It is extremely important to be prepared for your interview. This means being able to discuss with ease all positions you have held, work experience you have gained, and even college classes you have taken, as far back as your resume states. I recently had a candidate get very upset after an interview because she recognized that she came off as “flighty” when describing her decision to take time off, move to a different state, and then travel prior to law school. When we discussed this particular aspect of her past, she spoke with confidence and made perfect sense, but when she was asked about these choices she had made so long ago, during her interview, she was caught off guard. I always tell my candidates to be well versed with everything on their resume, particularly if they have gaps in between employment, if they have moved or are looking to move to another state, or have switched career paths.
Additionally, it is important to be able to discuss specific examples of your work experience and to be able to highlight positive examples of excellent work product. Stating that you have had “positive reviews” or that you can “provide excellent references” is not enough and tells prospective employers nothing about who you are. Alternatively, if you repeat a specific positive compliment like “one partner told me that I am an excellent writer and he rarely has to edit my work “, you can certainly make a strong positive impression. Likewise, if you have been repeatedly asked to work with a particular partner, or if you have been asked to supervise other associates, this suggests excellent work and interpersonal skills, and you should use the opportunity of an interview to talk about these specific examples. In other instances, candidates may have been offered positions with firms they have worked for in the past, or in one case, a candidate was offered a position in another city where she wanted to relocate, with the firm she was currently working for. This is very relevant information which you should be prepared to discuss on your interview, because it reflects positively on you, and an employer will feel much more comfortable hiring someone who he knows is highly respected and valued at their prior or current firm. An interview is really the best time to brag!
Clearly, it is important to be able to discuss details about your own academic and professional history on an interview. It is amazing how details and specifics can escape our memory if we have not thought about them or rehearsed them for a long while. I heard one example of this from an extremely well qualified associate candidate who completely forgot the name of a law firm that had made her a lateral offer years before (and she had brought up the conversation during her interview). Even though she was able to get around forgetting this one firm name, she was flustered and couldn’t focus as well for the next several minutes of her interview. I think it is imperative to actually practice discussing your background, so that the conversation rolls off your tongue when the time comes, and you can be at ease and let your personality shine through. If you were let go, if you have made a lot of lateral moves, or if you are looking to relocate, you should be ready to discuss the circumstances, because an interviewer will likely want to know more. You can never go back and make another first impression, and if you have actually practiced discussing each topic that may come up, there is less of a chance that you will be caught off guard, forget details, or not come across well.