Legal Job Interviewing 101

Interview GuideAn in-person interview is often your one and only chance to impress a prospective employer. Careful planning and attention to details are essential to making a good impression and convincing the employer that you are the right person for the job.

Although many of the following items may seem like basic common sense, we at Special Counsel are constantly amazed at the comments we receive from our clients about the ways in which candidates knock themselves completely out of the running by something inappropriate they say or do during an interview. Therefore, we have compiled the following list of important “dos and don’ts” that we highly recommend.

What to do for Legal Job Interviewing:

  • Research the firm or company.
  • Wear a suit, have your shirt professionally cleaned, shine your shoes. This holds true even for women. Although dresses and pant suits are acceptable in the workplace, a conservative suit is always your safest bet for an interview.
  • Make sure your pants are zipped! (Yes, this has actually happened.)
  • Practice your answers to difficult questions.
  • Be on time.
  • Mirror the handshake(s) of your interviewer(s). If the interviewer has a firm handshake, return it in kind. If their handshake is weak, don’t overpower them with yours. Generally, people don’t like either wet noodles or vice grips.
  • Admit that you’re nervous if you are. Trying to hide it will only make it worse.
  • Be energetic and enthusiastic.
  • Sell yourself. Give the employer a reason to get excited about you.
  • Make eye contact with your interviewer.
  • Ask good questions.
  • Get across your agenda. Talk about your strong points even if you are not asked about them directly.
  • Be as flexible as possible when talking about your availability to start the position.
  • Send a thank you letter to each person with whom you met. The corollary to this is that you must get the correct name and spelling of each person.

What to Avoid for Legal Job Interviews

  • Don’t wear cologne or perfume.
  • Don’t smoke immediately before the interview.
  • Don’t wear trendy or casual clothing. This is not the time to try out your Bugs Bunny tie! (Again – yes this actually happened.)
  • Don’t assume that the interview is merely a formality. Always sell yourself.
  • Don’t talk about dissatisfaction with the practice of law.
  • Don’t complain about your current employer. Express your reasons for leaving as a positive statement of what you are looking for, not a negative statement of what you want to get away from.
  • Don’t interrupt the interviewer.
  • Don’t talk too much or too little. The best interviews are always a two-way conversation between you and the interviewer.
  • Don’t fidget. If you tend to fidget and play with objects such as your pen or a paper clip, don’t tempt yourself. Place your (empty) hands on your lap and keep them still.
  • Don’t talk about money until the employer raises the issue.
  • Don’t use foul language.
  • Don’t discuss inappropriate personal matters. Remember, this is a business meeting. Although an employer wants to get to know you personally to determine if you will work well together, they do not want to know about your current personal problems.
  • Don’t make remarks inappropriate to the environment. For example, don’t refer to yourself as a “maverick” if you are interviewing for a position in a conservative corporate legal department.


One of the most difficult things you may have to do in an interview setting is go with your interviewer(s) to a restaurant for lunch or dinner. While this may be a wonderful opportunity to visit a great restaurant and meet with your interviewer(s) in a more social setting, meals are fraught with potential pitfalls for even the most eloquent interviewees. Remember, your potential employer is watching everything you do and is observing how you might handle a lunch with a client. Here are some tips:

  • Never order an alcoholic beverage during a lunch – even if your interviewer does.
  • If your interviewer orders an alcoholic beverage at a dinner meeting, you may also, but never drink so much that you are intoxicated – even if your interviewer does.
  • Don’t comment on the prices on the menu – even if the lobster cost $50.
  • Try not to be the first person to order and, when you do order, make your order similar to that of your host. In other words, if your host orders only an entree, don’t be tempted to order an appetizer, a salad, an entree, dessert and coffee. In addition to the fact that your interviewer may believe your order is inappropriate, remember that you have to continue to carry on a conversation while you are eating all that food.
  • Don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu. Lobster is not a good idea!
  • Order something easy to eat. Lobster is still not a good idea!
  • Don’t be difficult with the waiter or waitress. If there is a minor problem, ignore it. If there is a problem that needs to be addressed (like the lobster you ordered – despite our advice – is still crawling on your plate), do so as graciously and inconspicuously as possible.
  • Don’t hit on the waiter or waitress either!
  • Remember to say thank you to your host.

Handled properly, interviewing can be an enjoyable, interesting and informative experience. Using these guidelines and spending time to prepare for each interview will put you miles ahead of other candidates and give you the best chance of receiving an offer for the position you really want.

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