Let me drop a quick truth-bomb on you: the more experience you have, the easier it is to fill your resumé. I know, right? Mind-blowing. If you’ve worked in an industry for years, your resumé should be loaded with quantifiable experience: I manage a team of fifteen people and we’ve increased site traffic and ad revenue 12% over the past three years—that’s the kind of thing everyone likes to see on a resumé, and it's the first thing a hiring manager's going to look for. But when you’re just starting out, or if you’re reentering the workforce after a period away, you may not have as much in the way of hard experience. I’m going to let you in on a little secret—it’s okay. You've still got a lot going for you: rely on your education, any internship experience you might have, and—perhaps the most underrated part of a resumé—your soft skills. Soft skills are things like leadership capability and work ethic, and they’re important in any job, at any level. Hiring managers want them and, lucky you, you got ‘em. So use them—let them make your resumé stand out from the pile. Soft skills count for more than you might think.
The caveat that comes with soft skills is that listing them makes it sound like you’re trying to tell the hiring manager what they want to hear, especially if you’re pulling attributes off the job posting—which you should be doing, to an extent. The interview is how hiring managers determine if you really are the way that you describe yourself. It’s your opportunity to show that your soft skills aren’t just words on a page—they’re who you are, and they make you the ideal candidate. Here are some of the most frequently cited soft skills and how to embody them at your interview
1. Time management/organizational skills
These are the easiest to demonstrate because they’re things you already know to do: show up on time and be prepared. Arrive ten or fifteen minutes early (make sure you build extra time into your commute—traffic tends to flare up when you’ve really got to be somewhere) and bring a folder with five copies each of your resumé, cover letter, and any other materials you might need (e.g. portfolio, writing samples, letters of recommendation, etc.). I say five copies because interviews are often with more than one person. If you bring enough for everyone, it shows foresight.
2. Communication skills
To demonstrate your communicative abilities, first make certain that every one of your emails is clear, concise, correct, and congenial. Top-notch grammar is critical, but also make certain that you’re not brusque or overly familiar. Email can strip you of the personality you exude when speaking, so be careful with how you come across in writing. When you speak at the interview, avoid filler words such as “um” or “like”—if you need a moment to think of a coherent response, take it. But make sure you’ve practiced with a few mock questions at home to mitigate being put on the spot: enlist your roommates, friends, or family members to be your interviewers, or even rehearse answers aloud to yourself. That said, part of communication is also listening—there are parts of the interview where you talk, and parts where the hiring manager does. Make sure to respect that back-and-forth by neither monologuing nor keeping silent.
3. Intellectual curiosity
Listening is key to communication, but so is asking questions. Employers love when candidates show a genuine interest in the position and the nitty-gritty it entails. In my experience, the interviewer will give you a spiel on what the position is, how it fits in with the rest of the team, the traits a person needs to fill it effectively, etc. Research the company and position in advance, try and find out everything you can. You should already know most of what the interviewer will tell you when you get there, and have follow-up questions prepared. Make sure that the questions you’re asking are thoughtful and specific to this interview You can even use your questions to make you more memorable by framing yourself as having already acquired the position: “Are there any industry events at which I might represent the company?” or “How much face-time with clients can I expect?”—whatever applies. This shows that you want a full scope of the job but also starts the employer thinking about you in the position in the every day.
4. Team player
One of the questions you should be asking is “With whom will I be working?” Being a team player can be tough to show on a resumé unless you were a college athlete or something to that effect. But showing an interest in how your prospective department works, how the position you’re interviewing for fits in, and what the office culture is demonstrates that you intend to fully integrate yourself, which is something employers like to see. Hiring managers are of course concerned with how qualified you are, but they also want to know that you’ll fit in with and contribute to the company culture. Showing that these aspects are also something you’re considering shows that you’re already thinking alike.
5. Good attitude
You could phrase it a hundred different ways on paper: “go-getter,” “ambitious,” “hungry,” “cutthroat,” in order of most-to-least appropriate for a resumé. Essentially you want your employer to see that this position won’t just be a job for you. It will be an integral part of who you are. The best way to express this, besides everything we’ve talked about, is to respond to the vibe you get off the office and your interviewers. Harness your nerves, make some small-talk, and show a sense of humor. Demonstrate that you don’t just work well, but that you’re a person people would want to work with. And don’t forget to wrap up the interview by telling the hiring managers that if you join their team, you will work your absolute hardest for them. A congenial personality combined with incredible work ethic can open a lot of doors.
In interviews, it's certainly important what you say, but it's also important how you say it. That is, you want to give clear, concise, relevant answers to your interviewers' questions, and you also want to maintain an even tone and congenial temperament while you give them.
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There is one question you can always expect during your legal job interview: Do you have any questions for us? Preparing thoughtful, well-researched questions for this part of your interview is a great way to show your interest in the legal employer and that you have done your homework.