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Callbacks and other in-office interviews: all the same

THE SET UP Be confident. Getting a callback or in-office interview indicates that the employer presumes
that you are qualified. You are going to
(1) let your personality and interests distinguish you from everyone else,
(2) get some of your questions answered;
(3) get some of their questions answered,
(4) to see if you "fit" with them, and
(5) to see if they "fit" with your idea of an employer you would trust with the beginning of the next stage of your career.

This also applies to the letter that reads "If you are in town we would love to meet you." Go! They mean it.

YOUR PREPARATION If you haven't done so before, do comprehensive research on the employer (and on the city, if it is a new location for you). Check http://martindale.com/, the employer's website, Nexus for newspaper clippings and W est or Lexis for important cases they have litigated. Some -- but not all -- firms have NALP forms and firm resumes. You may be winging this part of your prep with an employer without a website and just a small martindale presence.

YOUR ARRIVAL Never arrive too early, and never, ever show up late without a good excuse. Carry a cell phone so that you can notify the employer of your delay. Turn it off when you enter the building. Fifteen minutes before your interview is the earliest time to arrive. Any earlier makes your interviewer nervous or annoyed; any later and you risk making yourself crazy worrying that you might be late. If you are very early, walk around the block, have a cup of coffee or just sit somewhere other than the employer's lobby.

YOUR ITINERARY AT THE CALLBACK OR IN OFFICE INTERVIEW You will usually meet the recruiting administrator first, spending between 10 and 20 minutes with someone who is Professionally Nice, and who will make you feel as comfortable as possible. Do not be too informal or familiar. This person can vaporize your candidacy by raising an eyebrow, and your meeting is part of the interview. Be friendly, but always be professional. After meeting the recruiter, you may then go from office to office, meeting one or more attorneys at a time, or you may sit in a conference room and attorneys may come to you. You may be taken to lunch or to dinner on the day of your interview. You may be taken to dinner the night before your early morning interview. Expect anything. For a first-and-only-in-office interview, your greeter may be the Hiring Partner or the Office Manager.

AVOID CAREER-ENDING GAFFES When touring the office, you may encounter artwork or architectural features that make you ask "What were they thinking when they bought that?" Know that you are probably looking at (a) the work of a partner or spouse or one of the firm's treasured clients, (b) the work of a beloved local artist or (c) the culmination of the work of an incredibly proud and sensitive Partner's Art Committee. Your sole comment, if asked, should be "Interesting."

YOUR FOOD Nothing you eat during an interview has anything to do with nutrition. The lunch or dinner let interviewers see how you behave in a semi-social setting, and check you over for observable anti-social
habits. You are still in the interview. The Food Rules are:

1. Ideal lunch: Catch of the Day - broiled. No red food: given the chance, red sauce will leap onto your white shirt.
2. No salad dressing. Bleu cheese looks awful on gray flannel.
3. Do no spear the partner's last piece of steak.
4. No finger food and especially, no greasy finger food. No chicken wings, lobster, egg rolls or crabs unless you are on Maryland's Eastern Shore and someone hands you a crab mallet.
5. No alcohol, or, at the very least, no more drinks than you have noses. Even if the people with you are drinking, don't do it. They have jobs and you don't. If they get maudlin or silly, they will still have jobs. If you get maudlin or silly -- or worse yet, drunk and belligerent -- you won't have a job.
6. Never, ever berate the wait staff.
7. If you are still hungry, get a pizza on the way home.

THE BILL While you should expect to cover travel and other expenses for interviews with judges and most public sector employers, most large law firms pay for travel and reasonable* expenses for callbacks, and
occasionally for screening interviews. If you have multiple callbacks in the same city, say to the recruiting
administrators, "I am also meeting with X, Y & Z. How will you handle the expenses?"

*Reasonable expenses Cab to and from the airport; airport parking; meals while in transit; cab to the hotel; hotel room expenses. Never bill an employer for any of the following: a cable movie that would embarrass your parents (the titles appear on the bill); alcohol, lobster or caviar from room service; baby sitting or pet sitting; a new dress or suit from the hotel boutique because you lost a button; a limo from the airport to the hotel; an upgrade on an economy rental car to a Jaguar.

YOUR LUGGAGE If your interviews are near enough to your hotel for you to retrieve them and get to the airport on time, check your bags with the bell captain. If not, stash them with the employer's receptionist. There is always a coat closet near the receptionist's desk.

(1) You may find yourself answering the same questions again and again. Your challenge is to be as interested in your answer the eighth time as you were the first time. Your answers and your demeanor are new to Interviewer #8.
(2) If you are meeting with a firm that does not routinely interview here, take a copy of "Standards, Grades, Honors, Ranks & Writing Requirements" and be prepared to explain the grading system in a positive and up-beat manner. The system was instituted to avoid grade inflation.
(3) The Law School's second year writing requirement is unique: all 2Ls serve on either a law review-caliber journal or on a moot court.
(4) Minnesota's Student Practice Rule that allows 2Ls and 3Ls in Clinic to represent live clients is unusual (not unique). Be prepared to explain that -- especially to lawyers who have been out of school for decades and only vaguely familiar with clinic activities.

THEIR QUESTIONS #2You may be asked behavioral questions, such as "Describe a time when you were challenged and had to lead a group to a solution," "W hen did you last put your life in jeopardy?" or "Who in history would you most like to invite to dinner?" Breathe deeply and answer truthfully. Don't try to psych out the question -- everyone's answers are different.

THEIR QUESTIONS #3 In a small-to-medium size first-and-only-in-office interview, you may be quizzed closely on your practical and technical skills. Be prepared to discuss your legal writing projects, clinic activities, Trial Practice, Externship, and other practical classes, your undergrad writing experiences and any office work you have done.

YOUR QUESTIONS Prepare five or six good questions that address issues that matter to you. They must not sound self-serving. Instead of "Do you work 80 hours a week?" you might ask "What do you and your partners do outside of work?" You may ask the same questions of each interviewer. Be prepared to get the same answer or wildly different answers to your questions about the firm, its culture, its governance, its commitment to public service, the outside-of-work lives of its partners and associates, etc.

CLUTCHED IN YOUR HAND A leather or other professional looking portfolio is useful to keep an extra resume, cover letter, writing sample, and "Standards, etc." It also gives you a place to write down your interviewers names, as well as giving you something to hold in your hands if you are nervous. Do not drag a purse and briefcase AND a backpack around. Leave extra loads with the receptionist.

YOUR CHANCES (MATHEMATICAL) Employers do not have a formula that calculates "W screening interviews generate X callbacks yielding Y offers that guarantee Z acceptances." They (and you) wish there were such a formula.

YOUR CHANCES (PHILOSOPHICAL) For most employers, a big part of the decision the "FIT" question: "Is this a person I would want to work with for 10 weeks or 10 years?" Your positive attitude, your personality (including some of your quirkiness), your intelligent questions including the ones that show that you've
done some research about the employer and the work you might do; your sophistication about the business of law (public or private), and your genuine interest in the work that the lawyers do are the things that will affect your chances. Forget about everyone else the employer is interviewing, and do the best you can for yourself.

MANAGING OFFERS IN THE FALL NALP has guidelines for the timing of offers and acceptances. During the fall of 2008, NALP instituted a 45-day rule. At the discretion of an employer, your offer will be extinguished after 45 days. Offer letters will be clear about the date of the end of the offer. There are, in addition, rules which control the number of offers you may hold open at one time. All of the rules appear at NALP's website.

MANAGING OFFERS OUTSIDE OF OCI AND WITH NON-NALP MEMBERS Ideally you will be able to negotiate for as much time as you need to complete your interviewing and come to a rational decision based on your options. Often, however, a prospective employer wants an answer much sooner, requiring you to weigh
the choices you have and the opportunities that are unknown. If you have questions, contact the CPDC.