Acing the Callback Interview

Acing the Callback Interview

Congratulations!  You have done an excellent job at the screening, or initial interview.  Now you are invited to come in for one or more follow-up interviews.  You need to build on what you did right the first time around, and be prepared to do even more.  See our previous Hot Tip, “Preparing for the Callback Interview” to get you started.  This Hot Tip will discuss some of the situations that are unique to callback interviews and how to handle them to your advantage.

Callback interviews sometimes can feel like a repeat performance.  You may be asked some of the same questions as in the previous interview, or the same question by more than one lawyer at the callback interview.  If you believe you have answered well and another interviewer asks you the same question, feel free to use the same response.  If you have an anecdote which is a particularly good illustration of your skills or achievements, it’s fine to repeat it.

You must sound engaged and enthusiastic, however, even if it’s the sixth time you’ve answered the same question or told the same story.  Remember, this is the first time that particular person will hear it.  If you researched your interviewers beforehand, a good way to keep your answers fresh is to tailor your responses to each person.  It’s fine to add new information or use different illustrations to make essentially the same points.  Avoid changing the substance of your responses because your interviewers may discuss your answers and you want to be consistent.

A major difference between an initial interview and a callback is its duration.  Instead of being intelligent, charming, and interesting for an hour or so, you have to be “on” for many hours.  You must make the same positive impression on the last interviewer as you did on the first.

To maintain your energy and focus, request a short break after every second or third interview.  Take a trip to the restroom, freshen up, splash some water on your face, take some deep breaths or take a brisk walk to rejuvenate.  If you need a drink of water at any time, don't be afraid to ask.

Furthermore, you cannot let one lukewarm interview in the middle of your schedule throw you off track for the rest of the day. Usually, each interviewer gets only one vote, so shrug off any underwhelming performances and approach each interview as if it were the only one that counts.  If there is a lesson to be learned, take notice and use that knowledge in the following meetings.

Because the interviewer's primary function is to practice law, not meet candidates, work may impinge on your interview.  You may be delayed in starting an interview, or be interrupted once underway.  Remain cheerful and patient, and don’t appear too interested in the substance of any interruption.  If an important phone call intrudes, refrain from listening attentively to the interviewer's side of the conversation even if you can't help but hear.  (Of course, your cell phone was turned off before you walked into the reception area.)

Disruptions can provide a welcome break, giving you time to breathe and scan the office.  Maybe you’ll spot some office decoration, photo, or memorabilia which will spark a comment or question.  Use the time to jot notes, but not on your smart phone (which can look like you are texting).  Resist the temptation to check your email.  You want to remain focused on your interview.  When the interview resumes, calmly recap the point you were in the midst of making, and continue on.

Don’t be concerned or get distracted if your interviewer is taking notes during your conversation.  It may be reminders of impressions or points made, especially if there are a number of candidates under consideration.  On the other hand, it merely could be a “to do” or grocery list!

You’ll probably have more opportunity to ask questions and will be expected to make more sophisticated inquiries than you did in the first interview.  Indicate through your questions that you are seriously interested in the opportunity.  Stating “I think all my questions have been answered” suggests you are indifferent.

While you should have prepared a list of questions to ask beforehand, it is appropriate to ask more than one person the same question.  For example, asking each interviewer about his or her experiences at the firm will likely yield different answers which, taken together, may reveal a lot about the prospective employer.

Ask your final interviewer about next steps and when you should expect to hear back. Timing may depend upon the interview cycle.  If you are among the first of several candidates to come in for a callback, it may be a few weeks; whereas if you are one of the last, it may be just days.

By the end of the day, you may forget who you met and what you talked about.  Therefore, ask each interviewer for a business card. During rest breaks or as soon as possible after your interviews are complete, jot down something about the interviewer and/or your conversation on the back of each appropriate card.  This information will help you draft thank you letters tailored to each recipient—which should be sent (either by email or snail mail) within a day or so of your callback interview.

Valerie Fontaine
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