Interview Strategies: Handling a Callback

Interview Strategies: Handling a Callback

Valerie Fontaine and Roberta Kass
Special to
March 15, 2010

Editor's note: This is the 10th article in a series providing interview tips and techniques for attorneys. Links to previous articles in the series follow this article.

A typical hiring process consists of an initial screening interview and one or more "callback" interviews. All of the strategies you used to succeed in your first interview apply to subsequent interviews -- but more so.


The initial interview eliminates candidates who clearly lack the requisite skill and fit; subsequent interviews dig deeper. You are introduced to additional members of the team, usually some of the hiring committee and managing partners, peers and subordinates in your department. Each interviewer will have a slightly different style and perspective.

You will be evaluated on how well you mesh and what you have to offer. The assessment continues your entire visit, including while you are walking from one office to the next, speaking with support staff and while you're at lunch. This is your chance to determine whether the opportunity is a good fit for you, as well.


Callback interviews can take a variety of forms, including meeting with a group of attorneys at one time, dining with one or more attorneys, or interviewing with several individual attorneys consecutively. Interviews with decision-makers in far-flung offices can be via videoconference or telephone. Each of these settings requires different strategies and techniques, and all are detailed in other installments of this series.

Those conducting first interviews often are trained in interviewing techniques. The array of people you see during subsequent meetings may include some who are less skilled or who practice in an unrelated area. You may have to take the initiative to communicate what you want the interviewer to know about you and your qualifications.


Callback interviews may last from several hours to an entire day. Ask beforehand how long the interview is expected to take. It may extend longer than anticipated, so plan accordingly. Request a list of people you are expected to meet, and research their backgrounds.

Bring several copies of your resume, transcript, writing sample, business plan and other relevant documents -- enough for everyone you are meeting plus extras, in case others are added to your schedule. Be prepared to provide references shortly after your callback, if requested. You can stipulate that they not be contacted without your authorization.

Each meeting represents a fresh beginning. There is no such thing as a "rubber stamp" interview. Therefore, don't coast on the success of earlier interviews. Review your performance in the previous interview. Note any questions or situations that caused you difficulty and plan how to handle them better. Consider what made you shine, and plan to do more of the same. Take another look at the job posting, if there was one. Your responses to all questions should attempt to demonstrate that you possess the attributes the firm is seeking.

Brainstorm fresh information you can bring into a callback interview -- new accomplishments, different examples and more knowledge about the prospective employer. Keep abreast of developments relevant to the prospective employer by reviewing its Web site, trade publications and other sources. Check with members of your extended network who may have valuable insights.

Be ready to discuss -- but do not introduce -- your compensation requirements and other deal points, such as willingness to travel or relocate. Do any market research necessary to prepare to negotiate, if appropriate.


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 even if it's the sixth time you've answered the same question or told the same story; 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 them to each person. Avoid changing the substance of your response because your interviewers may discuss your answers and you want to be consistent.


A major difference between an initial interview and a callback is 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.

Get a good night's sleep the night before. Don't take the red-eye and head right to your interview. If you are tired you might let your guard down or misspeak. Ask for 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. You might want to take along a pocket- or purse-sized snack in case there is no lunch break. If you need a drink of water at any time, don't be afraid to ask.

Furthermore, don't let one lukewarm interview 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.


Because the interviewer's primary function is to practice law, not meet candidates, their work may impinge on your interview. Your interviewer might be late or get interrupted. Remain cheerful and patient. Don't appear too interested in the substance of any interruption. Refrain from listening attentively to the interviewer's side of a telephone conversation even if you can't help but hear. (Of course, your cell phone was turned off before you entered the reception area and will remain off during the entire callback interview.)

Disruptions can provide a welcome break, giving you time to breathe and scan the office. Maybe you'll spot some office decoration or photo that 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 e-mail. When the interview resumes, calmly recap the point you were in the midst of making, and continue on.


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.

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 on 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 e-mail or snail mail) within a day or so of your callback interview.


Read other articles in the "Interview Strategies" series:

  1. Interview Strategies: the Basics
  2. Interview Strategies: Telephone Interviews, Without the Hang-Ups
  3. Interview Strategies: Handling Mealtime Interviews With Aplomb
  4. Interview Strategies: Facing and Acing a Panel Interview
  5. Interview Strategies: The Challenges of a Coffee 'Date'
  6. Interview Strategies: Get Ready for Your Video Close-Up
  7. Interview Strategies: Navigating the Question Minefield
  8. Interview Strategies: What Questions Should You Ask?
  9. Interview Strategies: Mind Your Mannerisms
  10. Interview Strategies: Handling a Callback
  11. Interview Strategies: Taking the Show on the Road
  12. Interview Strategies: Be a Powerful Closer
  13. Interview Strategies: A Flawless Follow-Up