Job application and interview tips

I had a great time Saturday night catching up with some of my law school classmates from the Maryland Law Class of 2006 at our 10-year law school reunion.

While there, I chatted with one of my classmates who is now a partner in the Baltimore office of a large, regional law firm. Although we practice in drastically different settings (he at a firm of 100-plus attorneys, me at a firm of five attorneys), we both are involved in the law student hiring and interview process. He interviews law students as part of the on-campus interview (OCI) process; I interview law students for law clerk positions that, in the past, have been a pipeline to an associate position.

After we finished talking sports, kids and practice, we commiserated over stories from the interview process. For the benefit of any law-student readers of this blog, here are four tips that came out of our conversation and collective experience:

1) You may not get the job with your cover letter, but you can lose the interview.

Simply put, grammatical and spelling errors in your cover letter will ensure you don’t get an in-person meeting. There is nothing more that needs to be said. The cover letter is likely to be skimmed for an initial review to determine if it even warrants reviewing the content of the cover letter. As for the content of your cover letter, you should consider emphasizing why you have a strong interest in the areas of practice of the firm where you are interviewing and any real-world experience in that area. (However, take caution of Tip 4, below.)

2) Include interesting things on your resume, but be ready to talk about them.

Every law student takes the same first year classes. Most law students are on journal, moot court or trial team. So think of something that you can put on your resume that is interesting, that separates you from the larger pool of candidates and that may be a conversation-starter. Think about a job before law school. Think about a unique skill or hobby. Or think about an extraordinary outcome you received at your clinic.

If you’re in the door for an interview, you’ve already made an impression with your educational background. What will most likely come up during the course of the interview are those things that are unique to you. Do not hyperbolize, exaggerate, or stretch when thinking of these interesting things. Nothing is more uncomfortable than the candidate during an interview who is exposed for resume-dressing.

3) We need to be able to have a conversation.

If I hire you, chances are that you and I will spend a lot of time together. There will be relatively stress-free times and times where the metaphorical bullets are flying, clients need an immediate response and we’ve got a pending court deadline in another matter. We don’t need to be best friends. We don’t even need to have the same interests (although it helps). But we need to be able to communicate with each other. In the interview, we are going to be looking to see how well you can hold a conversation in a setting we know is more stressful for you than it is for us.

4) Do your research and know the firm where you are interviewing.

Law firm websites often talk about all the areas of practice and types of cases that we handle. We can instantly spot the candidate who has done nothing more than visit our home page and scanned our areas of practice. This candidate will visit the website, see “Area of Law X” listed among areas of practice and submit a cover letter or speak in their interview about how they are drawn to our firm because of our active practice in “Area of Law X.”

Instead, the candidate needs to research are the types of cases and areas of law that the law firm and the lawyers who work there most frequently handle (I cannot yet ethically use the word “specialize”). “Area of Law X” may be included on our website among our practice areas because we’ve handled a few cases in that type of practice before. But any amount of research into the publications, speaking engagements, and Bar involvement of the lawyers at the firm would have clued the interviewee into the fact that “Area of Law X” is not a high priority of the firm. We are looking for candidates who are drawn to the types of cases which we most frequently handle.

Good luck out there. And go vote for your sitting judges.

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