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Winter 2011
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The Defense Line: Winter 2011

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The Defense Line: A Publication From The Maryland Defense Counsel, Inc.

Top Ten Interview Tips For The Summer Associate Candidate

Lydia S. HuLydia S. Hu
You fix the collar on your shirt and straighten out your suit jacket. It feels like you have been sitting on the cold leather couch next to the receptionist for hours. You pull out your portfolio to glance at the letter-perfect, one-page resume, printed on crisp paper, just one last time. Despite your impressive first year class rank and involvement in countless academic extracurricular activities, including law review and moot court, your head still spins with thoughts of self-doubt and your stomach is a ball of nerves. Your heart is pounding, your palms are sweating, but before you even have time to jump to your feet to begin pacing, the boardroom doors swing open and you are shuffled into the conference room to begin the On-Campus Interview.

Okay, perhaps I exaggerate just a tad, but for some law school students, mastering the On-Campus Interview is a formidable task. The On-Campus Interview process comes at the start of the second year of law school, a very busy time for any law school student. Law students juggling classes, with recently inherited journal responsibilities, and moot court meetings, have little time to apply for competitive Summer Associate Positions.

Trust me, I know the experience. I lived through it only a couple of years ago. I remember the stress, the uncertainty, and the busy schedule. But, I bring you good news — I survived, and you will, too.

I recently finished my first year as an associate at my Firm, and I currently enjoy the honor and privilege to participate in my Firm’s recruitment process. I have the opportunity to meet with countless aspiring lawyers full of enthusiasm for the law and curiosity about my Firm. I must say, transitioning from interviewee to interviewer is a humbling and eye-opening experience. As a relatively recent law school graduate myself, I can still empathize with the interviewee, while critically evaluating the quality of each interview. Using my unique position, I have crafted some interview tips, which I hope will assist you in preparing for your On-Campus Interview.

Tip #1: Confident body language. Obviously a good handshake and steady eye contact are musts. Sit up straight, do not slouch. Do not cross your heel over your knee and lean back in the chair. Do not lean over the table at me. Simply walk in confidently, shake my hand, hold steady eye contact, and take a seat. Try to find out whether you will meet with one interviewer at a time or multiple interviewers in a panel style. If it is a panel style, remember to make eye contact with each interviewer during the introduction. Also, make sure to scan the interviewers while you answer questions. Most importantly, do not forget to smile.

Tip #2: Debbie Downer Need Not Apply. Do not start off the interview with a complaint. Was there traffic? Is it raining? Are you tired today because you stayed up late preparing for this interview? Please do not tell me. Call your friends later and tell them because they will care more than your interviewer. Make sure you keep it positive and light. Remember, you want the Firm to want you, and no one wants to work with a Debbie (or, Donnie) Downer. Set the tone of the interview with positive upbeat comments from the start.

Tip #3: Google. Do your research about the interviewers and the Firm. This level of preparation will serve two purposes — it prepares you to shift the conversation back to the interviewer and it demonstrates that you are genuinely interested in the job. During all conversations, interview and non-interview, there will inevitably be some lag between statements. A great way to fill the time is to ask the interviewer an informed question about interviewer’s experiences or the Firm. After all, everyone enjoys talking about themselves and their jobs.

Tip #4: Know about the Grand Prix. I work in Baltimore, Maryland, and if you are from the area, then you know that the Grand Prix is coming to the city in 2011. The roads are undergoing major reconstruction in anticipation of the race. I interviewed one out-of-state candidate who casually inquired about the auto race, and I was thoroughly impressed because he obviously took the time research Baltimore, which demonstrates he was serious about the job. In general, be prepared to comfortably discuss the headline news. Nothing is a bigger turn-off than a candidate who is not in touch with current events.

Tip No. 5: You are a subject matter expert. The best interviewees are subject matter experts — and what is the subject? Themselves. You know yourself better than anyone else, so show it off! Know your resume and know your writing sample inside and out. Before the interview process begins, try to think of three characteristics or traits you want to convey about yourself. Using these three traits, you can create theme. Then, no matter what question is thrown at you, you know you can answer it by referencing that theme.

Tip #6: Breathe. Remember to speak slowly and let the interviewer ask some questions, too.

Tip #7: Pass the shovel, because you are not digging holes today. I loathe those terrible questions that hand you a shovel and ask you to dig a hole for yourself. These questions typically elicit negative information by asking you to identify your weaknesses or to speak negatively about someone or something. Unfortunately, there are interviewers who relish the opportunity to ask these questions. I suggest you handle it by staying positive — never speak poorly or negatively about anyone or anything during your interview. “Cory Candidate, tell me why you are better qualified than the other applicants that I have interviewed today.” Hopefully, Cory has read this article and knows to flip the script. He answers, “While I have not had an opportunity to meet the other candidates for this position, I have no doubt they are qualified for the job because I know your Firm interviews only the most competitive applicants, and I am honored to be among them. I am qualified for this job because my military background has trained me to handle stressful situations while maintaining clear judgment and my academic performance indicates that I can handle high caliber work.” That answer successfully acknowledges the other candidates without speaking negatively about them, but refocuses the answer on Cory’s individual strengths.

Tip #8: Be Creative. It is okay to be creative with your answers, especially when you feel you have established a bond with the interviewer. The best way I can explain this is through a personal story. I once interviewed with a female senior associate for a summer job. As soon as I met her, I could tell she was a kindred spirit — totally decked out in the most gorgeous gray tailored suit, red patent leather shoes with small gold embellishments, and eye catching earrings that would make any fashionista stop and admire. I knew we could bond over our shared appreciation for quality designer suits and accessories. She asked the standard questions — What are your five year goals? What areas of the law interest you? And, then she asked the perfect question. She asked “I have so enjoyed meeting you today, but I have dozens of candidates to interview. Why should I recommend you to the hiring committee over someone else?” I smiled and asked, “Do you like to shop?” She nodded affirmatively and I said, “So do I, and I bet you’re like me, and you have a great shoe collection. Think about your favorite pair work shoes and think about why you like them. They are dependable. They combine style, flair, and comfort. They are great for the client meeting, the board room, the courtroom, and that after work networking reception or Friday Happy Hour with friends. They get you from point A to B, they are never uncomfortable, and they compliment all of your outfits. I would like to think that I’m like that favorite pair of shoes. I am accommodating and know how to be a supportive team player. I know my strengths in research, time management, and ability to handle many projects at once. I am comfortable in a variety of settings and I can transition from the boardroom to the courtroom and to the dinner with clients and I will not let you down.” On that note, we concluded the interview. Did I get that offer? You bet. I think my answer set me apart, showcased my aptitude to think on my feet, and demonstrated my ability to be creative and memorable.

Tip #9: “I’m not cocky, I’m confident. So when you tell me I’m the best, it’s a compliment.” Love him or not, Kanye West undoubtedly understands confidence. There is a fine line between confident and egotistical, but knowing your strengths and competently discussing them is expected during an interview. This is not the time for modesty. So, how can you do that without going overboard? Talk in specifics. Use the facts. Use examples. Are you a great leader? Instead of telling me you are a natural born leader, tell me how you were elected the president of your collegiate legal fraternity and lead a group of 100 members to raise $50,000 to benefit your organization’s philanthropy.

Tip #10: Thank you. Send a thoughtful thank you email as soon as possible. That time the interviewer spent with you, was time she was not billing. Be thankful.

Incorporating these tips is easier said than done. Just like developing oral argument skills, practice makes perfect. Remember, the fact that you are granted an On-Campus Interview is a testament to your academic success. In fact, you are presumed qualified! The interview only serves as a personality litmus test, so relax, be yourself, and have fun. Good luck!

Lydia S. Hu, Esq. is an Associate at Semmes, Bowen & Semmes, a Professional Corporation, in Baltimore, Maryland. Her civil litigation practice focuses on insurance defense and products liability. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Baltimore School of Law in May 2009.

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