By Amanda Hamilton, CEO of National Association of Licensed Paralegals
Everyone knows that attending a job interview is a nerve-racking experience - and it doesn’t get easier with age!
The reason for the anxiety is that you are being put under a microscope. You are being scrutinised, and, more often than not, by several people, not just one.
Going before a panel increases the anxiety ten-fold. You’ll probably be worrying and asking yourself: do I look okay; will I be able to answer their question; what if I’m so nervous that I can’t even remember my own name?
But job interviews don’t need to be terrifying. With some understanding of the process and some preparation, you can reduce your nerves and put yourself in the best position to shine.
Firstly, relax! Easy to say I know, but bear in mind that you wouldn’t have got this far unless your qualifications and/or previous experience hadn’t already spoken for themselves. Therefore, you should accept that you are there on merit just like everyone else who is being interviewed.
Secondly, it’s now down to whether your face ‘fits’ what they need and want. This may be something that is completely out of your control since you don’t have a clue what they are looking for beyond what has already got you this far.
Thirdly, because you can’t predict what they want, you need to be yourself and show off your personality and character.
It’s a bit like being an actor and going for an audition. You may be an excellent actor, and you may have rehearsed your lines and perform a brilliant audition, but if your stature is wrong, or you are not the right age for the part, you will be turned down. That is down to the director and what she/he is looking for. You have no control over that decision.
So, as a jobbing actor, you then go to the next audition. It’s the same for a paralegal looking for employment – if you are turned down, head for the next job interview.
Also, remember being turned down for an interview (or an audition, for that matter) should not be taken personally. As human beings we tend to get emotional about the rejection as it is perceived to be something wrong about ourselves, however, in the case of job interviews, that simply isn’t the case; it’s not personal.
In my time as an employer, I have interviewed many applicants. Let me tell you about four experiences I’ve had. These were applicants going for a paralegal administrator’s role. We were looking for someone with legal training.
Applicant (1): had a week to prepare for the interview. Was currently working as a paralegal. She had not taken any care in how she looked nor in the clothes she wore. She entered the room and addressed me (her interviewer) as ‘Dear’. Having asked her whether she knew what we did, she shook her head. I gave her a brief synopsis of our organisation, at the end of which, I asked her if she had any questions. She answered by saying: ‘Yes. How much are you going to pay me Dear?’. I ushered her out of the interview room and said that we will let her know the outcome after we had finished interviewing all the applicants. A week later, I received a phone call from her asking once again how much we were going to pay her, at which point I said that we had decided not to employ her. End of call.
Applicant (2): again, had a week to prepare for the interview. A law graduate. Came in, sat down, didn’t say anything. Her head was down and in answer to my question whether she knew what our organisation did, she shook her head. After proceeding to give her a brief outline, I asked her whether she had any questions. She shook her head. The interview was over.
Applicant (3): a law graduate. He strutted into the interview room and lazily draped himself over the chair. He was not dressed appropriately. He did not acknowledge me in any way other than by saying ‘awlright’. The interview was over almost before it began although I went through the motions.
Applicant (4): had no legal training but looked great. Had no office experience. However, she came across as very open about her lack of experience and being willing to learn very quickly. She had a great personality and had checked our website so was aware of what we did. She got the job.
Needless to say, that the first three applicants failed in their ‘effort’ to gain employment. The first was inappropriate in every way. The second was ineffectual, and the third was downright arrogant. The fourth was not what we thought we were looking for but was so open and eager to learn, and had done her preparatory work, that we changed our minds. She remains in our employ after five years and has become a senior member of staff.
So what is learnt from these examples?
Firstly: always dress for the part. I know this sounds old fashioned, but first impressions are important
Secondly: always do your research on the prospective employer and arm yourself with at least one question that indicates that you have done your homework.
Thirdly: there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance and you need to be aware of the distinction. Fourthly, be respectful, courteous and attentive.
And now for the tips:
Interviewers usually make up their minds about you within the first 30 seconds of seeing you. So, make a good impression from the start. Dress appropriately, say good morning/afternoon, and make eye contact.
Eye contact enables an interviewer to perceive a great deal about who you are, so use it appropriately. Staring hard and aggressively at the interviewer is as bad as avoiding eye contact altogether.
Make the interviewer’s job easier. Give them the information they need in your CV and covering letter and let your desire for the job shine through. By the time you get called for interview it should just be about ascertaining your character and personality and whether you are the right fit for the role and organisation.
Do you research. Look at the company website. Who are their big clients? What areas of the law do they specialise in?
Prepare some sensible questions in advance. There must be things you’d like to know – after all, if you get offered the job, you need to know that accepting it is right for you. So, think carefully about what you need to know and write the questions down.
Show your enthusiasm for the job. No one wants to employ someone who appears not to be bothered about getting the job! Employers are looking for people who are keen, enthusiastic, and have an energy for the role. That doesn’t mean you need to be jumping up and down with desire, but you do need to show that you truly want the job and you need to be able to explain, succinctly, why you want it.
Who you are, as a personality, is important for the interviewer; it will tip the balance between you and another candidate with similar (or perhaps better) qualifications and experience. Help make the interviewer feel comfortable. I know that sounds backwards, but if you can build rapport with the interviewer(s) and help them relax too, then you’re well on your way to getting the job.
If you fail to get the job, it’s not about you, but about the organisation, so move on. The right job is there for you. You just have to find it.
By preparing properly and following the tips above, you will put yourself in the best position to get the job. But remember, you are not right for every job and every job is not right for you. So, if this isn’t the one – move on to the next.
Author Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit Membership Body and the only Paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its Centres, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional. See: http://www.nationalparalegals.co.uk