You have all of the right qualifications. Your resume lists the skill set that the firm most desires. You are the perfect “on paper” candidate. Now, you have an interview. Shoe in, right? Not, exactly. An interview is much more than proving that you can do the job. It can all come down to personality.
Here are the qualities that make for the best and most successful interviews:
The firm wants to see that you have the ability to connect with people. Being personable will help to create a connection with the interviewers (i.e., help them see you as a person rather than just an attorney). If the interviewers like you, they are likely to fight for you during the hiring process. Your initial interviewers should become your cheerleaders in front of the hiring committee and the decision-makers at the firm.
Secondly, as you become more senior in your career, your ability to connect with people becomes more important. If you are able to connect to attorneys on an initial meeting, this is a signal that you will also be able to connect with clients – existing clients as well as potential new clients. In the end, your ability to be “personable” speaks to how well you might originate business for the firm.
Being personable is somewhat of an “X” factor and can be difficult to describe. In essence, don’t check your personality at the door and become still, uneasy, or aloof. Feel free to laugh, smile, gesture, make an appropriate joke (if the mood is right in the room), show that you have the ability to think on your feet with a quick wit. Make the interviewers feel at ease around you. Firms are employing a human, not a robot. They want to hire someone they enjoy being around.
You have the skill set for the job, but are you confident in that skill set? The interview is not the time to play coy. You need to be your biggest advocate. You finished law school, you passed the Bar, you obtained marketable skills (this is why you are in the room) – know your worth! You have many achievements of which to be proud! If you are not confident in yourself, then the interviewers cannot be confident in you. No matter how much they like you, they will not be able to sell your candidacy to the hiring committee. Again, this factor is ultimately about your potential relationship with the firm’s clients. Before going forward, the firm needs to be convinced that you have the ability to entrust the confidence of their clients.
Of course, you cannot simply tell the firm that you are confident person. This needs to be expressed through your body language, speech pattern, and the way you answer every question. The best confidence emits from a positive, relaxed energy. Strand straight, sit leaning just a little bit forward, make eye contact. Don’t close yourself off be crossing your arms or constantly looking down. Don’t fidget. Wear something that makes you feel good out yourself, powerful, and completely comfortable.
You also relay confidence with a consistent speech pattern. A great way to accomplish this is by anticipating questions prior to the interview and writing out your answers. By writing your answers, you are wiring your brain to instinctively know the beginning, middle, and end of the thought you want to express. After writing, practice your answers out loud (in the car, the shower, subway). Of course, your answers should be not memorized verbatim, but merely a guideline. This allows you to express your entire thought in an intelligent way without stop-starting or an erratic speech pattern. Being detailed in your answers is also a great way to convey confidence.
Note to confidence: There IS such a thing as over confidence. Even though you want to relay that you are the best person for the position, make sure to stay humble when appropriate. Never interrupt, dismiss, or talk down to the interviewer or anyone else. Firms often look to see how you treat the assistants and other people you may encounter during the process. Be respectful and know your place in the room.
Interviewers want to know that everything in your career and your life has been well thought-out. You need to have a good explanation for every career move and why you are currently seeking to lateral. Firms want to be assured that you are not impulsive or scattered. Essentially, being deliberate speaks to the idea that you know what you want. If you demonstrate a history of being deliberate in your decisions, you help firms feel that they can trust your judgment.
Since you are claiming that you seek a position with the firm, should you accept their offer, the firm is trusting that you will be happy with them and not looking to leave at any point in the near future. The firm wants you to be just as excited about them as they are about you!
Another quick factor that plays into the “personality” category is positivity. Make sure to stay upbeat. Turn everything to the positive. Of course you have a valid reason for looking into other possibilities, but do not hang out your present firm’s “dirty laundry” or complain about the firm. Be grateful for the opportunities your firm has given you, but realize that it’s time to move on for the betterment of your career. Some people come across as “downers,” complainers, or entitled. Firms do not hire those people.
It’s still a tough market in the law firm world. Most likely, the firm has several great “on paper” candidates. To get an offer, you need to “jump off the page.”