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Bold Moves

By the time you are interviewing, you cannot change much about your resume. Your grades are what they are, as are your extracurricular activities, journal membership, law school, and employment history. But what you do have control over is you. As you are preparing for your interviews, you may find it helpful to evaluate your candidacy from the employer's perspective. Put yourself in your interviewer's shoes. During on-campus interviews, for example, interviewers meet 12 to 20 candidates a day, with only a few short breaks in between. As you can imagine, by the end of the day the interviewers are exhausted. It is not surprising then that to the interviewers, most of the students blend into one faceless candidate with rather unremarkable credentials. What this means is that only those candidates who can distinguish themselves are able to move on to the next level. Therefore, you must do your best not to blend in with the reject crowd.

Make a Lasting Impression

Say you walk into an interview room late in the afternoon. Of course, if you have already read Chapter 2, you will know that this is not the best time to schedule an interview; you will leave a more lasting impression if you interview early in the morning when the interviewer's memory is still fresh. But sometimes you have no choice.

As you are walking in, you immediately notice that your interviewer is already crashing from his or her morning caffeine high and is barely paying any attention to you or the surroundings. Without looking up from his BlackBerry, he nods with complete disinterest as you introduce yourself. He then asks you a generic and hopelessly uninspiring question such as, “So, what can I tell you about my firm?” In this all-too-common scenario, you have only two options. One option is to play it safe, make the best of a dry interview, try to look excited as you exchange meaningless questions and answers, and hope for the best. Another option is to try something different that will leave a memorable impression.

Transform a dry interview into an engaging one

Here are a few examples of how actual interviewees managed to transform a dry and boring interview into an engaging conversation and a post-interview callback.

Jeremy was a typical law student going through his interviews without much luck. He attended a second-tier school, was not on a journal, and had average grades. Potential employers were less than enthusiastic about his candidacy. Only two firms invited him to interview. To make matters worse, his interview with one of these firms was scheduled for 5 p.m., the last interview that day. But Jeremy decided to give it his best shot. So he showed up to the interview with two cans of beer in hand. After the tired-looking interviewer greeted him, Jeremy said, “I know you've had long a day, so I thought you could use a cold one.” The interviewer laughed, and they had a relaxing and enjoyable conversation over a beer. When the interviewer recommended this candidate for a callback, the hiring partner was puzzled by his choice, as Jeremy clearly did not meet the firm's GPA criteria. Without going into too much detail (for obvious reasons), the interviewer explained that Jeremy simply had “a winning personality.”

Naturally, offering an interviewer a beer is a risky proposition, and we are not endorsing it. But it worked for Jeremy, who had nothing to lose to begin with, and who was rewarded for his daring attitude and entrepreneurial spirit with a callback.

Anna had a more conservative approach. Her interview was scheduled for early in the morning. When she showed up for her interview, she noted that the interviewer was barely awake and still battling jetlag. So she offered to take him to the cafeteria for coffee. This gesture was very much appreciated by her interviewer. More importantly, it made the interview more casual and enjoyable for both of them. Anna also received a callback, even though her grades were slightly below the firm's cut-off point.

We have tried this approach ourselves and, in every instance, the interviewers loved their morning coffee and thanked us profusely. Other interviewees swear by it, too.

Alex used a similar technique. But instead of taking his interviewers to the cafeteria, he brought hot coffee to his morning interviews. His bold move was a big hit, as interviewers generally do not have time for a break or a refill, and the coffee was a real mood cure during the long interviewing process. Alex received several callbacks, and eventually received an offer from a great firm.

If you decide to follow Alex's lead, make sure to also bring a few packs of sugar and cream. Some interviewers may get grumpy if they do not get their coffee sweet and light!

Another way to stand out is by being genuine. For example, when asked why you decided to go to law school, instead of offering some sob story about how you wanted to fight injustice, you can honestly say that you wanted a lucrative, stable profession. You may find that the attorneys you meet will relate better to an honest answer to this type of question.

For Mario, being genuine was the key with an interviewer who looked very sleep deprived and disinterested. During an especially boring part of the interview, Mario asked, “Do you really enjoy what you do? Honestly?” His demeanor must have seemed genuine and his question sincere because the interviewer, after pondering this for a bit, said, “Honestly, there was a time when I did. I don't anymore.” She then offered her candid impression of the legal profession and its woes. The genuineness of that conversation made the interview a positive experience for both of them.

Mario's move set him apart and helped him get a callback from this interviewer, but a question soliciting a more positive response would have been even better. You should always try to keep the conversation during interviews as positive as possible. Human psychology works in mysterious ways. Interviewers are less likely to react positively to interviewees who bring up a negative topic. Consequently, even the most engaging conversation will hurt your chances of an offer, if it leaves your interviewer with a negative feeling.

This advice worked well for Erin, a Tulane Law grad interviewing for a clerkship shortly after hurricane Katrina. When the judge asked her how the hurricane affected her life, she placed a positive spin on her story. She acknowledged that it was a difficult time for everyone, but noted that she was able to reconnect with several members of her family shortly after the hurricane and felt lucky because they were safe. Erin then quickly shifted the conversation to another subject. The judge later told her he was impressed with her ability to respond in such a positive manner to such an emotionally charged question.

Finally, the most positive thing you can do is tell your interviewer that you have thoroughly researched the firm, that the firm is absolutely your first choice, and that you will accept on the spot if you receive an offer. Interviewers who routinely meet candidates who are uncertain about what they want to do and where they want to work will appreciate this kind of enthusiasm and commitment.

Weighing your options

Candidates who are different, genuine, entertaining, or just plain bold often make the most lasting impression on their interviewers. But it is also important not to be outrageous or obnoxious, and to apply a basic cost-benefit analysis to each of your interviews. If your chances of having a good interview and getting a callback or an offer appear good (based on your grades and judging by how your interview began), perhaps you should not try anything risky. If, on the other hand, your interview is going poorly, the interviewer seems to be going through the motions, or you have little to lose, then by all means be bold.

Do not be afraid to be bold. When you are lost in the interviewing crowd, the things that make you stand out could be the things that get the employer to notice you and to give you a chance. Because lawyers (and, hence, law students) have a reputation of being risk averse, it may pay to break this stereotype and take some risk by trying something different during your interviews. Nevertheless, be careful when applying this advice beyond on-campus interviews. During callbacks, government, clerkship, and lateral interviews, your approach to interviewing must be much more subtle and conservative.


  • • Your goal during interviews is to stand out from the crowd.
  • • If your interview starts out as dry and boring, seek to transform it.
  • • Consider asking unusual questions, giving honest answers, and discussing non-legal issues.
  • • Do a cost-benefit analysis to help you decide whether to try a bold move at an interview.
  • • Generally, bold moves are good if you have nothing to lose, or if the interview is so boring that it is unlikely you will receive a callback or an offer otherwise.
  • • If the interview is engaging and is going well, or if you are a strong candidate, consider foregoing bold moves.
  • • Whatever you do, do not overdo it, and do not be arrogant.

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Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw Job Interviews