Three Answers That Hurt Interviews for Junior Candidates

By: Shannan Buckley 

We’ve had an influx of junior roles this year, which has meant I’ve gotten to speak with a lot of really impressive new grads and early-career professionals. During these calls, I’ve noticed a few weak answers that keep popping up with even the strongest of candidates.

  1. “I’m really good with people!”

I hear this a lot when I ask new grads about their greatest strengths, usually recruiting candidates. While it’s not the worst thing you could say, it’s a weak answer for a question designed to let you shine. It sounds like you think you should be hired because you’re nice rather than because of any skills. If you’re tempted to say this, try something more specific like “I excel at building relationships” instead, and then provide concrete examples of how you’ve done this.

  1. “I want to help people/make a difference.”

Sometimes junior candidates will tell me this when I ask them why they want to work in Big Law, and it sounds like they don’t realize they are applying to a for-profit organization. I think some candidates say this because they really should be looking at non-profit work, but most say it because they want to sound like good people. Instead, if you want to highlight your integrity and values, talk about your commitment to client service, how you show up for your team, or how you enjoy connecting people with their dream careers. If the firm has been involved in pro bono work you really admire, you can bring that up when asked “why this firm.”

  1. “I want to go to law school.”

When you say this to an interviewer, they’ll hear it as, “If you hire me, I will definitely quit in a year or two.” The entry level roles we work on are career track positions, so firms are going to prefer to invest their time and energy in candidates who are at least strongly considering staying in the given field. If you are definitely going to law school in the very near future, you might want to look into a role where that won’t be an issue. However, I find that most new grads are just considering law school, and sometimes try to make their plans seem more definite during the interview to appear more focused and driven, not realizing it will backfire. If that’s you, try something like, “I’ve known for a while that I want to work in Big Law. I may go to law school somewhere down the line, but I am very interested in the business side of law firms. That’s why I am looking at marketing roles right now.” It’s just as honest while also making it sound like you want the job you are applying for.

When you interview, how you phrase things makes a huge difference in how your answers land! To my fellow interviewers, is there a phrase you keep hearing that hurts otherwise strong candidates? And to the candidates, was there something you learned to reframe that made a big different in your success?

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