Note: This is advice based on our experience at Blakes, a large business law firm. Interviewing at boutique firms and for governmental positions may be very different than the experience described here.
The “20-Minute” On-Campus Interview
The setting is rather sterile. It is typically in a big room with drapes separating interview booths. Once you start the interview, you won’t notice the setting (we hope!).
Wear something you are comfortable in and that looks professional. Generally, interviewers from business firms will be dressed in a more formal manner.
Most firms trained in interviewing will use their time to explore the candidates’ credentials. Be prepared to talk about anything that is on your résumé. When we interview a candidate, our goal is to get someone to explain an experience they have. We use that explanation to judge their ability to communicate, to analyze an issue or experience, and to determine whether they work well with people.
Some firms will also use the time to provide information about the firm. At Blakes, we try to provide as much information about the Firm in advance of the interview so that we can focus on the candidate during the 20 minutes.
Many interviewers will spend the first several minutes of the interview attempting to make you feel comfortable and getting to know you.
To prepare for your interview, review your résumé as it is used as the starting point for the interview. You should consider what your application package says about you and consider what you want to convey in the interview. Think about what kind of experiences you want to speak about if you have the opportunity.
Before your interview, we try to provide you with the names of the lawyers interviewing you. If possible, try and find out some information about them. For information about our lawyers, check out the Firm’s Web site.
Think about what the firm may ask you. Although many interviews are not structured, often interviewers will ask:
What areas of law are you interested in and why?
What do you like about law school?
What do you want to know about our firm?
You should research the firm before you go for an interview. Interviewers like to see that candidates are informed and interested in their firms.
Before Call Day, many firms will let you know whether they will be contacting you on Call Day to set up an interview. At Blakes, we let candidates know by email and letter before Call Day whether we will be contacting them.
Most firms will try to contact you as soon as possible after eight o’clock. One person may be responsible for calling four to five candidates, or two people may work together to call eight to 12 candidates. For many candidates, Call Day is over in 10 to 15 minutes.
Do not expect to have long conversations with the lawyer calling you as they will be calling others and will expect that you will want to receive other calls.
Most large firms will ask you to set aside 1.5 to two hours for your interview. It is a good idea to find out how much time a firm is likely to want to schedule for your interview before Call Day. At Blakes, we ask candidates to set aside two hours for their interview and start them “on the hour” rather than on the half-hour.
To prepare for Call Day, it is a good idea to set up a chart to let you record your interviews. You should also prioritize the firms that you want to see. There is a limit to how many large business firms you can see in three days given that most will ask for interviews of 1.5 to two hours in length. Over the course of the three days, you could probably interview at 10 to 12 firms at the most. It is possible to do up to five interviews on each of Monday and Tuesday, but you will find it extremely tiring if each of those interviews are two hours in length.
There is really no “perfect” time for an interview. Some firms really use all three days to interview while other firms attempt to interview the candidates in the early part of the week. The Bay Street firms are close to one another, so you do not need to build time in your schedule for moving from one office to another. Firms will respect your time and will endeavour to make sure you have time to get to your next interview. At Blakes, we ask our hosts to find out about the candidates’ schedules so that we do not delay candidates.
On Call Day, do not use your answering machine or voicemail. We suggest you disconnect your call-waiting service on that day. We prefer to get a busy signal instead of voicemail. Please understand that if a firm leaves a message for you to call them back, it is unlikely you will be able to connect to the caller until after they are through with their calls. Therefore, you may not get the time-slot you want for your interview. Instead, you get whatever time the caller may have available. At Blakes, we try to accommodate a candidate’s preferred time, but it can be very difficult.
Make sure you handle your own calls on Call Day as you may be speaking with someone who will host you or be interviewing you. It is not advisable to delegate the task to someone else as they will rarely fully appreciate your perspective or scheduling. If you are absolutely not available by telephone, try to find someone who has handled the Call Day process previously (i.e., another law student) and make sure you tell them:
Which firms will be calling you (if this information is available).
Which firms may be calling you.
What your preferences are in scheduling.
The Interview at the Firm
Firms differ in their interview style. Most of the larger business firms will have you see at least three to four lawyers at the firm as well as an articling student. At Blakes, we assign an associate to act as a host to each candidate while they are interviewing with us. The host does not evaluate but is there to guide the candidate through the interview process. The host is the main contact for the candidate. We then arrange a series of 20-minute interviews with other lawyers. Any lawyer you meet during the actual interview will be evaluating you to determine whether you exhibit the qualities that would make you a successful lawyer at Blakes.
Do arrive on time for interviews as they are often tightly scheduled. If you are late, just explain the reason why and move on.
Wear business attire for the interviews. Most of the lawyers you meet will be dressed accordingly. Also, make sure you are comfortable. It’s not a good idea to try out new shoes!
Let the host know where you can be reached in case the firm wants to contact you.
How to deal with problems that may arise:
The “too-talkative” interviewer just wants an audience. Be an active listener.
If you are too nervous, do everything you can to relax. In the case of our Firm, talking to your host may help you calm down. The host is usually a junior associate and remembers exactly how it felt. Remember, many of the interviewers are very nervous about making a good impression.
If you don’t “hit it off” with an interviewer, try to meet other people at the firm. Keep in mind that lawyers can have bad days, too, and that one lawyer is not indicative of the entire firm.
If you are asked an inappropriate question, examine who is saying it. Sometimes a lawyer doesn’t appreciate how his or her question is perceived. Consider whether you think the question is being used for a discriminatory purpose. For instance, sometimes a lawyer who has children will be interested in whether you have children simply because they like talking about them. While this doesn’t make the question appropriate, there is no negative intention. Other times, a lawyer may be out of line. There are several things you can do. First, consider whether the behaviour is a reflection of the culture of the firm. We would suggest speaking to the person in charge of recruitment and gauging their reaction. Second, you can contact the Law Society about the behaviour.
At Blakes, we are committed to a fair recruitment process. Before students are interviewed, we make sure that all our interviewers understand the importance of treating everyone with respect and being sensitive to cultural differences.
Firms know that not everyone enjoys cocktail receptions. However, they do provide an opportunity to see how lawyers in a firm interact with one another. At Blakes, we sometimes have a small reception at a restaurant before dinner so you can meet more lawyers from the Firm.
If you are not comfortable in these settings, you can make a short appearance.
Firms generally do not judge candidates at the reception.
If you are interested in a firm but cannot go to a reception, just let the firm know this.
Do not drink heavily at a reception.
Treat other candidates well at a reception as lawyers do note if you are not friendly to your colleagues.
Lunches or Dinners
Don’t panic – it’s just lunch or dinner!
This is an opportunity for more relaxed conversation. Use this time to learn more about the culture of the firm. Listen to the lawyers’ stories about their experiences and observe how the lawyers communicate with one another.
Don’t worry if you spill something. It’s not a big deal. If you are really concerned, order something you are comfortable eating.
Lunch or dinner gives you an opportunity to provide more details about yourself. Consider again what you want to convey (e.g., interest in the firm, experience you have, etc.)
Lunches and dinners are booked in advance of interview week. Some are scheduled during interview week. If you know you are not interested in a firm, you can cancel. However, try not to do this at the last minute.
Don’t double-book lunches or dinners. If two firms ask you out, try to determine which firm you would prefer. Perhaps you could suggest lunch with one of the firms instead of dinner.