspelled? If you really wanted this job, if you had a good attention to detail, surely you would have caught these issues. You may not get the job, but why lose it based on these silly details? 9) Include something quirky about yourself Employers are reading through hundreds of resumes. The first screen (after the typo and language screen) will be for relevant experience – no getting around that. But even if you have that experience, your resume is likely just one of a large number on the employer’s desk. Find a way to work in something interesting about you that will stick in people’s minds.  Include “marching band mellophone player” or “travel to remote places, including Malawi and Tiera del Fuego, in “Other activities” on the resume. In your cover letter, explain your interest in intellectual property law by mentioning your attempt to build your own Rubik’s Cube in grade school. Trust me, this is the fact that the hiring committee will use to remind each other of who you are. “He’s the guy who went to Hastings and wants to do patent law,” will just not do it. 10) Finally, keep sending those resumes out You miss, as they say, 100% of the shots you don’t take. Good luck! Tiela Chalmers is the CEO of the Alameda County Bar Association and on the Board of Director for the Volunteer Legal Services Corporation. She was on the hiring committee at Tiela has been a consultant in the fields of legal services and pro bono, handling projects including coordinating the Shriver Housing Project in Los Angeles, the largest of the “civil Gideon” pilot projects in California, and working with the ABA and a national working group on updating the Pro Bono Standards. Previously the Executive Director of Volunteer Legal Services Program in San Francisco, Tiela worked at VLSP for many years with Tanya Neiman until her death. Prior to VLSP, Tiela was an attorney at Farella, Braun + Martel in San Francisco.