At the Interview

Responding to an Interview Invitation

Once you are invited to interview, it is perfectly acceptable and advisable to ask about the nature and format of the interview (for example, the number of participants, length, and types of questions). Reaching out to the employer in advance will help prepare you for any components of the interview you had not anticipated. The email below is intended to serve as an example.

Dear Ms. Smith,

Thank you for inviting me to interview. I’m very excited at the prospect of meeting you and discussing my strong interest in joining the ACLU. Can you please tell me a bit more about the nature and format of the interview? I look forward to hearing from you.

Best,
John Harvard

Opening the Interview

The beginning of the interview often sets the tone for the rest of the conversation. Greet the employer with a firm handshake. Answer any questions confidently, positively, and enthusiastically. Ask questions as well to show your engagement and interest in the organization.

At its core, an interview is a conversation between you and the interviewer, who shares a common interest in addressing a particular issue or serving a particularly population. Approach your interview with this mindset. Embracing the concept will allow you to ease your nervousness and view the interview as an opportunity to connect on a shared issue or subject matter of interest.

Frame the interview as a discussion rather than a presentation. You should view the interview as an opportunity to learn more about the organization. At the end of the discussion, the employer should know exactly why you would be the ideal candidate for the position and you should have a clear understanding of the organization’s work, mission, and expectations. Let the conversation guide the direction of the interview and use the discussion to emphasize the qualities you seek to convey.

Verbal and Physical Presentation at the Interview

The interview provides an opportunity for you to demonstrate your communication skills and personality. It is crucial that your responses be articulate, relevant and concise. Avoid the tendency in interviews to sidetrack, ramble nervously, or repeat yourself. At the same time, try to answer each question fully and with some thought.

Try to incorporate new information about yourself or your experience that has not yet been revealed or discussed. Remember to speak clearly and with energy. Make eye contact with each interviewer throughout the interview. If you do not understand a question or want more direction from the interviewer, simply ask for clarification.

Be interesting! Draw from your accomplishments and experiences to speak enthusiastically, illustrating your points with specific examples drawn from your experience. Interviewers tend to remember candidates who enliven their responses with specific references to their personal experiences. In a public interest context, where people work largely because of their belief in the  vision of the organization, it is especially effective for you to speak from the heart. Be careful, though, that you do not speak too long in response to any one question.

Avoid being negative about past experiences, especially work experiences, even if they were less than ideal. Think of a way to convey these experiences into lessons learned that will apply to the new position you seek. For example, if you are asked about a prior work experience where you were isolated in a library while doing research, you can say, "In my last job, I was fortunate to develop valuable research skills. I also learned that I prefer an environment where I can work directly with clients and see the beneficiaries of my research."

Always be prepared to provide specific detail about recent work experiences. For example, if you state on your resume that you "organized a conference," be prepared to be concrete about what exactly your role was. Similarly, if your resume includes a paper or article that you wrote or if you bring in a writing sample, be ready to answer questions about the project.

Your body language conveys personality, enthusiasm and self-confidence as much as what you say. You may feel somewhat anxious about interviewing, so try not to worry if you feel nervous. Acknowledge the fact you feel nervous and move on. Relax and focus on being yourself.  Maintain good eye contact with the interviewer, as well as good posture. Use gestures and facial expressions as you normally would in an interesting conversation with a friend, thus avoiding any nervous verbal and physical mannerisms that may distract the interviewer. Be animated, yet professional.

Closing the Interview

Interviews may last from twenty minutes to an hour or more. Although the interviewer usually determines the length of the meeting, you should be sensitive to indications that your time is ending. In the event that you have not yet asked the questions that you felt were pertinent or made certain points about your qualifications that you felt important to convey, you should do so when the interview begins to draw to a close. Take the opportunity to restate your interest in the position and why you would make a special contribution to the organization or office. You may wish to ask when the organization plans to make a final decision on hiring for the position. Tell your interviewer how much you have enjoyed talking with him or her, how much you appreciated the time he or she has set aside for the interview and how excited you are about the position.

Dressing Appropriately

While formal business attire is not necessary for some public interest offices, you should not show up for an interview dressed too casually. Err on the side of caution and dress as you would for any other attorney position. A suit or jacket is appropriate as it sends a positive message about your professionalism and enthusiasm.

Last modified: September 04, 2014

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