Nine Interview Don’ts


[Ed. Note: A refreshed version of our 9.2.08 post, this list kicks off our focus on the OCI/interview/job hunting process for law students.  We’re working on several exclusive pieces that will be sporadically posted over the next weeks as a flint of guidance for bitter law students living in this insane legal era.

Update: Check out our OCI Confessions series where hiring partners give law students the all the dirt on interviewing.]

Nine Interview Don’ts:

1.  Don’t write stupid, trivial things under the “Personal” section of your resume

Nobody cares if you’re a Woody Allen fanatic, bake a mean kiwi-lemon pie or “love to travel.” Save this section for real things only.  Stuff like “Speak Cantonese fluently;” “Varsity golf, Vanderbilt University;” or “Published various political essays in The New Yorker, 2004—present.” In other words, if you don’t have anything legitimate and unique to add, say nothing.  Please.

2.  Don’t put your goddamn LSAT score on your resume

No matter what.  Even if you scored a perfect 180.  People will hate you.

3.  Don’t put your high school on your resume

Even if you went to Andover, Choate, Dalton, or Harvard-Westlake.  It’s just a high school.  We know you’re proud and all, but the risk of irreparable alienation far outweighs the potential reward.

4.  Don’t try to impress the interviewer with how smart you are

Believe it or not, you’re just another law student looking for a job, and nobody is going to be wowed with your keen intellect and superficial knowledge of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.  The most important thing is to be enthusiastic and eager.  The interviewers assume you’re smart—that’s why you got an interview in the first place.  So do yourself a favor and try to be “normal,” not intellectual.  It’s far more impressive.

5.  Don’t exaggerate your work experience

Truth is that people don’t care what you did prior to law school—unless you’re one of the few people who actually did something relevant and interesting.  For the other 99% of the student body, keep it simple and honest.  People are more interested by your ability to learn than by what you’ve already learned.  So don’t attempt to spin some internship at your dad’s friend’s law firm into some sort of high-powered, transactional gig.

6.  Don’t dress like a jackass

Be stylish, but in case of a tie, err on the side of conservatism.  And please!  Wear something manufactured in the past three years.

Men: Stay away from black, bow ties, summer suits and “statement” ties.

Women: Keep cleavage and hip-hugging to a minimum, regardless of how often you do Pilates.

7.  Don’t harass interviewers with thank-you emails and letters

People often say, “Feel free to call me if you have any questions.” But they don’t really mean it.  So save your calls and emails for when it matters—after the firm actually makes you an offer and you’re trying to decide what firm to pick.  Remember: 90% of the time, the decision to hire you is already made by the time you send your ass-kissing email anyway. Not once in the history of the world has someone been hired because they sent a thank-you note.  In fact, it might actually cost you points because now the person you sent it to has to respond, which is annoying.

8.  Don’t ask about billable hours, lifestyle or firm culture

You might as well just pull out a clown mask and start dancing around the office.  If you give the interviewer any sort of hint that you’re not interested in working your ass off, you’re dead.  Save all the “give me the skinny” questions for post-offer discussions.  Until then, attitude is king.

9.  Talk about economy, but don’t dwell on it

Everyone knows the economy sucks and jobs are scarce.  It’s okay to raise the topic during an interview, but don’t get stuck on it.  You don’t want your entire interview mired in negativity.  “How has the economy affected your practice area?” is a good question. “How many lawyers have been laid off?” is a bad question.  And whatever you do, do not ask about salary freezes or decreases.  Wait until you get an offer to discuss compensation.

Bitter Staff is a collection of current and former editors, contributors, and various other lawyers who have written for Bitter Lawyer over the years. Posts include interviews, contests, and other general lawyerly and bitter content.

25 Comments

  1. BL1Y

    September 9, 2009 at 3:16 am

    The rule on thank you letters is a combination of two factors, the size of the firm, and which side of the Mason-Dixon line you’re on.  Small shop in Memphis? Send a letter, they’ll appreciate it.  Mega-firm in Manhattan?  You’re just wasting 0.1 hours that could have been billed to a client.

  2. BL5Y

    September 9, 2009 at 3:25 am

    Don’t be arrogant.  I once asked a potential candidate why we should hire him, and he said “Are you serious?” He didn’t get an offer.  And if someone asks you to tell them about yourself, keep it relevant to the job, don’t tell them you were born in Utah and have 12 brothers and sisters and love to ski.

  3. Al DeRogis

    September 9, 2009 at 3:34 am

    What about Don’t Offer any kind of sexual favors in exchange for a callback interview?  You guys were obviously straining to come up with 9 Don’ts and this one is the most obvious of all.  I have been on the receiving end of this one more than once when I handled OCI’s.

  4. BL1Y

    September 9, 2009 at 4:38 am

    Of course you don’t offer sex to get a call back, you offer sex to get the job.  But, on the call back, when you interview with 4-5 people, who do you offer the sexual favor to?

  5. Anon

    September 9, 2009 at 5:38 am

    Al: You sound a lot like Alex Hump—err Al Dickman—err Alma Federer—err Guano Dubango.  Get a life, loser.

  6. 4th Year

    September 9, 2009 at 5:39 am

    Good advice.  Just be positive, energetic and willing to work your ass off.  And remember this: The easiest way not to get a job is to be arrogant.

  7. Ceegunz

    September 9, 2009 at 5:53 am

    BL5Y–You asked a candidate why you should hire him?  Asking the question alone shows more arrogance than any possible response to it.  You already knew everything impressive about the candidate; asking him to restate why he’s worthy of your high office is ridiculous.  Not only that, but its a stupid, worthless question that only tests a person’s ability to give a rehearsed elevator pitch.  When some stuffy partner asked me that question at a call-back, I decided to decline that firm right then and there.  Are you sure he wasn’t asking “Are you serious?” that you were asking such an inane question in the first place?

  8. BL1Y

    September 9, 2009 at 6:04 am

    Asking someone why you should hire them shows a lack of understanding of how applications work.  The candidate doesn’t know if you should hire him.  He comes in with only a little bit of information about the firm based on some trite one liners on the website.  He doesn’t know what you need, what your standards are, what the firm culture is like, if he’d fit in, etc.  His job is just to let you know his qualifications.  It’s your job to know if you should hire him.  On the off chance I get asked this in my (hopefully) upcoming interviews, I might have to answer with “Because I don’t work for free.”

  9. Craig

    September 9, 2009 at 7:11 am

    These articles are always fun to read, but in reality, there is no script.  You really can’t teach someone how to relate to and effectively read people.  Every person/interviewer will be different. Some will want a bit of arrogance, while others may be extremely turned off by the slightest bit of swagger.  Some people will want a manic, single minded person, while others will want a more well rounded people person.  The key is not to try to figure out what the firm wants, but to effectively relate to the interviewer.  I guess it could be taught, but it would be tough.  You either have the skill or not.

  10. Brett

    September 9, 2009 at 7:46 am

    The “why should I hire you” question is based on old school interview techniques.  For those with sales experience, it’s almost like a take-away close.  I’ve also used, “you really don’t seem very enthused about this career opportunity.” You ask questions like that purely to see how the candidate will react; how quickly they can think on their toes.  I haven’t used those questions for about 10 years now, but I know of a few old dogs who still ask questions along those lines.

  11. Alma Federer

    September 9, 2009 at 7:58 am

    I think all of you are jerks.  You should just get jobs and stop making dumb comments about me.  I will always be beautiful AND smart.  You won’t be either.  The jerk below, Anon, really is a horses rectum!

  12. BL1Y

    September 9, 2009 at 8:24 am

    Speaking of us jerks getting jobs…anyone hiring?

  13. Roger

    September 9, 2009 at 8:51 am

    Just be confident, energetic and likable.  Easier said than done.  Arrogance and apathy are absolute deal killers.

  14. Matt23

    September 9, 2009 at 9:20 am

    good question anyone hiring?

  15. Sharikov

    September 9, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Can someone explain why “Varsity golf, Vanderbilt University” is not “stupid, trivial”?

  16. BL1Y

    September 9, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Making the varsity golf team probably indicates a certain skill level at the sport, not just a mere interest.  Your interests are irrelevant, but for many jobs the ability to succeed in a wide variety of activities is important, even if the specific activities you’ve done in the past are not.

  17. Magic Circle Jerk

    September 9, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Having just conducted another round of interviews, let me give my feedback.
    These are all decent points with a couple of exceptions:
    1) High School- If it’s a famous prep school (aka Andover, etc.), put it on.  If you’re interviewing for jobs in the city where you grew up, put the HS on if it ADDS something to the resume (ie good local private school or magnate public school).
    2) Thank you notes.  I appreciate them.  Send me a max of one hand-written note and one email within 24 hours of the email.  Shows you care.  But don’t bother me with questions, whatever I say.

  18. VandyOrDi

    September 9, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Sharkov- You’ve obviously never experienced the aweomeness of Vandy.

  19. Lady lawyer

    September 9, 2009 at 11:10 am

    BL1Y seems like you have chg since being unemployed.  More positive, less critical, and comments display decent, informative, and intell.  I know you will find something out there, but it is still a jungle.

  20. BL1Y

    September 9, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Thanks Lady lawyer.  It’s been 12 months to the day since Weather Top, but I can finally start to feel the influence of Big Law bullshit starting to fade.

  21. BL5Y

    September 9, 2009 at 11:35 am

    ceegunz – actually, the question goes something like, you have a very impressive background, as do all of our candidates, why is it that we should choose you over others/ what is it that sets you apart?  It’s a chance for them to get beyond the resume and say why it is that they should get the job.  Anyone who is hungry for a job will welcome the question.

  22. BL1Y

    September 9, 2009 at 11:45 am

    BL5Y: “Without knowing the specific qualifications of the other applicants, I cannot say for certain that I am more qualified than they are.  While I believe I am fully qualified, I feel that it would be irresponsible of me to draw any conclusion comparing my qualifications to others I know little about, and this is the same prudence with which I would approach my work at XYZ.”

  23. Anonymous

    September 9, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Just what everyone wants a guy who’s totally unwilling to put his ass on the line.

  24. Lady lawyer

    September 9, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Put your ass on the line in the court room and win your case.  Not in the interview.  A good HR could put an extra crack there, that you do not need.

  25. BL1Y

    September 9, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    @2:55 doesn’t realize that the question actually was answered.  The answer of why I should be chosen over the other candidates is that I don’t try to give bullshit answers.  I put forth a good option, me, but didn’t over state my opinion.  Even with my limited legal experience, I’ve learned that only half of any research project is the answer.  The other half is communicating the degree of certainty you have.  When under time constraints, which are common, you can’t always do a complete survey of the legal landscape.

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