The #1 thing you need to succeed in an interview is confidence.
Don’t get me wrong— Confidence is definitely not enough but without it, you won’t get far.
No one wants to hire someone who makes them feel awkward because people like to feel at ease with co-workers and law is a service profession, requiring lawyers to build rapport with clients. You want to give off the vibe that you’re mature, capable, and ready to hit the ground running at a firm next summer rather than scared and uncomfortable in your own skin. A recent above the law post on OCI interviewing stated this:
“Anxiety. It is becoming more common for interviewers to report that candidates are so nervous during their visit to a firm that the interviewers were made uncomfortable. Unfortunately, there is a view that lawyers should never be anxious and that, in order to succeed in their roles, they need to present themselves with unwavering confidence. This is a tough subject. Sadly, anxious candidates often are not advanced in the process. I would recommend that, if you are prone to anxiety, you must take extra time with your law school recruitment staff to practice, practice, practice. The more you prepare your answers to possible interview questions, the more relaxed you may be in the interview setting. Also please bear in mind that attorneys are at heart a decent group of people; for the most part, they are quietly rooting for you to do well and to make their job easier by taking the job on offer.”
Don’t be the anxious guy who makes interviewers uncomfortable.
You might think this is really great advice as far as it goes but it isn’t very helpful because you can’t manufacture confidence. I understand that response. There is no doubt that certain people just naturally project more confidence and command of a room than other people but confidence is something that can be honed and improved like any other skill.
The best ted talk I have ever seen (and one of the most popular ted talks of all time) is called “Your Body Language May Shape Who You are” and in the talk, the speaker, Amy Cuddy, talks about how she never felt confident even after doing many impressive things like getting into Harvard and working on her PhD. Ultimately, she learned to fake confidence until she actually became confident. She used her body language to get there too, doing “power poses” in the mirror before any stressful evaluative situation like an interview.
This is an example of a “power pose.” When we position our bodies in a way that takes up space, we are signaling confidence and authority over a situation. Cuddy’s research suggests that posing like this before an evaluative situation like an interview can actually make us more confident and position us to be our best selves during that situation.
It’s no coincidence that Don Draper, perhaps the most confident character ever to appear on television, is sitting in a power pose in this canonical shot.
I do my power poses before every stressful evaluative situation and they have sunk in. Someone even came up to me once after I presented at a conference and told me I was power posing the whole time! I can actually see people respond to power poses. On weekends, I lead beer tours where I talk about Chicago’s brewing and prohibition history while leading groups to various bars and breweries throughout Chicago. I have noticed that when I am having trouble getting a group to pay attention to me, if I take up space and position my body in a power pose, they start listening again. It turns out, you can use your body language to project confidence!
Preparation is the enemy of anxiety.
Beat anxiety and get confidence by preparing like crazy for your interviews. Do as many mock interviews as you possibly can. Do them with counselors in the CDO. Do them with your assigned mock interviewers. Ask your alumni mentor to do a mock interview with you. Reach out to networking contacts and ask them too.
Make sure that you’re setting your mock interviewers up to give you honest feedback without worrying that they will hurt your feelings. Say things like “I am really dedicated to improving my interviewing skills and would love to hear any feedback that you have, especially suggestions for improvement.” If there is some area you are pretty sure you are deficient in, make a habit of bringing that up to make your mock interviewer feel in safe addressing it. You can say something like “I feel like I talk too fast. Do you get that too? Do you have advice for how I can improve that?”
Most of us have a pretty strong desire not to hurt feelings so if you genuinely want honest feedback, the onus is on you to make your mock interviewer feel comfortable enough to give it.
You can also take stock of the situation to put everything in perspective and make yourself more at ease.
Failing one interview is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. You will get other interviews. There will be other opportunities. If you don’t succeed in an interview, it doesn’t say anything about you as a person, the quality of lawyer you will be, or your chances for job success. Just pick yourself up and get ready for the next one. Having this attitude will make you more confident in each interview because you will know that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t ace it. The stakes are not life and death.
Know who you are interviewing with.
Firm websites are really helpful for telling you which practice areas the firm has and other basics that you want to make sure you know before going into an interview. Take this example from a recent above the law post on OCI:
“Ever had a candidate who was great on paper but who blew the interview?
Yes. The ones who were totally unprepared and knew nothing about Skadden. Someone asked us about our T&E practice, which we don’t have. — Steven Glaser, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom”
Research the firm and know everything you can from their website but keep in mind that firm websites are not as helpful for educating you on things like firm culture. Sometimes, firm websites can start to look really similar to each other and thus, it can be difficult to use them to answer the “why are you interested in our firm” question.
As a result, it really helps to meet attorneys working at the firm before you interview there. While you have time this summer, get some networking in. Reach out to attorneys working at firms you are interested in and ask them about their work, their firm, and any advice they have for you. Bringing up these conversations in your interview will show that you take initiative and have done your research on the firm. And if you build good rapport with some of these contacts, you can ask them if they would take time to mock interview you and provide some feedback.
The firm will be much more real and memorable to you if you have met with attorneys from that firm before you interview there. If you visited Notre Dame Law School before deciding to attend school here, you know what I mean. If you can talk about your conversations with attorneys, that is going to be more tangible content than echoing words back to the firm from their website.
Attorneys are “just guys.”
When I was interviewing during OCI, the attorneys and the fancy offices were what intimidated me. Everyone was so polished and professional and seemed so smart. They all had fancy diplomas on their walls, important looking files on their desks, and there was fancy artwork on the firm walls. They seemed to be a totally different species than me, a scared law student with a new suit I had just purchased, trying to fit in. What I wish someone had reminded me was that they are just people. Lawyers have worked hard to get where they are and deserve respect but they are not superheros. They all once stood where you are and they had to interview too.
In an episode of the Emmy winning show “Louie,” the main character, Louie, a struggling stand-up comic, is talking to his friend, Pamela, about how intimidated he is by the successful stand-up comics in New York city and how great they are at their craft. Pamela responds by scoffing and saying “they’re just guys. They’re just like you.” This insight was a revelation to Louie and it might be a revelation to you too. If you find yourself intimidated by the successful attorneys you’re interviewing with, remind yourself that they’re just guys.
Why not you?
Don’t get bogged down in comparing yourself to other people but do realize that it isn’t really possible for any other candidate to have substantially more legal experience than you do. Everyone else has just finished one year of law school and one summer of legal experience. It isn’t really possible for someone to have more experience than that. Sure, other candidates may have worked in firms or legal offices before law school but by definition, they were not working as lawyers. It’s not like another candidate can go in and talk about their five years of litigation experience, going to trial, and managing cases, while you are just talking about your first year of law school. Everyone is in the same boat.
This means that formulating really strong short answers that describe your 1L summer work experience is super important. When you’re interviewing, that will be the only legal experience that you have so you better be able to enthusiastically describe the projects you worked on in detail.
Other candidates may have better grades than you but you cannot control that. What you can control is projecting yourself as someone with confidence and maturity, the type of person a firm brings in for a callback.
Remember, every year students with really good grades are not as successful in OCI as they thought they would be and every year, students with less than ideal grades are really successful in OCI. Much of that comes down to confidence.
If you want help preparing for interviews, crafting a great outreach email to send to attorneys working at firms, or just to work on your confidence generally, reach out to the CDO. We’re here all summer.