I am certain that each of you have read countless articles on what to do in interviews and how to handle yourself throughout the interview process in order to get your dream job. In my almost 15 years at Major, Lindsey & Africa, I have seen candidates make a variety of mistakes despite their tenure and experience on their resumes. Hopefully, you will read this blog and take some practical advice away with you as I share the classic profiles of the people who make missteps in an interview.
#1 The Unprepared Interviewer
He shows up for an interview without any foreknowledge and unprepared for what is about to happen.
Lack of preparation ensures you will fail in an interview. You need to prepare for your interviews each step of the way—from the recruiter meeting to the final client interview. With the advent of the Internet, there is no excuse for being unprepared. Before the interview, read about the potential employer or interviewers—and that doesn't just mean the company website. Search Google, YouTube and every reference to each person you may meet on an interview. Ask people who may know the interviewers. Utilize your recruiter to give you some insight into your interviewers.
You will also need to be ready for the inevitably questions: "What are your strengths and weaknesses?", "Tell us about a mistake you have made and what you learned from it," etc. Have well thought-out answers prepared before you even arrive.
#2 The Brown Noser
She comes in with all the arrogance in the world, playing nice with only the people she thinks she needs to impress and dismissing everyone else.
In an interview, you need to make a positive impression on everyone you come across, not just the General Counsel, law firm partner or recruiting executive. Many executives rely heavily on their staff for their opinions of the interviewee. You can make or break an interview by the way you treat the recruiter, receptionist, administrator, etc. Smile, be nice and make conversation with everyone.
#3 The Clueless Candidate
He cannot tell you why he wants to work for you.
When an interviewer asks why you want to work at their firm/company, have a reason that is related to the company/firm. "I have always wanted to live in New York" or "This position is close to my house" are not valid reasons. I have seen this be a distinguishing factor on many occasions.
The potential employer wants to feel special. Think specifically about what this company offers you and what you can offer it. Do you align with the mission or the technology? Do you love the industry? What makes this company unique?
#4 The Liar
She has a story for everything—some parts less true than others.
Honesty is extremely important in your interviews. If you haven't done it, don't say you have. The employer will find out once you start the job. If you were let go, let them know. This doesn't mean that you should put all of your cards on the table for everyone to review. There are ways to say things that work to your favor. "I got laid off" is much different than "I, along with my entire IP associate class, was laid off." If you tell a tale and they find out after the fact, then you are seen as a liar—and that is next to impossible to undo.
#5 The Unprofessional Professional
He shows up late, chewing gum and leaves his cell phone ringer on.
These are the basics: Be early. Do a dry run of how to get there if you need to. Turn off your phone. Don't chew gum. Dress appropriately. Don't bring your spouse or parent to the interview. Unfortunately, I have seen occasions of well-credentialed lawyers who forget these basic tips and have done all of the aforementioned faux pas. You want to be memorable - but in a good way.
#6 The Rushed Responder
She tries to do the right next steps but does so half-heartedly and makes a classic faux pas.
A good thank you note will never secure you a job (it can't hurt as my partner Mike Sachs recently shared) but a bad thank you note will ensure you don't get the job of your dreams. I recently had a strong candidate interview for a position and he sent a three-sentence thank you email, which contained multiple typos.
I recognize that people make mistakes, but in the "courtship period" of the interview process, when you are still being assessed, take extra care to read, reread and proofread your correspondence with the recruiter or hiring manager. You are giving your potential employer a glimpse into your future working relationship – make it the best one you can.
#7 The Impatient Waiter
He just wants to hear something—ANYTHING! So he calls and emails nonstop until someone tells him something.
When you are interviewing for a job, that position takes up a lot of real estate in your mind. When will I hear from them? Will they call me back for another interview? When will I find out what's going on? Be patient. It is important to remember (but hard to do) that the company/firm has a million issues facing it, and a hire is a small one in the grand scheme of things. Your terrific interview may fall by the wayside if the company gets sued or if the firm lands a huge new client. Follow up and then wait until you hear more. If you send multiple emails or consistently call, you risk potentially turning off the employer.
#8 The Name Dropper
She tells you about all the people that think she's great even if they have not worked with her for years or would not recommend her to begin with.
You have made it all the way to the offer stage, time to provide references. Make sure they are not from 10 years ago or people who barely remember you or people who won't call the reference checker back. References are a soft ball, an easy way to tout your accomplishments. Those are the people who will push you over the finish line. Choose wisely when providing references. Make sure you have strong, current, knowledgeable references who like you and can speak with specificity about your strengths (and, yes, your weaknesses as well). And finally, contact those references and let them know to expect a call so that they are not taken by surprise.
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Deborah Ben-Canaan is a Partner at Major, Lindsey & Africa and the Head of the Washington, D.C. In-House Practice Group. She is one of the firm's most experienced recruiters, placing attorneys nationwide with corporate legal departments at all levels and across all industries.