Always Be Closing: Interview Skills
This one is for students and young lawyers. Ivan Merrow’s recent article in Canadian Lawyer discusses how he failed at multiple interviews before finally landing a job. I experienced the same agony in law school after the first round of on-campus interviews. I ran down to the University of Toronto bookstore and bought every interview self-help book on the shelf. Shell-shocked and desperate to improve, I read what felt like everything under the sun. Eventually I found some good mentors (in and out of law) who took the time to run me through mock interviews and give me constructive criticism. Success came after much hard work and introspection.
Interviewing is a skill that can be trained. Like basketball, skiing, or public speaking, most interviews take place in a defined environment with certain rules. Understand the rules, know how to break them creatively with your own imprint, and you can reach your potential in the game. Here are some tips.
Litigators, sales people and social media experts know that likeability is the defining factor that determines how persuasive you are. If you are likeable you greatly increase the chance you will succeed in an interview.
Establish likeability by being someone the interviewer can identify with. While there’s no call to be exactly identical to your interviewer, it helps to be alike in many respects. Let’s take body language. If the interviewer is leaning forward slightly, it helps to do the same. But if your interviewer is exhibiting low energy or negative body language, this doesn’t mean you should follow suit. You want to maintain positive and open body language. Similarly, your vocabulary, pace and tone of speech should be similar. If, however, your interviewer is speaking in a tired and slow voice, speak a little louder and faster. The point is to mirror your interviewer and bring a little more energy.
How To Answer Questions
The tried and true formula for answering questions is “SAO – situation, action, outcome”, or short stories. Every answer should provide a brief example of a problem you faced and how you dealt with it. The interviewer should be able to easily identify from your story a key skill that the position requires. See our article on how to sell yourself in the interview for further thoughts on the SAO formula.
There are few exceptions to this formula. While you want to deliver your story in a natural way, this is not a license to wax eloquent. If you enjoy talking about yourself, stop when you have told your story. If there’s a risk you are going to babble, stop before you mess up. On the other hand if you are quiet and only have a few lines to offer, expand on your story. Each story should be a couple minutes long.
The goal of the interview is to deliver the message into the mind of the interviewer why she should be hiring you. You want her to be able to justify to her boss why you’re the best person for the job. Every question you answer should speak to this goal, whether it be your ability to engage in small talk, legal analysis, or sales. Sell your story with an eye to the theme of Glengarry Glen Ross: “always be closing”.
Hungry for More?
The Ontario Bar Association (OBA) is hosting a CPD on Interviewee Skills: Preparing to Land Your Dream Job, on the morning of May 28, 2015. I’ll be speaking at this event on developing interviewing skills, and there will be further sessions on preparing for interviews and following up. Students get a significant discount. Sign up for the interviewee skills session!
There are numerous resources for developing interviewing skills. I recommend Winning the Interview Game: Everything You Need to Know to Land the Job by Alan H. Nierenberg, available now as an e-book. Further resources are available in the April 2015 LAWPRO Student Magazine, released early and available here.