This speech was delivered by Jean M. H. Fergus at the ACCA New York Chapter's April 2, 1992 meeting on job prospects.

The competition for attorney positions has increased substantially in the last five years, and nowhere is this more evident than in the in-house job market. Getting an offer may depend as much on your interviewing skills as it does on your direct experience.

For most people, interviewing for a job ranks right up there with root canal, an IRS audit, and public speaking. Some simple practical rules can help you get the most out of the interviewing process.

First Rule: First Impressions Do Count
The Wall Street Journal reported this scary thought: one out of three interviewers makes a decision not to hire an applicant within the first twelve seconds of meeting them. This decision may be based on your manner of dress, your handshake, or your haircut - many personal preferences can come into play.

The W.S.J. also reported that one in three interviewers decides to continue the applicant in the interview process after five minutes of interviewing. The remaining two-thirds take fifteen minutes to make this decision.

Therefore, you may have less than twelve seconds to make a good impression, and only up to fifteen minutes to confirm it. But don't worry too much -your task is to control the things that you can control, and to forget the rest.

Second Rule: Preparation
The three keys to a successful interview are: preparation, preparation, and preparation. The one thing you should remember about an interview is: It is a controllable, predictable event.

Interviewing is a skill. Like skiing, tennis, or golf, it can be learned. Even the naturally talented can improve their skills with work and preparation. However, the work begins well before the interview.

The process begins with research. The research will allow you to anticipate the questions that are likely to be asked, and the best possible answers to them.

We all wish that it could be as easy as it was for one candidate that came through my office not long ago. We had arranged an interview for him with the counsel's office at a major international company. As it happened, the General Counsel who was to meet the candidate was not an accomplished interviewer. So he called the day before and asked us what questions he might ask of the candidate. We faxed over our list of questions. The same set of questions is printed in our booklet, "Questions You May Be Asked On An Interview", and we regularly use them to prepare candidates for the interview. The next day, the candidate called immediately after the interview -amazed. He said, "You know, he asked me the exact same questions you have in your booklet!"    We weren't surprised - but most people just don't have that kind of luck.

Do Research
Prior to the interview, you will want to:

1. Research the company: Do as much research about the company as possible. Get the public information -request the annual reports, do a Nexus search, and definitely read the Wall Street Journal on the day of the meeting. For all you know, the company may have made an important announcement that morning. Knowing this can get you off to a really great start with the interviewer.

2. Research the interviewer: Look up his or her background in Martindale Hubbell and the Directory of Corporate Counsel. It helps if you have some inside information. Do you know anyone who works at the company? Even a friend of a friend can be sought out and queried.

3. Research the department: Look up the backgrounds of the other attorneys. Where did they go to school? Where have they worked previously? Is your background similar?

4. If this meeting was arranged by a recruiter, ask her for input and any information she may have.

Anticipate the Interview

You've all interviewed before and many of you have interviewed candidates yourselves. The interview is predictable -you know what questions will be asked.

Prepare sample questions. Use the questions in our booklet as a model. Actually write out sample questions and sample answers. During the interview itself, it is only natural for you to be nervous. Having that first word or phrase ready will do wonders to relax you.

Role play your responses. Get together with a professional colleague and practice the interview. Have a third person critique. After this, the real interview will be a breeze.

Prepare a "danger question" to ask yourself. Everyone has a question that they hope will never be asked. For example, "How did you do in law school?" "Well, I was at the bottom of my class because ... ahh ... I broke my arm, I broke my leg, and then my cat died."

If there is a story, it usually is a story no one wants to hear - so don't tell it. If you did not do well, say it. "I didn't do as well in law school as I had expected, considering...I was graduated magna turn laude from college. However, each year my grades went up and I found I did particularly well in (pick a course or courses, ideally ones tied in with your present practice area.)"

Prepare a list of your personal qualities and attributes. Intangibles do matter. The savvy interviewer is looking beyond the resume and practice skills, and wants to see if you will "fit in" to the department.

Positive intangible assets may include being poised, mature, loyal, a team player, flexible, responsible, likeable, a decision-maker, a good communicator, a leader, a skilled listener or good at getting things done. Select at least five of your best qualities and make sure you include them in your interview answers.

Think of the interview as a professional dialogue. It is not adversarial. Interestingly, it helps to go in liking the interviewer. Say to yourself: I like this person. Studies show that interviewers hire people they like — how could they help but like someone who likes them'?

Third Rule: Differentiate Yourself
An interview is a competitive event —you are in a competition. You should point out qualities that differentiate you from the other candidates who are interviewing for this position.

You differentiate yourself by pointing out what is unique about you or your background that will be of value to the interviewer. In other words, what can you do for the company that someone else cannot?

Are you the whiz at the computer? If so, give an example in which you saved your company zillions of dollars because of your quick skill. Do you speak a foreign language? Have you lived abroad?

But you can go further. Are you the office negotiator? Can you get results where others have failed? Do you have a reputation for dealing well with difficult people or defusing tense situations? Do you work well under pressure?

Really think about what will stand out as unique and be prepared to bring that out in your interview answers.

Fourth Rule: Control The Interview
The big day has arrived. In a final bit of preparation, you've prepared yourself psychologically — slept well the night before, eaten a high protein breakfast, exercised a bit.

Now, the interview is underway.
Usually the interview is in a question and answer format. But, be prepared for the poor interviewer — the one who thinks he is better at interviewing than he is. Also be prepared for some of the following types: Freddy the Unready, Ivan the Terrible, and Sally the Silent.

Let's take Freddy the Unready. He's not ready; he has not read your resume; he seems pressed for time; he's trying to get something out and calls his secretary in to ask her questions. This is great, because you are thoroughly prepared and you can take that interview anywhere. You may even end up asking yourself the questions you've prepared. "Let me tell you about my background

You may meet Ivan the Terrible. He is probably a litigator — or was at one point in his career. He sees the interview as a deposition. We call this the interrogation or stress interview. This can be your opportunity to shine. Remember you are prepared and 99% of the other candidates he will be meeting will not be. You will stand out. The trick is to be cool, sincere, and direct — which is how you are naturally, anyway.

Of course, you may encounter Sally the Silent. She never asks a direct question. For example, she may say: "I see you went to Harvard Law School." Then silence. Don't just answer "yes." Take the ball and run with it. "Yes, I particularly enjoyed the course I took on Labor law (or whatever your specialty is) and so on. Since you are prepared, you can control the interview.

Ending the Interview
All good things do come to an end ... and so will the interview. You want to thank the interviewer for his or her time, and to indicate your interest in working at the company.

You may ask for the job. This is not a romance, you can be direct: "I am very interested in the opportunity you have to offer. It ties in with my career goals and I am confident that my experience matches your needs. I look forward to taking this further."

Then smile, give a firm handshake, and exit.

Fifth Rule: Follow-up
Unlike the theatre, the exit is not the end. There is a post interview follow-up procedure we recommend.

Send a follow up letter. Follow-up letters do count — they indicate interest, give you a chance to show your writing style, and are just plain polite. A recent study showed that a follow-up letter increases your chances of getting an offer by almost 40 percent.

We just had an incident that involved one of our clients. The company was so impressed by the post interview follow-up letter that they invited the candidate back for a second meeting, even though initially they had decided not to. And —they hired him.

One reminder is to have someone look over the letter before it goes out. We had a secretary call us last year to tell us that one of our candidates had sent a follow-up letter and it had a typo. The secretary really liked the candidate and wanted to let us know that she was returning the letter to the candidate so that the candidate could correct the error. The candidate got the offer and is happily working at the company now.

The Successful Interview
More ideas and tips for interviewing are in our booklet, but one thought is too important to ignore. If you don't get the position, it doesn't mean that you've failed. The goal of an interview is to communicate effectively.

If you walk out of the interview feeling that you've made all the points that you wanted to make about your background, experience, and motivation — then you have had a successful interview.  And, by the way, one final thing... good luck!

© 2003 Fergus Partnership Consulting Inc.
New York office: 212-767-1775 | London office: 44 207 247 9660