Tips for a Standout Callback Interview

August 8, 2019

by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

Late summer is the season in which many rising 2L law students take the next step in their legal careers by interviewing for law firm summer associate positions. The first stage of the interview process is typically on-campus interviews, which take place in August and are comprised of 20-minute meetings with one or two attorneys from participating firms. After this initial meeting, the firms decide who they will bring back to the office for the second round of in-person interviews, also known as a callback interview. These meetings can range anywhere from two to four hours and include meetings with numerous lawyers within the office. This is an important point in the process as offers for a summer associate position are often made after the callback interview stage, so candidates should make the most of this visit. We put together the following tips to help candidates navigate the callback stage of the interview process and make the most of their visit.

Sowing the Seeds for Success

The on-campus interview meetings go by fast, and it is likely that you will meet many lawyers and recruiting team members from a number of firms during the process. Be sure to take notes of what stands out and interests you about firms during these meetings, and save them for future reference. These details will serve you well when you begin sending thank you emails to your on-campus interviewers, preparing for the callback interviews, and making final decisions about where to spend your summer.

The Research Rabbit Hole

It is tempting to conduct as much research as you can before for your callback interviews, but you do not have to possess encyclopedic knowledge about the firm in order to demonstrate interest. Use the notes you have from your on-campus meetings, as well as conversations with lawyers and summer associates from the firm, to identify any gaps in the information you have about a firm. This will help guide your research and ensure you have the information you need to fully convey your knowledge of the firm during the interview.

There are resources you may find helpful beyond a firm’s website and that you should be sure to review as you conduct your research. Many firms publish annual reviews, providing a window into the firm’s successes and strategic initiatives, and produce videos featuring key players such as hiring partners, allowing you to hear about the firm’s summer program and recruiting processes. The legal publications, The American LawyerNational Law JournalCorporate Counsel,and ACC Docket are just a few publications whose articles about the firm will also help you learn more about the business issues law firms are facing.

The Power of Why

You will definitely be asked “Why this firm?” and the answer to this question is arguably the most telling way to distinguish candidates’ interest in the firm. Be sure that your answer reflects that you have done your research and that you have an interest in specific aspects of the firm. 

Throughout your callback interview, you may be asked more specifics about the content of your resume. Be prepared to talk about these points of your story and bring them to life in a succinct and understandable manner. Your ability to demonstrate a commitment to academic and professional excellence through your responses about prior experiences will set you apart.

Try not to steer the conversation to softer points—such as a shared hometown, undergraduate school, or hobby—unless the interviewer broaches the topic. Although it is tempting to search for these connections, ultimately interviewers want to see your analytical skills and enthusiasm for the practice of law.

Be All Ears

Demonstrate credible interest by asking tailored questions in your callback interviews. Avoid general questions such as “What do first year associates get to work on?” and “What is the summer program like?” Sophisticated questions will make you a memorable candidate, and will help you gather more detailed information about the firm. Sample questions are:

  • What role do junior associates take in your practice, and what are some examples of the type of work they are assigned?
  • What are the characteristics of a successful associate at the firm/in your practice?
  • Can you describe a recent matter that involved lawyers from across different offices?
  • How much of your work is with colleagues outside your group or outside your office?
  • Ask about the interviewer’s experiences with an especially memorable case, transaction, training, or mentor.
  • Why did you join the firm, and why have you stayed?
  • What do you enjoy most about working at the firm?

In response to your interviewer’s remarks, demonstrate active listening. Instead of nodding and moving on, show engagement and curiosity about what your interviewer said. The opportunity to ask questions is a great way to both learn about something of interest to you and to show that you have prepared.

Interview Acrobatics and Fire Drills

Your interview preparation should include reading your interviewers’ firm biographies. However, it is possible that there will be last-minute changes to your interviewer line-up. If that is case, be flexible and ask questions in the time you have to get a brief profile of the new addition(s). A positive, engaged attitude may set your reaction apart.

You can prepare for last-minute changes by preparing questions that can be asked of lawyers in any type of practice, such as how your interviewer landed in their practice, what skills they have acquired while at the firm which have helped them in their career, what kinds of matters the practice handles, and what types of assignments they have recently given to junior associates.

A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way

Be polite to everyone you encounter, and treat the law firm staff as courteously as you do the lawyers. You are interviewing to be a member of the team, and the practice of law requires all departments and levels of seniority to work together.

After your callback interview, be sure to send a thank you email to your interviewers who took time to meet with you and to the recruiting staff who organized it. Keep your emails concise and personalized by mentioning something insightful your interviewer shared.

Looking for More

Check out legalscoop.com, a blog that provides insight and guidance on law firms and the interview process.

This is a sponsored blog post by Akin Gump. To view the firm's full profile, click here.

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  • I highly recommend Anna. Anna recently helped me with my move from a small firm to a nationally recognized practice of a large firm. Anna was very professional and guided me throughout the whole process, anticipating any and all questions and concerns I had. She was very proactive in looking for opportunities and thought outside the box to find the perfect fit for my interests. Anna also made sure I had all of the resources in preparing for the interviews and followed up promptly afterwards. Whatever your desired move, Anna will be able to help!

    Nesko Radovic, Associate

    McGuireWoods LLP