The Secret to Callback Interview Success

Published: Aug 12, 2015

 Interviewing       Job Search       Law       
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You have survived the insanity of the on-campus interview process. Your head is spinning but there is no time to take a breather. Your attention must now turn to callback, or in-office, interviews. Law firms have exceptionally high expectations of students invited to their offices. Planning must be exhaustive because it is, quite simply, inconsiderate to attend a callback with inadequate preparation. If you do show up ill-equipped to present yourself as a well-rehearsed viable candidate, you are wasting the valuable time of every attorney with whom you meet. Comprehensive preparation requires a solid grasp of the basics such as firm specialties, data, attorney profiles, current cases, and firm programs like pro bono and training. The firm website will hand all of this information to you on a silver platter. Arming yourself with details, news reports, and up-to-date developments that are not included on a firm website will separate your candidacy from the pack. Dig deep and be creative in your search for pertinent matters relating to the firm.

Educating yourself about each firm is not your only responsibility. You also need to closely monitor your behavior. Approach every interview with every attorney at every firm with enthusiasm and with respect. Sounds obvious, right? The sad fact is it is far from obvious. In my experience as the director of recruiting at Vault and AmLaw 100 firms, a frightening number of candidates either did not understand the importance of these two points or had just “checked out” of the interview. If you display an attitude of disinterest, not only will you probably not receive an offer, but you will be remembered by that firm for unflattering reasons that will not be easily forgotten.

The reality is you will be judged on far more than the actual interview. The dangers you face by not demonstrating simple etiquette can be detrimental to your goals and can actually haunt you for years. I witnessed the fallout of inadequate deportment on more than a few occasions. A perfect example was a fellow who had top credentials from a top law school. He interviewed beautifully. We enthusiastically extended an offer but did not hear from him. He did not return phone calls made by one of our founding partners. He did not return phone calls or emails sent by members of our recruitment committee. He never informed us if he was going to accept or decline our offer. Nobody was happy about his lack of common courtesy and his failure to take the two minutes to inform us of his intentions was disgraceful. We all remembered him well. Somewhat surprisingly one year later he called me. His experience that previous summer was not to his liking and he was exploring other options. He wanted to know if we would be willing to consider him for a first year associate position. I do not think I need to tell you my response.

The thank you note is another component of the process that deserves far more attention than most people realize. I am not a fan of the thank you note and advise students to skip it entirely. It is not an overstatement to say the chances of that note helping your candidacy are pretty much zilch. Nobody has ever been offered a job because of a thank you note. Conversely, the likelihood of that note harming your chances is stronger than you might think. Everything else you have done to this point is what is going to get you the job. So many students make the critical error of firing off thank you emails shortly after interviewing without a tremendous amount of thought. Thank you notes constructed in haste can be detrimental to your goals.

How can a thank you note hurt you? Typos. Incorrect spelling of the firm. Incorrect spelling of the attorney’s name. Poor grammar. Using the name of a different firm. Ugly or poor formatting or anything that makes it a struggle to read. Subject matter that may seem harmless, but is considered inappropriate by the recipient. This is only a partial list of the errors I have seen students make in their thank you notes. One student who interviewed with a partner of ours had a brief discussion during the callback interview about that partner’s son who played baseball. The conversation was precipitated by a photo on the wall of the boy in his little league uniform. It was a very brief and unremarkable exchange. When that student sent a thank you note he mentioned the son. Clearly he believed it gave him a connection to that partner and felt his comments were perfectly innocent. The partner, on the other hand, was completely rattled and upset by this. She felt her family was off limits and his remarks were entirely inappropriate. This partner voted an emphatic “no” on his candidacy. Sure this may have been a bit of an overreaction by the partner, but the point is you never know how your comments may be received. It is best to keep things professional at all times.

The take away here is to think first, rethink, think again, and then act. Consider all possible ramifications of your actions and your words. Infuse good manners and impeccable presentation into every move you make at every juncture of the hiring process. I advise you to put yourself in the shoes of your interviewers. Consider if you were the recipient of your own performance, how would you rate yourself?

Law students interested in a personalized consultation can reach Kara Reidy at With 25 years of law firm recruiting experience at two Vault Law/AmLaw 100 firms, Ms. Reidy provides law students with practical and effective advice on the job search process. Ms. Reidy's insider's perspective on law firm hiring helps law students understand the law firm mindset. Her extensive knowledge is a product of assessing the aptitude and potential of tens of thousands of law school candidates throughout her career.  

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