Interviewing - Capital University Law School


  • A strong interview is one of the most important steps in the pursuit of employment. It is your chance to explain to the interviewer that you have the skills, personality, and ability to do the job and for the interviewer to assess your perceived skills and your potential fit within the organization.

    At the conclusion of an interview, the interviewer should know exactly what you can do for the prospective employer, not just that you want a challenging new opportunity.

    Preparing for the Interview
    The key to a successful interview is preparation. You must set aside ample time to consider your training, experience, and accomplishments, to understand all that you can about the employer and position, and to practice.

    Prior to an interview, you should conduct self-assessment to identify skills, characteristics, and experiences you can use to answer questions. Start by asking yourself,

    • What are my strengths and weaknesses? 
    • What are my greatest accomplishments? 
    • What specific examples of experience or education can I use to demonstrate my skills in action? 
    • What skills, experiences, training, or accomplishments do I want to make certain I share with the interviewer? 

    Include in your self-assessment a thorough review of the documents you submitted to the employer. Be prepared to possibly answer questions about specific details listed in your resume, your writing sample, or you transcript.

    One of the best ways to assess your readiness for the interview is to do a mock interview with faculty members, alumni, or the Office of Professional Development staff. This exercise will allow you to practice answering questions as well as receive feedback on your overall performance. You can also practice in front of a mirror if you cannot schedule a mock interview. Doing so will give you an opportunity to read your face, to practice posture, and to hear your potential responses.

    Employer Research
    Though your researched the employer and position before applying, you should conduct additional research about the employer and, if known, the interviewer. Often, you will discover that you need further explanation or information about the position or the organization, which will assist you in thinking of potential questions for the interviewer (more on this topic below).

    Professional Attire
    Unless otherwise instructed, always wear a suit to an interview. In general, it is recommended that you wear a complete suit (matching jacket, pants, or skirt) in black, navy blue, or charcoal gray. Keep color of shirt, blouse, tie, shoes, and other accessories in mind to complement the color and style of the suit. Women wearing a skirt suit should wear hose. Women’s shoes should be closed toe as well.

    Consider prior to the interview,

    • Does the suit need cleaned or pressed? 
    • Does the suit still fit? 
    • Are your shoes polished?
    • What accessories will you wear?
    • Does your hair need cut or colored?
    • Do you need a manicure? (This applies to men as well.)

    Ensure that your suit, accessories, hair, and manicure are ready at least a couple of days prior to the interview.

    Interview Day Logistics
    Where will the interview take place? Do you know where you’re going? How about parking? Ahead of the interview, locate the appropriate directions to the employer’s office, find out about any changes in traffic patterns or accessibility due to construction, and consider driving by the employer’s office to determine how long it will take to get there, what obstacles are in your way, and where to park. Plan ahead so that you give yourself ample time to park and to walk to the office. Be sure to take into account the time of day and any potential as well as common traffic issues. For in-person interviews, you should plan to arrive about ten to fifteen minutes early.

    Be sure to bring to your interview a portfolio containing the following items:

    • Extra copies of your resume, transcripts, writing samples, and references 
    • Questions to ask 
    • Pen and paper

    Interview Questions
    You landed the interview because you met the employer’s needs on paper; however, an interview is your chance to provide more information to the interviewer about your ability to perform the job.

    Interview questions give the interviewer an opportunity to see how you think on your feet, how you handle stress, and whether you have the experience and skill to perform the job. Interview questions can be structured (a series of questions that are asked of every interviewee) or informal (questions that arise based on your response to questions).

    In general, interviewers ask open and close-ended questions such as, “Tell me about yourself”, “Why should we hire you?” or “Do you have any family members that work for our organization?”
    Interviewers also ask questions with a negative tone. Examples include, “What are your weaknesses?” or “Describe a time when you failed.”

    And don’t be surprised to be asked an odd or strange question such as, “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” or “What would you do if you won the lottery?” Though you can’t really prepare for such questions, you should always be prepared to think on your feet. Go with your gut instinct or the first thought that comes to mind. Doing so is typically genuine and easy to explain.

    Increasingly, legal employers are asking behavior-based questions. Such questions elicit how you would perform certain tasks or projects by asking you to reference previous experiences and training to demonstrate a particular skill or characteristic. Behavior-based questions demand thoughtful responses. For example, “Describe your most rewarding law school experience” or “Give me an example of how you have worked with someone who disagrees with you. How did you persuade your colleague to work with you?”

    At the end of this handout is a list of sample questions for you to consider.

    Answering Questions
    In general, you should answer questions with specific detail, honesty, and enthusiasm. It’s important to listen carefully to the question being asked so that you respond appropriately. Take a moment to collect your thoughts but don’t take too long.

    When answering a behavior-based question, be sure to use a specific example that addresses the question asked. If you do have an experience that is described in the question, use a parallel experience. The goal in answering such questions is to provide an example of how you apply your skills and experience in a given situation. When you have no actual or parallel experience from which to draw, attempt to answer the question with how you perceive you would address the situation.

    Sometimes you will be asked questions with a negative tone, such as “tell me about a time in which you failed.” Your response will be judged based on how well you handled the negative situation. Consider applying the three R’s to your answer:

    • Recognize the negative with honesty
    • Accept Responsibility for the negative
    • Offer a Remedy to avoid the negative in the future

    For example, in answer to the above question about failure, consider, “When I was working as a shift manager in college, I allowed my peers to persuade me to goof off in the storeroom. In the process of kicking a ball around, we damaged a considerable amount of inventory. When confronted by the store manager, I accepted full responsibility for my actions and the actions of staff under my direction. I told the store manager that in the future, I would take my position more seriously and I offered to pay for the damage through regular deductions in my pay check.”

    Such a response indicates that you accept responsibility for your actions and demonstrates to the interviewer how you handle failure and weakness.

    Here are three common questions that typically trip up interviewees:

    “Tell me about yourself.”
    This question tends to elicit a recitation of the interviewee’s resume; yet the resume is in front of the interviewer. Instead, focus on telling the interviewer about two to three transferable skills, characteristics, or experiences that define you and your potential value to the employer.

    Alternatively, you can tell a story that does all of the above but that is more narrative and personal. However, be careful with such stories and personal anecdotes, as these stories tend to open the door to other questions that may be more personal in nature.

    “What’s your greatest weakness?”
    Most interviewees try to spin his or her answer to sound more positive than negative. For example, “I’m a perfectionist. I tend to hold onto my work as long as possible in order to make sure it’s of superior quality.” The problem with such an answer is that an employer wants perfection even though they know no one is perfect!

    Instead, use an example of a skill that you lack professionally but that can be improved through training, mentoring, or on-the-job experience. Of course, don’t choose a requirement of the job!

    “Why should we hire you?”
    How can such a straight-forward question stump interviewees and provoke panic? Because interviewees tend to worry about the right answer as opposed to the best and obvious answer. To prepare for such a question, consider what separates you from your peers, what bold adjectives describe you, and how you bring instant value to the employer. Deliver your response with confidence – not cockiness.

    Handling Illegal or Inappropriate Questions
    From time to time, an interviewer may ask an inappropriate or illegal discriminatory question. Federal and state law prohibit interviewers from asking questions about

    • Race (Are you African-American or Asian?)
    • National Origin (Where are your parents from?)
    • Religious Beliefs (Do you believe in a Christian God?)
    • Age (How old are you?)
    • Disability (I noticed that you have a limp. Did you recently hurt yourself?)
    • Pregnancy (Are you planning to have children?)

    However, an interviewer might ask questions that are not illegal though potentially inappropriate. For example,

    • Are you a Democrat or a Republican?
    • You are young and single, do lots of women chase after you?
    • What is your sexual orientation?

    With illegal and inappropriate questions, you are not obligated to respond with a direct answer. For example, if asked, “Are you planning to have children?” your response might be, “I am committed to my work. Having a family will not affect my performance.”

    If you experience an illegal or inappropriate question, please contact the Office of Professional Development.

    Asking Questions
    It is equally important for you to prepare questions to ask the interviewer. Your questions should be about gathering additional information not answered in your research or in the interview. Your questions should reflect your interest in and knowledge about the employer.

    Note that you should avoid asking any question that shows you didn’t research the employer or that you weren’t paying attention during the interview. Likewise avoid questions that have a tone of “what’s in it for me?” or that are indeterminable.

    In assessing your interview, if it’s conversational, feel free to interject a question where appropriate without interrupting the interviewer.

    Phone Interviews
    In some cases, you may not be able to meet the interviewer in-person and therefore a phone interview will be scheduled. Phone interviews can be tricky due to the fact that you cannot read body language and facial expressions. When faced with a phone interview, be sure to find a quiet place free of distractions (i.e., other phones, computers, and people). Sit a table or desk that is free of all items except your resume and any other documents you previously submitted to the employer as well as a pad of paper and a pen. As you begin to answer questions, keep in mind that you are on the phone; therefore, speak clearly and a little slower than you would in person. Listen carefully and answer questions directly. You should avoid rambling.

    Following the Interview
    Following every interview, you should always send a thank you letter or note, as a sign of courtesy and respect to the interviewer. Always send the thank you within 24-hours of the interview, preferably the same day as the interview.

    When in doubt, send a type-written letter. Of course, you may send a handwritten note on a note card so long as you have neat penmanship. If choosing a note card, be sure to use a simple card. Do not use anything “cute” or with silly pictures. Email thank you notes are also acceptable so long as you apply the same rules established for a hard-copy letter.

    Your thank you need not be long but it should be professional and formal. Be sure to reference part of the interview discussion in your thank you, in order to help the interviewer recall you specifically, and reiterate your interest in working for the employer. By all means, be thankful, gracious, and genuine. Avoid being over the top.

    An individual thank you note should be sent to each person who interviews you. If someone spent time with you other than an interviewer, such as a recruiter, a receptionist, who may have provided an office tour or other hospitality, you should also thank him or her by send a note.


    Dear Ms. Jones,

    Thank you for taking the time to meet with me on Wednesday. I thoroughly enjoyed my interview with you as well as learning more about your firm. I was particularly intrigued by our conversation covering the great obstacles facing the legal profession and appreciated your concern about professionalism and its importance to practice.

    Following the interview, I reflected on how much I believe I can be of value to your firm. I hope that I conveyed how my writing skills and interpersonal skills will be an asset to my performance as a law clerk. I am certain a summer clerkship with your firm will be beneficial to you and to me.

    Thank you again for your time and consideration.


    David Smith

    General Dos & Don'ts

    DOs     DON'Ts 

    • Establish a rapport with the interviewer and show your enthusiasm and interest in the position during the first three to five minutes of the interview. 
    • Be conversational in nature and not purely question and answer session. 
    • Laugh when appropriate and smile. 
    • Maintain eye contact. 
    • Be yourself yet maintain a professional demeanor.
    • Pause and gather your thoughts assuring that your response is sincere and honest, and answers the question.
    • Be pleasant to anyone that greets you. 
    • Shake hands firmly and make eye contact.
    • Smile sincerely! 
    • Address with Mr. or Ms., unless you are given permission to use their first name. 
    • Ask for business cards.
    • Keep your answers brief (between 30 to 90 seconds) except when answering a behavior-based question. 
    • Interrupt the interviewer.
    • Speak too loudly, softly or quickly.
    • Use clichés, slang or improper English such as "uumms" and "Ya know what I mean" statements.
    • Fidget.
    • Take control of the interview.
    • Overuse hand and nervous gestures. 
    • Go off on tangents. 
    • Chew gum.
    • Come unprepared.
    • Act cocky.
    • Ask about salary.
    • BE LATE!
    • Bad mouth past employers or experiences.