Congratulations! You have landed an interview. In most cases this means that on paper you look like you could do the job you are applying for. Now the employer is trying to decide which of the qualified candidates will be the best fit.
For the last few years it has been an employers’ market, which means you, as the applicant, must actively sell yourself, your skills and the fact that you would be a good fit for this specific employer.
Each of the tabs below will help you better prepare for and follow up after your interview. Don’t forget to also check out the section on how to dress the part on our Professionalism page. As always, if you have any questions, we encourage you to stop by or make an appointment to speak to a CSO counselor.
- The Basics
- Interview Questions
- Before the Interview
- Types of Interviews
- After the Interview
What to think:
Interviews are not interrogations to be dreaded. Interviews are opportunities to have a conversation. You should welcome the opportunity to meet someone new, to talk about your strengths and goals and to ask questions about a potential employer. Your attitude toward the interview will affect your ability to carry on a conversation and relax. Enjoy it!
What to wear:
Remember that what you wear is an important part of your interview. If you have any questions, please see our Professionalism page. [link to the professionalism tab for dressing]
What to say:
The single most important thing you need to accomplish is to convey your interest; Employers need you to articulate WHY you chose to interview with them. Express yourself in an enthusiastic but professional manner. Remember that even if you are interviewing for your first legal job you have developed skills in non-legal jobs that will transfer to the legal profession. Try to connect your interests and past experiences to the type of work done by the employer.
- Be professional and personable with everyone
- Arrive 5 – 10 minutes early for your interview (no more than 10).
- Greet the interviewer with a smile and a firm, dry handshake.
- Project an upbeat and engaging image. (Do not speak negatively about past employers, classes or professors, etc.)
- Don’t forget to thank the interviewer for their time. It is ok to ask about the general time frame of the recruiting process so that you can plan accordingly.
For a series of sample questions and much more detailed guidance, consult the more comprehensive Nebraska Law Interview Guide
Questions You May Be Asked (and for which you should have answers)
- How would you describe yourself? Tell me about yourself?
- What do you consider your greatest weakness?** Strengths?
- What kind of law are you interested in?
- Why did you decide to go to law school? Why Nebraska?
- What do you like about law school? Favorite Class?
- Are your grades a good indication of your academic achievement? Why?
- What law school activities are you participating in?
- What do you do when you’re not in class/studying?
- Have your ideas about being a lawyer changed since you’ve entered law school?
- If you weren’t in law school, what would you be doing right now?
- When are you available to begin work?
- How would a previous employer describe you?
- How did you get your last job?
- What did you gain from your last work experience?
- Describe your ideal level of supervision.
- What problems have you encountered in previous jobs?
- What is the most interesting job you’ve ever had?
- Have you decided what city you would ultimately like to settle in?
- Why do you want to live in ___________?
- What do you know about our firm? Why are you interviewing with us?
- Who else are you interviewing with?
- What practice area do you see yourself in?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What career goals do you have?
- Why should we hire you?
- Do you have any questions for us? (THE ANSWER TO THIS IS ALWAYS YES!)
INTERVIEW TIP: Avoid lengthy conversations about weaknesses. Acknowledge the question and then move on.
Lack of experience
Picture of person talking with a blurb
“Although I didn’t work in the legal field last summer, I took a family law class and a litigation class that strengthened my interest in litigating domestic law matters.”
Picture of person talking blurb
“My grades weren’t as high as I expected after my first year but my GPA has gone up each semester since. Also, you can see my strengths lie in the coursework related to criminal law as I received a 7 in my Evidence Class and an 8 in Criminal Procedure.”
Questions You May Want to Ask
- How would you describe the structure of the firm?
- What do you see as the benefits/drawbacks of working at a firm of your size?
- For those employers with multiple offices: Are the different offices independent? Is there a shared client base?
- Is there a mentoring system or an in-house training program at your firm?
- How are assignments distributed?
- Why type of supervision and evaluation are given to a summer clerk?
- How many participants does the firm expect to have in the summer program?
- Are offers extended by a particular practice group?
- Is it typical for summer clerks to be offered associate positions? What percentage?
- What is the firm’s current rate of growth? Expectations for future growth?
- What practice areas are growing at the fastest rate? Are there plans to expand into other practice areas?
- To what extent are attorneys involved in outside activities (local bar association, civic organizations, etc.)?
- Does the firm have a pro bono policy?
- How soon does a new attorney have direct client contact?
- Why did you (the interviewer) decide to join the company/firm/agency?
- What keeps you there?
- What are your attrition rates?
- Describe a typical day for you.
- Describe a typical day for a law clerk.
- How does the firm utilize senior certified clerks?
- Do NOT ask any question that you could have answered by doing simple research (how many attorneys, office locations, etc.)
- Do not ask questions that raise problem areas (“I’m getting married in a year—is it ok if I take a two-week honeymoon?”). This can wait until an offer has been made.
- Questions that are most appropriate after an offer as been extended:
- Salary (ask the CSO if the firm has given recent data about clerk or associate salaries if the suspense is killing you)
- Leave policy
- Billable hours (you can usually find this out from other sources)
Illegal questions occasionally come up, usually due to the interviewer’s ignorance or in an attempt to facilitate conversation. Some examples of illegal questions are:
- How old are you?
- What is your religion?
- Do you plan to have children?
- What does your spouse do?
- What special needs do you have regarding your disability?
How you handle these questions is up to you. Some people simply choose to answer the question and move on while others refuse. Often times the best response is to try to address the legitimate concern which is likely underlying the poorly worded question.
[perhaps two people taking with blurbs?]
Q. Do you plan to have children?
A. I believe my career will be successful with or without children. I have always managed to find a healthy balance between my private and professional life and plan to continue to do so in the future.
If you encounter an interviewer who asks illegal questions, please talk with the CSO. If necessary, we will contact an employer to let them know that one of their interviewers is asking inappropriate questions. We will, however, keep all information confidential if requested.
You should know as much as possible about the employer with whom you are going to interview. Remember that screening interviews are not an opportunity for you to find out the “basics” about an employer such as what type of law they practice, how many attorneys work there, and where the employer is located. You should already know this information before the day of the interview.
- The employer’s web site
- The NALP Directory: www.nalpdirectory.com. For large law firms nationwide. This will give you great information about billable hours, salary ranges, number of clerks hired, etc.
- Lexis and Westlaw—search individual attorneys or firms in caselaw directories to find representative clients and/or recently decided cases
- Martindale.com: www.martindale.com.
- No one is asking you to commit to a practice area for the rest of your life, but you do need to be able to tell the employer what about you makes you interested in them. If you know that you want to be a prosecutor after graduation, do not interview with a firm that a) never goes to court and b) has absolutely no criminal law practice!
The Inevitable Question:
Be prepared to answer, “What do you want to do with your law degree?“ “Well, I’m only a 1L and I’m not really sure what type of law I want to practice. However, I really enjoy my Torts class so I’d love to gain some experience in that area. When I was researching your firm, I noticed that 40% of your practice is devoted to worker’s compensation and medical malpractice cases. That is one of the reasons I was drawn to your firm and made me want to interview with you.” Make sure that your answer involves something the employer practices!
There are many types of interviews from informational interviews to callback interviews. This tab is designed to briefly introduce you to a few of the most common types and highlight some of the differences.
The CSO offers mock interviews prior to on-campus interviews in the spring and fall of each year. In addition, mock interviews can be arranged at anytime by appointment.
A Mock Interview is one of the very best ways to prepare for an actual employment interview. The Mock Interview will help you to learn what is expected in a real interview, and how you can improve the way you present yourself.
The Mock Interviewer will try to make the interview as realistic as possible. Many of the questions you will be asked are interview questions from actual employers. The Mock Interview takes about 20 minutes with an additional 10 -15 minutes for feedback.
The Mock Interview focuses on how well you know yourself and your past experiences, how well you know the industry you hope to enter, and how well you can convey that information. You will gain the most experience from your Mock Interview, if you treat it like an actual interview. This means that you should wear a suit and come prepared to answer the typical interview questions.
Every year prospective employers visit the University of Nebraska College of Law to recruit students for summer and post-graduate employment. The Career Services Office coordinates these fall and spring on-campus interviews for employers. Fall interviews are for 2L and 3L students and the spring OCIs are focused on 1Ls but open to everyone.Our OCI is run on what is called a pre-select system. This means that students “bid” on employer interviews and based on the application materials they submit, employers select the students they wish to interview. It is therefore imperative that your application materials are error-free and first-rate.
A Call back interview is the second level of interviewing that takes place at the firm’s office after an initial OCI or a online screening interview. Generally, firms do not make decisions on offers of employment until after a candidate has completed a callback interview. A callback interview generally includes interviews with numerous lawyers conducted in a manner similar to an OCI interview, and may include lunch or dinner with many attorneys from the firm.
Visit call back interviews for more in-depth information.
Informational interviews are a great way to build your network of contacts. They should be used to:
- Learn more about a specific area of law
- Assist you in narrowing your search
- Explore different job settings (solo firm, government agency, non-profit, etc.)
- Learn about a specific geographic market
You can ask for informational interviews from anyone. Informational interviews should not be used as a rouse to ask for a job.
Setting up the Interview
There are many ways to set up an informational interview. The most common is to identify the individual you want to speak with and then either write a hard-copy letter or an e-mail asking for brief meeting. You should make it clear that you are looking only for advice and/or information about a specific practice area or about the local legal market and that you will call to arrange a meeting. If you already have met the individual you are contacting a phone call may be more appropriate than a letter.
Most informational interviews are 20-30 minutes in length as attorneys are busy people. Offering to take someone out for coffee or lunch is also a nice way to get their time but is not required.
When you arrive make sure to thank the individual for their time and have a list of questions ready. Here are a few sample questions to get you started:
Practice Area Specific:
Tell me about your job. How would you describe a typical day/week?
Tell me about your career path?
Did you always know you wanted to specialize in _________?
What do you like least/best about your work?
Do you think there is a specific type of person who excels in this type of work?
What publications do you read? Are you on any listservs that might be helpful for me?
What additional education or experiences might be beneficial for me?
Where do most employers post their jobs locally?
If jobs are not typically posted, do you have any suggestions for me on the best way to get myself known?
Are there local bar associations or other professional associations that might be beneficial for me to join?
Are there certain publications that the members of the legal community typically read?
Do you have any other suggestions for me as I start to explore the _______market?
Are there any certain events coming up that are on everyone’s must attend list?
Closing Remarks and Follow Up
At the end of the interview ask if there anyone else that your contact thinks it would be beneficial for you to talk to and then thank your contact for his or her time and advice. If they seem amenable, you could also ask if your contact would you be willing to give his or her opinion of your resume or cover letter. Send a thank you within one week and keep the contact up-to-date on your search.It is recommended that you keep a database of your contacts that you will build over time. Take note of your contact’s name, title, firm/company, contact information, when you met them, what you talked about, when you followed up, and what happened. This database will come in handy in the future.
Thank You Letters
Thank you notes should be sent after every interview. You can find more guidance on what to include in your thank you letter in our section on Professional Correspondence.
The Waiting Game
Hopefully, the employer has given you a general time frame for the remainder of their recruiting process. If they have not, tactfully ask where they are at in the process and when they hope to conclude. If the time period outlined by the interviewer has passed, give them a bit more time. If you still haven’t heard, it is acceptable to contact them. Tell them that you are still extremely interested and offer to provide any additional materials that they might need in their decision making process.
WARNING: Even if you are extremely anxious to hear from an employer or are frustrated by the process, remember to maintain your professional demeanor! Do not repeatedly contact the interviewers, do not leave a sarcastic or flippant message for them, or otherwise engage in rude behavior. Stress can make otherwise professional people act in an ill-advised manner. You may no longer care whether you get the position with that firm but you absolutely do not want to jeopardize your reputation and future employment opportunities. You can’t control the behavior of others but you can control your own. Please remember that you are part of a profession and a law school that values professionalism, civility, and respect.
Accepting and Rejecting Offers
If you are ever in doubt as to how to handle an acceptance or rejection of a job offer, please contact the CSO for assistance.
Nebraska Law is a member of the National Association of Law Placement (NALP) and endorses NALP’s Principles and Standards for Law Placement and Recruiting Activities (Principles and Standards). NALP has very specific rules regarding offers but the general rule is that no employer should ask you to make a decision regarding summer or full time post-graduate employment without providing a minimum of two weeks to consider. To check on the standards for specific types of offers and decisions click here: http://www.nalp.org/fulltextofnalpprinciplesandstandards/
If an employer is pressuring you to make a quick decision, take that into consideration when evaluating whether you want to work for that employer but also understand that the employer is trying to do what is right for his/her business and don’t hesitate to accept quickly.
Once you accept, immediately withdraw your name from consideration by all other employers. If you choose to reject the offer, thank the employer for their time and the opportunity to interview. For more guidance on how to accept or reject an offer see the Professional Communications Guide.