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Interview Dos and Don'ts
USC Gould School of Law

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Students learn interview techniques at lunchtime panel

By Jill Carmack

A diverse panel of three USC Law alumni and a current student recently discussed what students need to know to impress potential employers.  The four spoke to a full house in a Career Services Office Workshop on interviewing skills.

Nicole Heeseman ’98, supervising research attorney for the Los Angeles Superior Court, started off the panel by discussing what is important beyond the resume and the writing sample.  

“It’s like a dating game,” said Heeseman, who stressed the importance of being suitable for a particular role.  

So, how can you make sure you are a good match?

In an age where everyone has internet access, most people prepare for interviews by looking at the organization’s website.  However, Heeseman suggested that students could set themselves apart by further researching the potential employer.

Because the interview process will consist of a screening interview, followed by a more extensive personal interview, panelist Carolyn Woodson ’06, an associate at Howrey LLP, recommended that students not overlook the initial interview.

“Don’t make yourself an easy cut,” Woodson said.  

She recommended that students have several people review their resumes and writing samples for basic errors in grammar, spelling and spacing before applying for a position.  

For some interviews, just researching and spellchecking may not be enough preparation.  Ryan Wolfe ’12 spoke about his experience interviewing for the Public Defender’s Office last year. Interviews for the Public Defender’s Office are in hypothetical style, and they are designed to intimidate you, Wolfe said. He suggested that students check out the Harvard Public Interest website for sample questions, so they can “think through the questions beforehand” to alleviate the pressure.  

Another question that seemed to be on the minds of the law students in attendance was what to do when the interview is reversed – when it’s time for the student to ask the potential employer questions. Woodson suggested students limit the number of questions they ask. Heeseman told students their questions should convey something about themselves as well as relate to the firm or agency where they hope to land a job.  

According to Pamela Marx ’78, the supervising attorney of Mental Health Advocacy Services, the best kinds of questions are ones that come from the interview itself. Marx says employers want to know applicants are engaged. Connecting with the interviewer is key.

“Have some canned questions ready, but make them unique,” Marx said. “It is important that you stand out from other candidates by asking something that the interviewer hasn’t already heard from other applicants.”

Most importantly, Marx said, “Don’t be a lump.”

In other words, be enthusiastic about the job.  Show the employer that you care by showing up on time and dressing appropriately.  

 “If you look the part, you might just be it.,” Woodson said.

The whole panel agreed that the final step in a successful interview is an email to the potential employer thanking him or her for the interview.  “Snail mail” is too slow, but an email is essential following an interview.  

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