What do legal employers look for in job interviews?

Make the right moves to get the offer

Know what employers are looking for, in order to successfully navigate the interview process as a law student in the job market

As a law student interviewing for jobs, it’s important to keep in mind what employers are really looking for when they interview law students. Think about it from the standpoint of the employer: Who would you want to hire if you were the employer, and your reputation, business, and professional success depended on the people you hire? Once you start looking at it from this perspective, it starts to become clearer what employers will be looking for when they interview you. With that in mind, here are some key criteria that just about every employer will be considering as they interview you:

Ability to do the job: First and foremost, of course, an employer wants to know that you have the requisite intelligence, skills and qualifications to do the job. Likely if they have chosen you for an interview, you meet this test, but it’s still important to keep in mind, because you will want to confirm this for them and show them not only that you can do the job, but do it exceedingly well.

Rapport/Likeability: Employers want to know whether you are somebody they will want to see 8 (or more) hours a day, 5 (or more) days a week. You want to come across as likeable and develop rapport with the interviewers. In order to do this, it will be important to be as relaxed and engaging as you can be, while still maintaining a professional demeanor. You should also try and be yourself, since if you are trying to be someone else, employers will instantly read that and it will make you look fake. Also, if you are yourself, then you are more likely to allow your natural charm and charisma to show through, while coming across as genuine, solid, and trustworthy.

Match with Company/Firm Culture: Somewhat related to the previous criterion, interviewers will want to see that you are a good match for the firm’s “culture”. This one is a bit harder to prepare for, and is more of a crap shoot, since different employers will have different cultures, and there is no way to be all things to all employers. However, you can maximize your ability to meet this standard in at least three ways. First, you can convey all the other good things employers like (e.g. strong skills, general likeability, maturity, etc.) since most company cultures will value these types of things. Second, you try and learn about the employer’s culture by researching the firm/company beforehand (something you should be doing to prepare in general for the interview). Third, it will be important to read the interviewers’ tone and demeanor, and mirror what they are projecting to some extent. This will ensure that you meet their expectations of how the interview should be conducted, and also will to some extent, maximize your chance of demonstrating that you fit within their firm’s culture. Thus, if they are conducting the interview in a formal manner, then you should be more formal. If they are more relaxed and conversational, then you should be as well. However, always maintain a professional and respectful demeanor no matter how informal the interviewers may be. Finally, keep in mind that if you do a good job interviewing and are genuine, and you still are not perceived as a good fit for the employer’s culture, then it’s probably not a place where you would be happy.

Passion for the Job: Employers want to know not only whether you could do a good job for them, but also whether you want to. It’s important to show that you are enthusiastic about the employer and the particular job you are applying for. Employers know that employees produce far better work when they enjoy what they do and are happy with their employer. Therefore, you will want to research everything you can about the company and the position, so you can point to specific reasons why you want to work at that employer in that position. Conversely, if you know (or learn) that you would not be happy in the position, then you should not apply for it (or withdraw your application).

Maturity: One critical thing that employers are trying to assess is your maturity. Most law students are recent college graduates and perhaps still transitioning between a carefree youthful lifestyle and the responsibilities of being an adult professional. If an employer senses that you are not quite ready for prime time because you are still in the stage of being an irresponsible college kid, they will not want to hire you. So be sure to convey stability and maturity. Show them that they can put you in front of clients and you will reflect well on them.

Solid Judgment: Employers are looking not only for intelligent people with strong skills, they are also looking for people with solid judgment. No matter how brilliant a candidate is, if they are prone to making bad or risky decisions because they lack good judgment and prudent decision making skills, the candidate will be seen as a significant potential liability to an employer. This is especially true of legal employers, as they are in the business of selling their ability to deliver level-headed, prudent and careful advice to clients. The last thing you want to do is to get an interviewer thinking about all the nightmare malpractice scenarios you could generate for them by making poor decisions after they bring you on board. Therefore, be sure to show employers that you possess good judgment, and where you can, point to examples in your background showing that you have made sound, prudent decisions that have helped previous employers with difficult challenges.

Confidence: Everybody likes confidence, and legal employers are no exception. Confidence achieves a lot of things at once. First, it suggests that you possess the skills necessary to do a great job. Second, it puts people at ease and makes it much easier to develop rapport with interviewers. Third, it suggests maturity and stability. In other words, confidence tends to show that you meet the various other criteria discussed above that they are looking to find in a candidate. This does not mean however, that you should be cocky, as that would suggest a lot of bad things and undercut all the good things you are trying to convey – e.g., you will come across as immature, unlikable, unstable, etc. Instead simply try to convey relaxed, calm, and stable confidence, while still showing deference and respectfulness to the interviewer.

The above is not meant to be an exhaustive list of things employers are looking for, and every interviewer will have their own unique set of expectations. However, these general criteria are likely to be very important to just about every company or firm with whom you interview, so keep them in mind next time you are preparing for interviews.


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