Recruiters Give Interviewing Tips to 2Ls on the Job Hunt

September 1, 2004
Halle Sabo, Director of Legal Personnel for Kirkpatrick & Lockhart in Washington, D.C.

Do your homework on the employer you're interviewing with. The number one complaint of interviewers is that students don't really know what they do, said Director of Legal Personnel Halle Sabo of the law firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart. Sabo and two other representatives from area law firms offered advice to second-year law students August 30 on the eve of the on-Grounds interviewing season, which will last only the month of September, shorter than previous years' six-week schedule.

"We think the more compressed on-Grounds interview season will ultimately be beneficial for our students," said panel moderator Polly Lawson, Associate Director for Career Services Counseling and Programs at the Law School, in an interview after the event. Although September may be more hectic than usual because the School is accommodating more employers in a shorter time frame, students will have less interference with classes and less time to worry about interviews.

During the on-Grounds interviewing season, U.Va. students average more than 19 interviews in search of the perfect summer job, which usually results in a permanent offer to work at the firm full-time after graduation. Sabo's office of 150 attorneys takes on about 15 summer associates each year to help in the firm's financial services and litigation work. Tara Reinhart, a co-hiring partner at Morgan Lewis in Washington, D.C., said summer associates at her firm work for 10 weeks, rotating through two or three practice groups to help students choose a field. Summer associates are encouraged to spend their final third working in public service, and are paid the regular summer salary to do so. Legal Recruiting Manager Virginia Costa said her firm, Hunton & Williams, hires anywhere from two to 21 summer workers at its offices, the largest one being in Richmond, where she works. They also use a rotation system to give students the opportunity to try different things.

Who are the interviewers?

Tara Reinhart, a co-hiring partner at Morgan Lewis in Washington, D.C.

Sabo said her firm typically sends partners who are alums to interview students, although senior associates may be sent instead if no partners are available. Reinhart said her office also tries to send alumni, but they are not always available. Students can rest assured that the partners or senior associates they do send "love doing it." Costa said her firm sends the best interviewers, who are not necessarily alumni, and usually a combination of a partner and senior associate.

Preparing for the interview

Sabo strongly recommended that students "read our Web sites" so they may come into the interview well-informed about the firm-and specifically be sure to read about what kind of work that particular office of the firm does. She also suggested reading the Web site's biographies of interviewers, if you know their names ahead of time. "They like to hear that you looked them up," she said.

Reinhart recalled that one well-qualified applicant said during a call-back that she wanted to do class-action work-which fit well with the office-then went on to say that she's concerned about the plight of the little person, which showed she hadn't done her homework. "When you look at the Web site, it's pretty clear we represent corporate America." Reinhart added that students should have three or four stories prepared about something they've done recently-during a summer, during a class, a legal issue they found interesting, or undergraduate work. "If it's on [the resume], you should expect to get detailed questions on it," she said.

Costa emphasized that students should be able to explain why they're interested in the firm they're interviewing with.

What questions should students ask interviewers?

Legal Recruiting Manager Virginia Costa of Hunton & Williams in Richmond.

Sabo said to keep in mind that "you should be doing 80 percent of the talking during an interview," and students shouldn't be struggling to ask questions. She suggested asking what you'll be doing at the firm if hired. "I always like to hear someone say, 'What is your typical day?'" She suggested showing you know what the summer program is about before asking questions about it. For example, explaining that you know they use a rotation system, then asking how that works. gives information about their summer program, she said. Ask partners why they practice at the firm, and what they enjoy most about working there, she suggested.

Costa said her favorite question is, "why do you like practicing at Hunton & Williams?" Reinhart said students should avoid rote topics like compensation, bonus structures, and billable hours. If a student has questions about such topics later in the interview process, they can ask recruiting managers, who are comfortable giving the straight story on things like salary.

Do grades matter?

Sabo said grades are important, but "not the end-all, be-all." She said she personally likes when people put interests on their resume, and on her own resume notes that she's a big fan of Big-10 football. "Grades should not be a deciding factor when choosing summer associates," Reinhart agreed. She said she uses the "cold-pizza test"-after a long day working on a project with cold pizza for dinner, "are you going to be someone [I] want to meet that deadline with?" The test of collegiality is key, she said.

Costa said she looks at the overall resume first, then the grades. She warned students not to list interests that might be offensive.

Sabo warned that students should not list fluency in a language unless they can really speak it; call-back interviewers have been known to conduct interviews in foreign languages to test students' claims.

How soon are call-backs offered? How are they conducted?

Sabo said her office tries to get back with applicants the day after an on-campus interview. Call-back interviews are usually a half-day; either you meet with four attorneys in the morning and go to lunch with two attorneys, or meet with six attorneys in the afternoons. She recommended morning interviews because students can drag at the end of the day.

Reinhart said her office tries to offer call-backs within 24 hours. Call-back interviews include meeting with six attorneys and one of two hiring partners. The structure is based on the applicant's interests, and there's a morning or afternoon option for the interview. Recruiters try to let students know within 72 hours whether they have the job or not.

Costa said that because some students are not as knowledgeable about Richmond, they try to get applicants to stay longer to show them more of the city. Call-backs at her firm are offered within two days of the initial interview.

Thank-you notes-to send or not to send?

The firm representatives agreed that thank-you notes are not necessary after on-campus interviews. Attorneys think it's a nice gesture, Sabo said, but it won't affect the decision. "E-mails are perfectly acceptable," she emphasized. Reinhart suggested that if you make a good connection with an interviewer, you may want to send a thank-you note, even for an on-campus interview.

Dress code for interviews

Sabo said students should always wear business attire, even if the office is business casual. Reinhart said students should just try to be dressed crisply-a cheap or expensive suit doesn't matter.

Reimbursement for interview expenses

Sabo said students should try to keep all receipts related to their interview, including one for dinner if they arrive the night before. Reimbursements are sent within three days at her firm. Reinhart said students should be upfront if they are interviewing with multiple firms, as her firm has a form to help divide expenses with other firms. Sabo added that it's easier to just claim one firm as the host firm; the host firm will bill out counterparts when it has time. Costa suggested that students be honest about reimbursements. "We typically know who's interviewing with whom," she said.

What if you're interested in the same firm, but in multiple cities?

Sabo suggested students be upfront during on-campus interviews and explain they are interested in different offices of the firm. Reinhart agreed that asking to switch cities late in the game "is not going to go over well."

Splitting summers

Sabo said most firms discourage splitting summers, but students should tell firms they are interested in splitting a summer as soon as they get an offer. Reinhart said her firm has "a short summer as it is," but has made rare exceptions for students wanting to split time with the Department of Justice, for example. Costa said the Richmond office of Hunton & Williams allows split summers, but requires that they work the first half there.

What attributes do they look for?

Reinhart said she looks for leadership abilities, team orientation, the ability to express yourself, and confidence in what you're saying. Costa added that students should try to maintain eye contact and offer a firm handshake. "I would turn off anything that makes noise," she said.

Making it to call-backs

Costa guessed that roughly 70 percent of the students they interview are called back. If they make it onto the interview schedule, she added, there's nothing on a student's resume that would affect their chances of getting an offer. Reinhart said they offer many call-backs to U.Va. students, and Sabo agreed that U.Va. is a target school for her department.

Transfer students

Sabo said transfer students should be sure to list anything from their former school that makes them look good, such as class rank or working on a law review. Reinhart said transfer students should be prepared to answer questions about why they transferred.

Clerking after law school

Reinhart said most firms think clerking after law school is "a terrific thing." Sabo added that it also helps them project the recruiting class size for the next year. Costa said many firms will help students get clerkships.

What if you're interested in different cities?

If you're looking at jobs in different cities, "don't try to fudge," Reinhart said. "Someone, somewhere will figure it out." Costa added that students should try to find out more about the cities they are interested in during call-backs.

Is it considered an advantage/disadvantage if a student goes straight to law school without working in between?

Reinhart said she's seen strong candidates who've done both-just be prepared to talk about your experiences as an undergrad if you didn't work after graduating. Costa said it raises a red flag for her when she doesn't see any school involvement on a resume in such cases.

Hiring foreign lawyers

The firm representatives said they occasionally hire LL.M. students, in which case a translated transcript is helpful for an interview. Reinhart said LL.M.s should make sure their visa papers are properly filed in time for the start of their summer jobs; one of her firm's summer associates was sent home for two weeks because the visa papers were not approved in time.

Parting advice

Reinhart said students shouldn't worry about being nervous. "You will find a way to use those nerves to your advantage. You do not come across as nervous as you think you do."

Costa said it was ok not to know what area of law you want to practice in. "Don't be afraid to say you don't know."

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