Callback Interviews: Protocol and Tips

Callback interviews usually consist of a series of interviews with three to six attorneys (five is typical for large firms) individually in their offices, and often a restaurant meal with other attorneys. The same basic rules apply to callbacks as to screening interviews: arrive on time, dress professionally, and bring extra copies of your resume, transcript and writing sample.

At callbacks, employers will be evaluating you for the same qualities as they did during the initial interview: maturity, intelligence, sense of humor, and ability to contribute over the long term.  For more information on questions which may be asked during an interview or which you may want to ask, review this PDO Interview Tip Sheet:  Interviewing:  Questions to Ask or Questions You May Be Asked.

Read on for general tips and a discussion of the different formats for callback interviews!

General Tips:

Get information in advance: When you are called with an invitation for a callback or flyback, do your best to ascertain the format (“should I plan for a meal?”), timing (“how long should I plan?”), and possibly the names of persons with whom you will be meeting.  You may wish to re-confirm the names of interviewers a few days before the callback, but keep in mind that there will almost always be different interviewers than you plan for—so be prepared with questions for folks you have not researched.   Contact PDO—we may have information for you as well.

A day or two before:  Review your resume. Know each activity, accomplishment and interest (when did you last do that activitiy?), what you said in your cover letter, any references (how do you know them and for how long) and writing sample.  Be prepared to discuss anything you have submitted. Many times, attorneys conducting callback interviews are given little notice that they will be doing such interviews, and the fodder for discussion comes directly from your resume. So, for each job you list: try to recall any specific accomplishments, challenges, and skills you came away with (especially those which might be transferable.  But don’t memorize answers.

The night before: Get rest.  Easier said than done, but it can be the best thing you do.

Presentation and attitude: Dress professionally, in your best suit.  Bring extra copies of your resume, transcript and writing sample.  You should be confident and positive.  But never act  arrogant, rude, or as though you were above the job or would not be grateful for it.  Be friendly and don’t forget to smile—with staff, associates, and partners.  Remember that the interview lasts from the moment you step in the office until you leave.  Thus, treat all persons with whom you interact (including staff) in the same professional and courteous manner—it will get back to the higher-ups if you don’t.  Avoid overcompensating for your nerves by being overly serious.  Be authentic.  Don’t exaggerate or be overly self deprecating.

Plan to be a little early to the interview:  If you are driving, plan for parking to be difficult, traffic to be bad, and to need to use the restroom when you get there.

Different Formats for Callbacks:

Callback formats are usually a variation of two categories, the longer group interview and the multiple groups/shorter interviews.  Firms may also incorporate a meal into either of these types of formats, generally at the beginning or end of the callback.

The longer group interview:  This may consist of you meeting with several attorneys over lunch or in a large conference room for an hour or so.  This format may sound intimidating at first, but in reality, it is often the least exhausting type of callback.  It is often shorter, conversations generally do not suffer from long silences, and any oddball attorneys/strange questions are viewed for what they are by the entire group.  , there is usually someone in the room you will feel comfortable with, and a less-than-kind interviewer will be seen by the whole group for what he or she is! Some tips:

First, make eye contact with and smile at each person.

Next, have questions ready to ask the quiet ones.  Try to pull them into the conversation.

The multiple-groups/shorter interviews.  You may meet with multiple groups of a few attorneys.  Sometimes you will stay in the same room as attorneys are ferried in and out; sometimes you will roam from office to office.   Typically, each short interview segment lasts 15-30 minutes.   Often, the short rounds of interviews are followed or preceded by a lunch interview.  Some tips.

These rounds of short interviews can be very tiring! If you are not eating at the very start of the interview, eat a little something beforehand.  Remember to stay energetic.

The attorney-interviewer lineup often changes at the last minute.  Never act disappointed to meet with someone different than you had planned, or with an associate rather than a shareholder.  Appear eager and professional in all meetings.

Don’t act vastly different from group to group, or with associates as you do with shareholders.   Be your best professional self in every group. Be as polite and respectful of the lowest associate as you would be with the highest shareholder on the letterhead.

Don’t assume that anything you say will be “off the record.”   Younger associates may tell you this, but in fact may report anything you say to their higher-ups.  Just be yourself and be consistent.

Meals.  Often, interviews consist of a lunch with multiple attorneys or are capped by such.  Some tips:

Manners.  If you remember nothing else, remember that at the core, manners are often simply about following the cues of your hosts.  Do so at all times.  Additionally, when you are seated, place your napkin on your lap. Know your silverware—generally, move from the outside in, i.e., salad folk is on the outer left side.  Eat only when others have been served.  Treat all wait staff with courtesy and respect.

Be just a little careful about what you order.  Considers spill/stain/choking potential.  Order something that is easy to eat.  Probably, there is no need to order the most expensive item on the menu.

Follow the interviewers’ cues on most everything, including dessert and coffee.  They may be in a hurry.  You are not scoring points by being “assertive” enough to order dessert although nobody else did.

Alcohol. If you are specifically invited to a cocktail hour or out for beers, great, but it should go without saying you shouldn’t get drunk.  If you don’t drink alcohol, order soda or juice and don’t apologize at all.