Screening Interviews: 8 Ways to Waste Them

Screening interview candidates have just 20 minutes to make a good impression between “hello” and “goodbye.” Those minutes can be the longest in your life or they can flash by in an instant. You can make the best of the time, or you can waste every minute with one or more of these eight little horrors:


1Use the fish handshake. The only way to make the limp-fish handshake worse is to combine it with lack of eye contact. To shake hands correctly, extend your right hand and grip firmly. Do not pump. Do not crush. Do not extend your left hand to grasp the employer’s arm. This is a connection, not a merger.

2Tell your entire life story. Presenting your life story scrapbook to an interviewer demonstrates deep misunderstanding of the purpose of a screening interview, which is not located at the intersection of Interview Road and Scrapbook Lane. Your interviewers will be astonished, you will be remembered, and not in a good way.

3Tell the wrong parts of your life story. None of the parts of your life that could make a strong melodrama (divorces, arrests, drunken nights, DUIs or other criminal activity) should be part of a screening interview. Some of these issues must be addressed on your bar application, and many will show up on a background check. However, if you get past the screening interview and have credible explanations about youthful indiscretion or other mitigating circumstances which you disclose at an appropriate time, you may get the job.

4Fail to tell enough of your story. Unless the question was “Was that you I saw on the news being arrested last night?” you should not be giving one-word answers. The best interview questions allow you to tell small stories, sketched like good watercolors, and crafted like the best poetry. Your job in an interview is to give a hint about your ability to tell a coherent story when a senior attorney drops by your office and asks “how is my project going?” Too much blathering, random dithering, and general inability to complete a sentence will tank your interview.

5Show that you know nothing about the employer. Candidates often mistake screening interviews for information interviews, and the result is random, incoherent conversation. “Tell me about your employer” or “what kind of law does your firm practice?” shows that you are supremely unprepared, and not worth the interviewer’s time.

6Ask call-back interview questions. You should be prepared with astute questions about the practice areas that interest you, the relationships between lawyers, clients, and other stakeholders, and how law clerks are trained, supervised, and evaluated. Many candidates ask “what are the markers of success?” The home-run questioner asks, instead, “What does it take to fail at your firm?” The first interview is not the time to ask about vacations (not for summer clerks), perks, benefits, and gym memberships. Your questions should be about the work.

7Answer your cell phone. If you agree that Job #1 is to get a job, power down your phone or leave it out of the interview room so that you can concentrate on the interviewer. You may, in fact, be able to multi-task, but your interviewer has taken time from work and expects your full attention. Exception: If your spouse or partner is about to go into labor and you are the transportation, tell the interviewer, and then only take THAT one call.

8Leave the room without ending the interview correctly. It takes more than a strong handshake to complete an interview. The true finish is a good handshake, eye contact, and “I am very interested in pursuing this opportunity. When might I hear back from you?”

(photo: Shutterstock)

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