Lawyers Hone Job Interview Skills With Videotaped Practice Sessions

Suffolk University Law School student Brett Lovins figured he’d do pretty well in his job interviews. But just to be safe, he decided to start by seeing himself the way others saw him. That’s why, on two occasions, the second-year law student in Boston has videotaped practice interviews at the school’s career services center.

“I did it so that I would have a chance to see myself,” Lovins said. “It’s interesting to see the way other people perceive you. You don’t often get a chance to do that.”

For each of his videotaped mock interviews, a career services specialist interviewed Lovins for about 20 minutes, then reviewed the videotapes with him. “By watching yourself on videotape you can become aware of different quirks that you might not realize you have,” Lovins said.

Lovins had his first practice interview videotaped a year ago, and then repeated the process last summer. So far, he’s had 10 actual interviews with law firms and believes the videotaped practice sessions gave him a leg up.

“The practice sessions definitely helped in terms of being able to predict what types of questions I should be prepared for,” Lovins said. “And I went into the interviews with more confidence as a result of having observed the videotapes.”

Lovins is among an increasing number of law students and experienced attorneys who are taking a good look at themselves through the unblinking lens of a video camera.

Even experienced lawyers can improve their job interview skills by watching themselves on video, said Stephen Rosen, president of Celia Paul Associates, a New York legal placement firm.

“It’s the instantaneous feedback you get that shows the lawyer how he looks to others,” Rosen said.

Career counselors say that videotaping practice interviews is a good way to work out the kinks before sitting face-to-face with a potential employer.

“It’s the best honing tool we can use,” Rogers said.

Clear Answers

Students who watch their videotapes discover “silly things” they do during interviews, such as slumping in a chair, touching their faces or fiddling with their hands, according to Rogers.

But their biggest lesson is hearing how they answer the interviewer’s questions, she said.

“The most critical piece is answering the questions and communicating back to the person who’s asking the questions, and making sure they get their point across,” she said.

While going over the tape, Rogers reminds students that during interviews they should make sure to:

  • Convey their knowledge of the law firm, and
  • Make references to their research and writing skills.

“Very often, they’ll bring up a piece they’re working on for the law review,” she explained. “Content-wise, the interviewer stops and starts the tape and critiques it with you,” Lovins said. “She critiques it with you and analyzes your answers, asks you how you think it went, did it convey what you wanted it to convey, and how could that be tightened?”

During his videotaped interviews, Lovins said, he came across pretty well in posture and appearance. But, with Rogers’ help, he noticed that he seemed to be “rambling” in a few of his answers.

“You hone in on answers that maybe should be rephrased to sound a little stronger,” he said.

Seeing Is Believing

“The universal reaction is, ‘I can’t believe I look that bad,'” said Rosen, whose firm helps lawyers who have been laid off, or want to change firms.

Rosen takes the role of the interviewer, and spends about 10 minutes questioning the applicant. He and the attorney then spend about an hour reviewing the videotape, going over it question by question, frame by frame.

“I have never had a lawyer who does not go out of here feeling better than they felt at the end of the 10-minute tape,” Rosen said. “They get a sense of reality about how they present, and get the opportunity to amend or alter and improve each of the answers here, where it will not hurt them to make a mistake.

“Whereas out there,” he noted, “a badly framed answer can be fatal.”

“Most of the folks that come to us look very good on paper, but when they answer questions face-to-face they bomb,” said. Rosen, who works with lawyers from the biggest firms in New York.

The most common interview failings, he said, are:

  • Awkward mannerisms, and
  • Insufficient research on the potential employer.

Inadequate or poorly articulated answers. “Lawyers generally have good communications skills,” Rosen said. “But no matter how good they are, they get better when they get the feedback.”

By Nora Lockwood Tooher

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