What if I told you that your stellar professional record, strong academic training, or even esteemed Ivy League school had nothing to do with whether you ended up landing a job? Or conversely, that your glaring lack of experience and the inconsistency on your resume wouldn’t disqualify you? That it all came down to one shot. And the ball was in your court? Well, in this case, that one shot happens to be at law school and it happens to be tomorrow.
I recently received a question from one of my readers. He was notified about his upcoming interview at Northwestern Law School. He was originally placed on the waitlist, but just found out that he now has an interview this week. In fact, it’s tomorrow! I didn’t get much information on his profile, but given he was waitlisted here, I suspect he’s probably pretty qualified. As I may have suggested above, this doesn’t actually mean that his profile is no longer relevant. Instead it was more of an analogy, that the interview is critical and may be the deciding factor in the decision. So now, it will be up to him to close the deal. Take a look below for his question, and for my response. I tried to keep my response brief, so I could send the sooner rather than later.
HIS ORIGINAL MESSAGE
I have an interview for the JD program on (day), (month) (day). I am currently on the waitlist and am looking forward to it. Do you have any suggestions on how I can approach it. Or on how I can maximize my visit?
Thanks so much for the note and for reading my blog. I’m glad that you find the information helpful. As I mentioned, I’m going to keep this response brief given the unfortunate late timing of our discussion. Also, given that I don’t know much about you or your profile, most of this advice will be general, though I’ll try to tailor some of it to Northwestern and to a waitlisted application. I’ll also note that I’m not on the admissions team at NU Law nor did I interview there to get in. As a JD-MBA candidate, I applied and interviewed through Kellogg. And although the law school looked over my application and ultimately had a say in the decision, I did not sit with them for an interview.
OK, so generally, it’s rare that anyone is 100% prepared for an interview, mostly because that’s impossible. So the good news is that there’s usually no need to stress memorizing every detail or stay up all night over-preparing, as it often doesn’t do much good if you invest too much time in areas that never come up. That approach also tends to make interviews sound a bit too formulaic. The bad news is more obvious; that you probably won’t have time to know all the answers, or even most of them, and at points you may not feel prepared. But in my experience that’s OK, because it’s more importantly that you think critically about the issues and provide a thoughtful and authentic response, in place of memorized responses, especially given the short time period left.
To that end, I thought I’d write a couple of things that I like to think about when prepping for an interview. From a 30,000 foot-view, I typically tend to look at four things: research, your application, interview flow, and questions.
1. Research. Research. Research. My opinion is that in any interview, you have to know the organization you’re interviewing for stone cold. You’ll want to know the ins and outs, and not only about the organization but also its industry, top competitors, thought leaders, and future prospects. And you should also be prepared to demonstrate that knowledge by talking about it analytically, not just factually. In your case, that’s Northwestern Law. So you might consider researching programs, people, events, clinics, culture, and recent program changes, and try to uncover all the things that make Northwestern Law stand out, and how that compares to other schools. Find out the nuances that make it unique, both from the perspective of the school (i.e. age, experience, etc) and also why those nuances are important to you specifically.
2. Know Your Application In light of the last sentence, you should also be crystal clear on how all of that comes back to you and your application. Because in the end, Northwestern wants people who want to be there. So it’s often beneficial to remember what your essays said, and be prepared to discuss both the big picture a well as the details. Doing so, it’s often helpful to think about why you said that in your application, and where those decisions stemmed from. Conversely, some interviewers like to see that an applicant has also formulated concrete goals going forward, and demonstrated that they’ve thought about a time frame to achieve them. Sound like a lot of information? That’s because it is. And as such, I often think it’s a good idea to stay on the high-impact issues, unless the interviewer walks you down a different path. High impact issues can often be critical in shorter interviews because time is limited, the stakes are high, and in many cases those issues add deep value to your candidacy. And that’s why it’s important to know your application, both weakness and strengths, so you can invest time appropriately.
3. Interview Flow. On the other hand, I wouldn’t suggest being too robotic in that approach. After all, it’s possible that you and the interview may view “critical” quite differently. But more importantly, in my personal experience, sometimes there’s also a lot of merit in the ebb and flow of a good conversation. And I suspect that in some cases, good conversation will feel more natural, may help you initiate a stronger connection, and ultimately may lead to other important issues. So in the end, you’ll have to feel your way through carefully and think a lot about the “interview flow.” For the most part, it should be natural, but you also may want to pay attention to the details. For example, you have to be sure to listen closely to details, and clarify questions if needed. You should also feel free to take the lead if an important issue arises. Reading the interviewer, you may want to expand on an important point in the discussion, or introduce a new issue that might need addressed. Further, it’s possible the interviewer may want to discuss a singular issue, and talk about substantive issues for 5, 10, or even 20 minutes. Northwestern Law likes older candidates for this very reason. Because older more mature candidates should be able to adapt, and because they suspect an older candidate has more experience to draw from and can talk longer about difficult topics. So it’s up to you to do this, and the flow of the conversation can play a big part.
4. Questions. Last but not least, don’t forget about the questions! This should be an obvious point, but candidates in all types of interviews surprising tend to struggle. And in my opinion, this part is critical. It not only shows that you’re prepared, interested, and that you’re listening but it also shows the level of research you’ve done beforehand and illustrates a bit about your decision-making skills, which are inherent in the actual questions you ask. And my personal opinion is that an interviewer will form opinions based on your questions. Generally, the cardinal rule for school interviews is that you should ask too many questions you can find on the website or that you could have asked a student on way to the admissions office. Which leads me to my final though. Consider the audience. If you want to know about specific career placement rates or stats about where alumni live now, it’s possible that the career center or alumni themselves might be a better resource. So be sure to ask questions that your interviewer will have been exposed to and also enjoy answering.