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Winning Interview Strategies Prepare - Like an Athlete

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” according to legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. College athletes who master the scout, go the extra mile in practice, and evaluate their performance after each game tend to be successful on the court/field. Likewise, lawyers who perform the best in an interview are the ones who take the time to prepare for and to assess what they could have done better afterward. Thorough preparation and self-assessment are necessary exercises for lawyers at all levels, from inexperienced entry-level lawyers to partners seeking to make a strategic move who have not interviewed in many years.

What makes a lawyer stand out from others in the interview process? Most of us have wondered why we didn’t get the job.  You can maximize your chances of landing the offer by preparing for your interview like an athlete prepares for competition.

Master the scout. Conduct your own scouting first by studying the law firm’s website. Familiarize yourself with the firm’s culture and how the firm talks about itself and its accomplishments. Read the about us section and its recent news articles. Study the careers page. Some firms even will suggest questions to ask the interviewers. Study the practice area for which you are interviewing, the lawyers in that practice, and the bios of the interviewers.

Practice, practice, practice. After mastering the scout, a lawyer, like an athlete, should practice, refine, and practice again to maximize his or her chances of winning. Practice talking about yourself, your practice and your goals. When I work with a lawyer to prepare him or her for an interview, we anticipate a broad range of questions and walk through possible answers. You must be able to answer questions that will enable the interviewers to decide why they should hire you, why you are interested in their practice, and whether you will be a fit. At a minimum, you must know how to navigate these basics:

  • “Tell me about yourself.”  Lawyers often ask this question or a similar one (e.g., “Why do you want to be a lawyer?” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?”). If you prepare the answer to these questions, you will be able to shape how you want your interviewer to perceive you. 
  • “Why this firm and why this practice area?” If you master the scout, you should be able to answer these questions.
  • Know your resume. Practice describing listed experiences and writings.
  • Prepare and practice asking questions addressed to each interviewer.

Prepare answers to behavioral interview questions. Behavioral interviews are based on the premise that past behavior is indicative of future performance. Lawyers ask behavioral interview questions to determine how you will perform in their environment. An example of a behavioral interview question is: “Tell me about a time when you had to persuade your boss to view a situation your way.”  Respond like a high performer by using the PARLA method: stating the problem; discussing the actions you took; describing result of those actions; explaining what you learned from the experience; and, where appropriate, how you have applied lessons learned.

Show you are a team player. Law firms seek lawyers with leadership qualities who will collaborate well with others. Prepare for questions related to leadership and teamwork. Other questions will attempt to assess your emotional intelligence and your intellectual humility. Can you help others succeed? Do you own mistakes and losses? Are you comfortable admitting what you do not know? Your answers to questions designed to elicit this information will suggest whether you will be a solid team member.

Assess your performance. After each interview, write down some of the questions you were asked. Think about how you answered them and refine your answers and questions for the next interview.

Interviewing is a learned skill and you will become more comfortable in that setting each time you interview. You should be able to tell the interviewers about yourself in a succinct way that will shape how your interviewers perceive you. Start every interview armed with knowledge of the firm and your practice area and be prepared to recite key information from your resume that is relevant to this role. If you are prepared with information and practice your answers ahead of time, you will be going into an interview with your game face on and ready to play ball. 

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