Looking for Work as a Paralegal: Interview Tips and Techniques

It’s surprising to note the number of prospective applicants that attend an interview and completely forget the most fundamental principles of interviewee technique.

Amanda Hamilton, CEO of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), shares her insights on how first-time legal jobseekers can give a good impression in interviews.

The experience of being interviewed, as we all are aware, is exceptionally stressful even for the most experienced among us and at whatever age. It certainly doesn’t get any easier. Sometimes you may be confronted by two or more interviewers and the fear-factor may even make you forget your own name!

So what are the basic principles of interview technique? Well, before we go into this in detail, let’s try to dispel some of the myths to help you understand the one main principle of attending an interview, which is:

You wouldn’t be asked to attend if your qualifications and experience hadn’t already spoken for themselves. In other words, you don’t have to prove your right to be there. You are attending on merit, just like everyone else. You have a level playing field with all other applicants. So the question arises: what is the purpose of holding an interview? The answer is quite simple: to see if your personality fits with what they are looking for.

On the basis of understanding this one premise, we can now discuss some tips to help you get through this process.

Firstly, whether you fit with what the interviewer wants is outside of your control. You have no idea about what they are specifically looking for in an applicant. Sometimes, and this comes from personal experience as an interviewer, you, the applicant, may change the interviewer’s mind halfway through the interview. So, it is fundamentally important that you relax and let your true personality shine through.

You wouldn’t be asked to attend if your qualifications and experience hadn’t already spoken for themselves.

It’s a bit like being an actor and going for an audition. You may be an excellent actor, and you may have rehearsed your lines and perform a brilliant audition, but if your stature is wrong, or you’re not the right age for the part, you’ll be turned down. That’s down to the director and what they are looking for. So, as a jobbing actor, you then go to the next audition.

Being turned down for an interview shouldn’t be taken personally, although as human beings we cannot help being emotional about the rejection as it is perceived to be something wrong about ourselves.

Secondly, I have, as an employer, interviewed many individuals. The following are examples of a few interviews that went wrong from the applicants’ point of view. It was for a senior administrative and customer services role. I had made a few notes to myself as to what I was looking for. The main part of the job description was that that the applicant must have a legal background or have experience working in a legal environment.

Applicant 1: Had a week to prepare for the interview. Was currently working as a paralegal. She had not taken any care in how she looked nor in the clothes she wore. She entered the room and addressed me (her interviewer) as ‘dear’. Having asked her whether she knew what we did, she shook her head. I gave her a brief synopsis of our organisation, at the end of which, I asked her if she had any questions. She answered by saying: ‘Yes. How much are you going to pay me, dear?’  I ushered her out of the interview room and said that we will let her know the outcome after we had finished interviewing all the applicants. A week later, I received a phone call from her asking once again how much we were going to pay her, at which point I said that we hadn’t decided to employ her.

Applicant 2: Again, had a week to prepare for the interview. A law graduate. Came in, sat down, didn’t say anything. Her head was down and in answer to my question whether she knew what our organisation did, she shook her head. After proceeding to give her a brief outline, I asked her whether she had any questions. She shook her head. The interview was over.

Applicant 3: A law graduate. He strutted into the interview room and lazily planted himself over the chair. He was not dressed appropriately. He did not acknowledge me in any way other than by saying ‘alright’. The interview was over almost before it began although I went through the motions.

Applicant 4: Was a last-minute, reluctant addition to the list of applicants as the agent had expounded her virtues. She had no legal training or experience but dressed well and came across as very open about her lack of experience and being willing to learn very quickly. She had a great personality and had checked our website so was aware of what we did. She got the job.

Needless to say, the first three applicants failed in their ‘effort’ to gain employment. The first was inappropriate in every way. The second was ineffectual, and the third was downright arrogant. The fourth was not what we thought we were looking for, but was so open and honest that we changed our minds. She remains in our employ after 5 years, and has become a senior member of staff.

So what advice can we extrapolate from these interview examples? There are some fundamental tips to bear in mind:

  1. Always dress for the part. I know this is for most people a basic, but it’s surprising how many forget it.
  2. Remember to have eye contact with your interviewer(s). This helps the interviewer gain an insight into who you are.
  3. Interviewers usually make up their minds about interviewees within the first 30 seconds of seeing them, so first impressions can go a long way to assisting them to understand who you are.
  4. Let your personality shine through as this also helps the interviewer.
  5. Always research the company or firm beforehand to find out exactly what they do – there’s no excuse these days not to do so.
  6. Have at least one or two questions up your sleeve as they’ll inevitably ask you whether you have any. If you can fire off a few relevant questions, it shows enthusiasm.
  7. Remember that you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you, as you need to ascertain whether this is the kind of environment you wish to work in.
  8. If you fail to get the job, it’s not about you but about the organisation and what they’re looking for, so move on. The perfect job for you is out there – it’s just a question of finding it.

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