1 minute read

Government Interviews

Answering The “why” Question

Many government attorneys have distinct career paths that brought them to their current position. Some started their careers with federal clerkships, some in private practice, some with different government agencies. However, they all had specific reasons for wanting to get a government job. When you are asked why you want the job, you had better have a researched, thoughtful, and sincere answer prepared. To do this effectively, determine why you want to become a government lawyer. When communicating your reasons to the interviewers, avoid those that may raise red flags. For example:

  • • “I want to join your office because it is prestigious.”
  • • “I want to build my resume.”
  • • “I would like to get some trial experience here and then return to private practice.”
  • • “I would like a 9-to-5 job, without the billable-hour requirements.”
  • • “I think I would be a good fit for this job because I like being independent, and I hear your attorneys have a lot of autonomy.”

You get the idea. Emphasize that you are serious about the purpose behind the work, that you are willing to work hard, and that you intend to stay long term. If your interviewers get a sense that you plan to use this job as a stepping stone, you will not get an offer.

Although all employers want candidates who will be committed to their work, the government needs this quality even more so. The government's budget is limited, and the pay is lower than it is in private practice. In light of this, applicants must demonstrate their motivation to do their work well as well as their desire to advance within the agency. Says one federal prosecutor: “One of the best answers you can give us is to say that you hope to have an opportunity to stay with us once your two-year term expires.” Additionally, you want to answer the “why” question by explaining what steps you took to ensure your success as a government lawyer (public service, community work, pro bono, relevant work experience, and so on).

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw Job InterviewsGovernment Interviews - Preparation And Experience Are Key, Answering The “why” Question, Exhibit Realistic Expectations, Interview Logistics