Job interview: Think big smile, firm handshake

By Sybil Dunlop
BridgeTower Media Newswires

Fall is a time for renewed sense of purpose. The nip in the air reminds me to focus. The snow this past weekend makes me want to throw on a giant sweater and write a brief. Perhaps other folks feel this too because several of my lawyer friends are interviewing for new law jobs of late. And nothing says "renewed sense of purpose" more than looking for new work. In my role as friend, I've been asked and have freely given interview advice of late. And I thought I might share my thoughts here as well.

First impressions matter. This seems obvious, but I always think that the moment one walks into the interview room is the most important. When I'm interviewing, I whisper to myself "big smile, firm handshake," before I walk in. All of us can be awkward on occasion, and, if we can put the interviewer at ease, they may even be grateful.

If interviewing in someone else's office, I'll look around for artwork or photographs to chat about. Something to break the ice or make a connection. But beware! There is room for error. In one interview, I noticed that the interviewer's computer screen showed the silhouette of a person (which looked like the interviewer) mountain climbing. "Oh, do you climb? It seems like such an amazing and inspiring activity." I gushed. "No," was the curt answer, "that is a default Microsoft picture." Oops.

Get the job first, then figure out if you want it. Many of my-very thoughtful-friends aren't sure if they want the jobs they are interviewing for. Maybe they aren't sure the job is taking them in the right direction. They have concerns about work-life balance. They don't know if, substantively, the work is in their strike zone.

My advice in these circumstances is always the same - you probably won't get an offer if you show doubt during the process. So first work to get the job. In interviews, ask questions about the interviewer, what success takes within the organization, and what they are looking for in a lawyer. Then, once you have an offer, ask all those questions that you held back-questions about vacation, parenting leave, 401K plans, work-life balance, room to move up in the organization. Because, in my experience, the folks who come in asking about vacation don't inspire me. I worry they are already thinking about time away from the job.

Don't worry about awkward moments. I have had my fair share of horrible interview moments. During one interview, a fly buzzed in the conference room, landing on both me and the interviewer. After several attempts, I clapped my hands on the fly and killed it. At the end of the interview, I forgot that I had murdered fly-blood on my hands and moved to shake hands with the interviewer who balked. I apologized, made a joke, and sent a thank you note referring to myself as the woman who slays flies. It worked. I received a call back. And I also learned not to shake hands after killing bugs in interviews. Some people don't like that.

In another interview, a group of associates in Washington, D.C., took me out to lunch. They were all guys, wearing comfortable loafers. I minced along in heels after them until my heel got stuck in a grate, and I took several steps with one shoe before having to run back and pull my heel out of the grate. This was embarrassing, but I made a joke and also wrote a thank you note that thanked them for waiting for me while I rescued my shoe. Again, I think that humor saved the day.

Close by asking for what you want. I want to hire people who want the job. And the only way people can really know this is if you tell them. During on-campus interviewing for summer associate positions, I walked right into my top choice firm and said "this is my top choice. I really hope I get this position, and I would accept on the spot if offered the job." Obviously, you can't say this to everyone, but if the job, clerkship, summer associate position is your first choice, people will be flattered to know it. Regardless, if you want the job, end by saying so, "I really enjoyed meeting you. It confirmed that I really want to work here. What do I need to do next?"

Recent research suggests that job interviews really don't work. In fact, some research suggests that 81 percent of new hires fail. It turns out the interview doesn't help us identify the best candidates. Perhaps it just confirms whether or not we like someone. This isn't great news, but forewarned is forearmed. If we focus on being a fun, enthusiastic version of ourselves during our interview, we might just get a chance to prove that we can perform down the road.

Published: Mon, Oct 22, 2018

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