There are three common interview formats for jobs in the legal field – the “screening interview,” the “callback” interview, and the “group” interview. For each of these interviews, you should bring multiple copies of your resume, transcript, reference sheet, and writing sample with you (you may not be asked for all, or any, of these documents, but you need to be prepared in case you are asked for any one of them).
The Screening Interview
The screening interview is usually a brief (20-minute) meeting between a candidate and a representative of the employer. This interview may take place during the On-Campus Interview program, a job fair or some other formal recruiting program, or at the employer’s office.
At a screening interview, you can expect to meet with one or two people, who will generally ask you questions about yourself and your background. You will also have the opportunity to ask questions; use your own questions as an opportunity to shine during interviews. (Sample questions that may be asked of you, as well as those you will want to ask of the interviewer, are available in the next section).
A Note About 1L Interviewing: most initial 1L interviews with law firm employers will NOT take the form of an on-campus 20 minute screening interview. Many of you will have an initial interview in an employer’s office. And in most cases, these on-site law firm interviews will resemble the “callback” style interview. You will meet with several people at the organization and stay as long as two hours or more.
The Callback Interview
There are certain days set aside right after OCI and before classes start for you to schedule callback interviews. You will be able to conduct callback interviews then and at any other time that is appropriate given your schedule, the employer’s schedule, and your level of interest. Please make the best use of these days and make every attempt to miss as few classes as possible. Academic success this semester will only help your career.
What is a callback, anyway?
A callback interview is a second round interview that gives you the opportunity to go to an employer’s office for interviews with additional members of the firm. Typically, at law firms, a callback will be a series of 3-5 interviews with attorneys, both partners and associates (as well as, sometimes, members of the recruiting department). It is typically 2-3 hours long. Some firms will arrange for attorneys (usually more junior associates) to take you out to lunch or dinner following the interviews.
- Know that lunch or other more social interactions are STILL interviews. Often, you may be scheduled with younger associates for lunch. Don’t think that they are your allies at this point in the game (we hear of students who entrust younger associates with their “real” plan: “Well, I hope I’m not working at this sweatshop two years down the road! How long have you been here?”) These types of conversations are a bad idea! Do not forget that you are being evaluated by everyone you meet.
How long after my screening interview does it take to hear about a callback?
There is no rule of thumb here; the length of time it will take you to hear about a callback varies from city to city and firm to firm. Some of the interviewers who come to OCI have the authority to extend callback invitations on the spot or to make calls that evening. Others must first meet with members of the hiring committee and discuss all candidates from Penn and even from other schools before making invitations. If you haven’t heard either way, you are still in the mix – be patient. It is appropriate to follow up with a firm’s recruiting department two weeks after your screening interview to express your continued interest and inquire about the status of your candidacy.
What are my odds of getting the job if I’m invited for a callback?
Again - this varies widely from employer to employer. Some firms invite in only those they expect to hire. Others may bring in four candidates for each position they intend to fill. You won’t know your statistical odds on any given callback - but with preparation, you can certainly push the odds in your favor! For guidelines, review the participating employer information and NALP statistics.
What’s the protocol for scheduling a callback?
Typically, you will receive a callback invitation via telephone (or, increasingly, via e-mail). The bad news more often comes via the mail – but not always! Remember to open, read and respond to any employer communications in the mode in which the callback was extended (i.e. return a phone call with a phone call or an email with an email).
When you receive an invitation – or any communication from an employer, for that matter – return the call or email promptly, within 24 hours or less. They will be expecting to hear from you. Some practical suggestions:
• Have your calendar and a pen & paper handy when you call.
• Speak slowly and clearly when stating your name and law school and the purpose of your call.
Think of questions you have before you call. You may want to write them out ahead of time so you don’t put yourself in the awkward position of having to call back. Some examples:
- How long should you expect to be with them?
- How many people will you be seeing?
- If the time is near the lunch hour, will you be expected to stay for lunch?
- What is their travel reimbursement policy?
- If you will be traveling to them and incurring hotel costs, do they wish that you use a particular travel agency? If you are heading to a city for interviews with more than one employer, let them know. They will split the expenses, and you will keep track of your expenses using one of the following NALP Travel Expense forms:
- Get clear directions to their office. Ask what the cross streets are at the address. To which floor should you report? Please note that Philadelphia law firms expect that you are able to get to them on your own, and will not reimburse travel expenses.
- May you call back to learn the names of the interviewers you’ll be seeing or will you get that information on the day of your interview? Keep in mind that interviewers may change at the last minute.
What if I’m not really sure about this employer, and have “favorites” I’ve not yet heard from - do I schedule and then cancel later if I hear from the others?
Go ahead and schedule the callback, as far in the future as their calendar allows. As soon as you decide that you are not interested, call and cancel the interview. Employers would rather have you cancel than put their busy attorneys through the paces of an interview when you know you will not accept the job. With that said, you need to give as much advance notice of a cancellation as possible; we suggest at least one week and more time where possible. However, if you receive the offer of your dreams the night before a callback, it is better to call and cancel than to waste the interviewer’s time.
Please note, if you do decide to schedule an interview far out on an employer’s calendar, it is possible for them to perceive this as a lack of interest. Before electing to schedule a callback far into the future, make sure to weigh the pros and cons of such a decision (consider your level of interest in the employer and the number of callbacks you have already received).
How should I prepare for callbacks?
Your preparation is very important. You want to be sure you have as much information about the employer as possible.
- Review our materials on researching employers.
- Check the employer’s website.
- Run LEXIS or Westlaw news searches about the organization to see if you can find some recent press about its activities.
- Talk to 3Ls or Penn Law alumni who work at the firm.
- Do a mock interview with a counselor or through InterviewStream.
- Know why you want to work at this organization and what you want to say about your skills, talents, and interest in that employer.
Should I prepare questions for the interviewers?
Yes! You will need to prepare questions to ask of the people with whom you meet, and should spend some time researching these individuals on the organization’s website. Don’t think you need to have many sets of questions; it is perfectly appropriate to ask similar questions of each person you meet. In fact, you can use the consistency of their answers as one way to evaluate the organization.
Interviewers expect you to have questions for them. Make sure they are informed questions that use the information you’ve gathered in your research. Not having well thought out questions can demonstrate a lack of specific interest in their organization.
What can I expect when I arrive?
You will typically report to a receptionist, who will contact the recruiting department to let them know you have arrived. You’ll then most likely have a short meeting with a representative of the recruiting department. This person will typically welcome you to the firm and explain the structure of your visit. Note, however, that this person is nonetheless evaluating you as a candidate. This person will be able to tell you something about the people you’ll be meeting with during your visit; you may be able to use this information to your advantage in interviewing.
What should I get out of my callback experience?
You have the advantage of now being in their space, which can give you clues about questions you might ask and enable you to make connections. You are also gathering information throughout the interviews that can feed your discussions all day; “I was speaking to Mary Jones earlier, and she mentioned the firm’s new training program. Have you had the opportunity to attend any of the programs at this point?”
You may want to ask each interviewer for his or her business card so you’ll have a record of the attorneys with whom you have met.
Students tell us the most difficult thing can be maintaining the high energy and enthusiasm you’re shooting for throughout these visits. All in all, it’s the same advice: Be relaxed, enjoy, learn as much as you can about our profession and this employer while interviewing.
The Group Interview
Group interviews are most common in hiring for government, public interest and public sector work. In these organizations, the attorneys often work together closely as a team with a common philosophy and goal. These employers may prefer to have a shared evaluation process, so that they all agree on a candidate’s potential for compatibility with the organization. Some small law firms use group interviews for the same reason.
Usually, these agencies will hold interviews in stages, with a screening interview followed by a more extensive group interview. In the group situation, the interviewers will often ask pointed questions about your beliefs and attitudes on issues relevant to the organization’s work.
- At a prosecutor’s office: “Do you believe in the death penalty? Are there circumstances where you would not be able to argue for its imposition?”
- At a Defenders office: “Are you interviewing at prosecutors’ offices? Why or why not?”
- At a city law department office: “How do you feel about eminent domain exercised against an elderly homeowner?”
In situations where the work environment is very high-pressured, such as a D.A.’s office, the group interview is used to see how a candidate responds under pressure. Typically, the group will station the interviewee at the far end of a table. They will then ask questions of the interviewee and one or more members of the group will challenge the answer, regardless of what that answer is. In this situation, you need to be able to stay firm and defend your position. In most cases, there is no “right” answer, and you are being tested on your ability to stand firm in the face of challenge. These types of “pressure” interviews are more common for permanent employment.
If you are anticipating a group interview, we can help you to prepare with a “mock group interview.”