I have always found interviews challenging. As someone with a stutter and who identifies as neurodivergent, the interview format seems tailor made to cause me problems. Being a law student with a regular schedule of internship and fellowship applications has only added to my issues with them.
To me, the interview format is a uniquely discriminatory and exclusionary way of recruiting. Interviews feel inherently ableist because they benefit individuals who are able to perform in this very specific setting, while systematically disadvantaging individuals who cannot. Moreover, they provide a space for implicit bias to infect hiring processes and ensure that the same types of people get offered particular opportunities.1 This is a significant problem in the legal sector, where interviews effectively act as gatekeepers to a profession that is already overwhelmingly non-disabled and neurotypical (as well as white, straight, and cisgender).
I also do not think that interviews are a particularly good way of assessing a candidate’s suitability for a job. One of the justifications given for interviews (particularly in professions such as law, which focus a great deal on oral advocacy and presentation) is that they are a way of seeing how a candidate is able to perform in front of others. However, there are far better ways of assessing this, whether it’s asking candidates to moot a client interview or looking at someone’s previous experience in oral advocacy.
However, until employers and organizations embrace a truly equitable and inclusive approach to recruitment and hiring methods, unfortunately, interviews will persist. With that in mind, here are my top tips for interview success in law school and beyond.
Bring your whole self to the interview.
This is my number one tip, and something I am working to incorporate in everything I do professionally. Law school is tough and part of that difficulty results from the inherent competition that comes from putting a bunch of self-professed high-achievers in one room. Against this backdrop, it can be easy to form only one view or idea of what lawyering–and lawyers–look like. For students experiencing imposter syndrome (such as myself), this sense of having to conform to a set image of what a law student or lawyer should be can often be overwhelming.
One of my greatest strengths is the fact that I do not conform fully to the prototypical notion of what a lawyer should be, and can bring fresh perspective and insights that others do not. Once I embraced this and was able to articulate the reasons why this meant I would be a great future lawyer, I had won half the battle.
This point also leads neatly to my next tip…
For students with disabilities: request an accommodation.
This can be either a formal or informal accommodation. For instance, I have found I am often better with virtual interviews if I turn off the camera. So I now sometimes ask the interviewer if they would mind if I turn off the camera when giving my answers. In other instances, I have asked if the interviewer would be able to schedule additional time for the interview to reduce the pressure to get all my answers out within a limited period of time. I have never had to go so far as to make a formalized request for an accommodation with the HR department and interviewers have always been more than willing to be flexible with me.
Making these requests is still really hard for me: internalized ableism has left me conditioned to view not being able to do something the same way as everyone else as failure. As a result, I would persist with interviews even in formats that I knew would not allow me to fulfill my full potential. But I have recently tried to change my thinking around this: if employers are not going out of their way to pick a format for conducting recruitment that is inclusive for individuals like me, I need to do all I can to make the format work for me as much as possible. My interview performance (and success rate) has improved dramatically since I accepted the fact that I need to approach interviews differently.
View the interview as a conversation.
One benefit of interviews as a law student is that you almost uniformly get to speak to really interesting people. In one recent interview, I got to talk with someone who had worked on a bunch of cases I had read about in an area of law I was really interested in. Speaking with the person about their approach to litigation and how they built their cases was unimaginably cool and also an opportunity I would not normally get.
The more you start viewing interviews as more of a conversation, and less like an assessed performance, the easier they get.
Master the content.
Being in a clinic this year has taught me how much better I am orally and in conversation when I feel like I have a firm grasp of the content. Some folks are good at making things up “on the hoof.” While I have many skills, being able to make it up as I go along is not one of them. I am much better when I take time to fully understand the material and feel like I have a really good understanding of it. This also applies to interviews.
The good news here is that with interviews you are the content, and nobody knows you better than you do. Spend time thinking about your story, the arc of your personal narrative and what brought you to where you are today. Why do you want to become a lawyer and work in this field of law? Once you have done all this thinking, it becomes a lot easier to reproduce it in an interview setting.
Use CSO resources.
The Career Services Office has been unbelievably helpful to me as I have been preparing for interviews. I have done multiple practice interviews with CSO staff and have been using this as a quasi-form of exposure therapy. Brainstorming with them also helped me think about requesting accommodations, and what sort of form these could take. I highly encourage everyone to book some time with a career advisor for a practice interview.
Jonathan Bertulis-Fernandes is a second-year student at BC Law. Contact him at email@example.com.