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If the only thing that scares you more than not getting an interview is the interview itself, take heart: You’re not alone. Stories abound of those cut-to-the-quick interviews that resemble cross-examinations. Still, while there may still be a handful of those dinosaur recruiting partners whose idea of a good time is making an interviewee squirm, most law firm interviews today are like a cocktail party, where the interviewer is the host and you’re the welcome guest. Marcus Weiss, a 3L at Columbia University Law School, participated in about 20 first-round interviews in the past year. “What was most surprising to me about the interview process was just how social the atmosphere was,” Weiss, 24, says. “I found people were looking more for someone they’d enjoy spending time with than exactly how much I knew about the law.” Which is not to say you can just charm your way through an interview and expect an offer. You need to prepare, starting with a clear, concise, accurate (more on that later) r�sum�. Greet your interviewer with a firm handshake. Make eye contact. Dress the part (more on that later, too). Come prepared not just to answer questions, but to ask them as well. We surveyed a battery of experts — recruiting partners at some of the top firms in the country, law school career placement officers, young associates and law students — for their advice to help you finesse that inevitable “So why do you want to be a lawyer?” question. DON’T INFLATE YOUR R�SUM� It seems pretty obvious, but make sure your r�sum� is clean, well organized and typo-free. Get a couple of friends to proof your r�sum� and cover letter (limit each to one page); errors can be picked up more easily by someone removed from the process. Don’t fudge a bad grade, but don’t exaggerate your accomplishments, either. If you indicate a fluency in a second language, make sure you can really converse in that language or you run the risk of being left tongue-tied. “You may be interviewing with someone who is also fluent in that language,” notes Tony Richardson, who heads the recruiting committee for Kirkland & Ellis’s Los Angeles office. Be prepared to discuss your undergraduate thesis; that hiring partner across the desk from you may have also studied Northern Renaissance art and want to discuss the subtle differences between van Eyck and van der Weyden. DO YOUR HOMEWORK Thanks to the Web, you can find out just about anything about the law firm you’re interviewing with, from benefits and compensation to practice areas right on down to biographical profiles of the lawyers you’ll be meeting that day. Seek out fellow students or alumni who have interviewed or clerked at the firm for an inside track on its philosophy and atmosphere. “I’ve had students I’m interviewing tell me they want to specialize in criminal law,” relates Janis M. Meyer, partner at Dewey Ballantine in New York, who also recruits for the firm. “That’s all well and good, except that we don’t do criminal law at our firm.” WEAR A BUSINESS SUIT Forget about the business casual dress code when it comes to your interview. Everyone, even your cronies in law school, concurs on this point: Wear a suit. “You’re much better off erring on the side of being conservative,” advises Gina Sauer, assistant dean for career services at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. For women, this means a suit and pumps; for men a suit and tie. “Even though most lawyers embrace the more casual culture, there will always be those people in suits,” says Jon Block, a young associate at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Palo Alto, Calif. Don’t run the risk of alienating the old guard by showing up wearing khakis and a polo shirt. FIRST IMPRESSIONS MEAN EVERYTHING On the day of the interview, arrive ten minutes early. Be courteous to the office staff, including the receptionist and secretaries. “We’re all a team here,” says Taylor Wilson, hiring partner at Dallas’ Haynes and Boone, who also suggests you keep your eyes open while walking between offices to get a feel for a firm’s environment. “How you treat the support staff makes as much of an impression as how you conduct yourself in the interview.” Above all, you need to convey the impression that you are a person the firm will have no qualms about leaving alone with a client. “You need to be able to converse, be polite and personable, and handle yourself in a professional manner,” says Jean MacInness, a 3L at the University of Notre Dame Law School. ASK QUESTIONS Law firms look for people who have strong analytical minds. One of the best ways to demonstrate your intelligence is through the questions you formulate for your interviewer. Most interviews are conducted according to an 85/15 rule, in which 15 percent of the interview is set aside for the interviewee to ask questions of the interviewer. Ask these with honesty and sincerity, showing real interest in hearing the answers, suggests Skip Horne, director of career services at Santa Clara University School of Law in California. Avoid questions whose answers can easily be found on a Web site or on file in your law school’s career services office, such as practice areas or number of lawyers. Also, don’t ask about compensation or benefits on your initial interview. It’s premature to ask about salary before getting an offer. STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD By the end of the day, an on-campus recruiter has interviewed as many as 25 students. The difference in qualifications between the student who gets an offer and the second runner-up is usually minuscule. So how can you make your impression a memorable one? You need to distinguish yourself from the pack, says former NYU student Ian Saffer, who is today an associate with Townsend and Townsend and Crew in Denver. If the firm you’re interviewing with is known for its litigation department, for example, emphasize that you want to build your litigation skills. A caveat from Saffer: “Try to see what the interviewer is looking for, whether it be academics, personality, or credentials. But be honest: sucking up is usually pretty transparent.” Another way to stand out is to accentuate your interests outside the law, be it sailing, surfing, traveling, or spelunking. “Law firms are filled with people who are working through the night,” says Jon Block at Wilson Sonsini. “It’s nice to work with someone who is well-rounded and interesting and has more than just a collection of jobs to his name.” It may sound counterintuitive, but law students and recruiters alike suggest students relax and be themselves throughout the interview process. Jean MacInness, at Notre Dame Law School, says she actually enjoyed all 15 to 20 on-campus interviews and nine call-back interviews. “I used the interview process as an opportunity to pick these lawyers’ brains,” she says. “Besides, I love to talk about myself, and they wanted to hear about me. What’s not to like about that?”

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