Interviewing is a skill that can generally be learned and mastered only by going through the interview process several times. However, preparation for an interview (which may include a mock interview) is the best way to insure success. Section 7 of your Manual talks about interviewing and interview skills in general. This section will discuss some particulars involved in interviewing with a public interest or government employer including types of public sector interviews, common questions, practical concerns and informational interviewing. This section should be reviewed along side Section 7 of your Manual.


The focus of an interview can range from convincing an employer you are the best person for the job, to convincing an employer who already believes in your skills that you will fit in well with the rest of the office or that you will be around for the long haul. You, as the interviewee, must be able to do these things while conveying enthusiasm, (for the job, the issues, the client base) and self-confidence (in yourself and your skills). Some of the goals you should have in mind when interviewing with any employer include the following: # # Have a number of things (say five) that you want the employer to know about you before the interview ends and get to those things no matter how the interview goes. Answer the interviewers question’s positively and accurately, and try to be aware of what questions are most important to the employer. Think about what information the interviewer is trying to get at with the question (how do you work under pressure? will you be able to deal with the lack of resources in the office? have you ever worked with this type of client population before?, etc). This will help you to keep a positive focus while answering the employers question directly. Prepare and ask questions of the employer that demonstrate your knowledge of the employer, the work it does, the subject matter it addresses. Through your answers and your questions, convey that you know why you are there: you know what type of work the employer does and you want to do that type of work with this employer. Be prepared for it all to break down: you may be having a bad day; the employer may be having a bad day; the interview may start late; the interview may look at you and wonder why you are there; the employer may ask none of the standard interview questions; etc. You will need to be able recover and still try to meet of the goals of a successful interview. Establish rapport with the interviewer and try to keep the conversation of the interview balanced: you should not talk to too much and you shouldn’t let the interviewer do all the talking. Relax and enjoy yourself. It can be fun, and the people who are able to relax and enjoy the process are generally the ones who perform best in the interviews. With practice and work experience you will be able to do all of these things.

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As with private sector interviews, there are various types of interviews that you will encounter in the public sector. These include screening interviews (including OCR and job fairs), call-back interviews and telephone interviews. Within these categories you will find one-on-one interviews, group interviews, chain interviews (like a firm call back interview) and the “stress” or “hypothetical” interview (and probably a few more we have forgotten). All of these will be discussed below.

Screening Interviews

Public sector interviews that happen on-campus or at job fairs generally take the form of a 20 or 30 minute screening interview. A “screening” interview is generally a short interview in which you need to convince the employer that you worthy of a second look. It involves the goals discussed above and often means making yourself stand out from a much bigger crowd than a typical call back or in office interview. Moreover, for Penn’s on-campus interview programs, and some of the job fairs Penn students participate in, employers are not allowed to choose whom they interview. They are given a schedule of students who have selected them without prescreening those students after seeing resumes, grades or other information. For summer jobs, this type of interview may result in an immediate (or as soon as the interviewer gets back to the office) offer of employment. Some employers interviewing for summer jobs may, instead, truly use this as a screening interview with the expectation that you will come to the employer’s office for a more extensive call-back interview. Rarely would an employer interviewing candidates for a permanent position use the on-campus or job fair interview as its only interview. For these employers this type of interview is a screening interview. Whatever the circumstance, remember the goals discussed above. Try to establish rapport and engage the interviewer in a somewhat balanced dialogue. Eye contact, body language and voice are all important to show confidence, enthusiasm, enjoyment and your level of comfort and relaxation in this very stressful situation.

Call-Back and In-Office Interviews

When applying for summer and permanent public sector jobs you may be asked to come into an employers office for a call back or even an initial interview. For summer jobs where you haven’t met the employer at a job fair or on campus, or where you are not interviewing via telephone, you will likely be asked to the employer’s office for an interview. This may take the form of a short interview (20 to 30 minutes), so the employer can meet you and ask a few questions, though it will likely be a longer interviewer, particularly if it is for a secondyear summer job. Additionally, you may be asked to an employer’s office for a call back interview, even for a summer position. In either case, all the usual goals of the interview apply. For permanent jobs you will almost always be asked to visit the employers office for both an initial interview (if you did not already have one), and for the call back interview. Call back interviews for permanent jobs can take a number of different forms. They may be a series of short interviews with several different people in the agency, much like a law firm call back interview, or a long interview with only one or two people. Call back interviews may also take the form of a group interview in which you are interviewed by a number of people at the same time.

A type of group interview, the “stress” interview is one in which you may be asked to prepare a part of a case and then to present the case to the group. These types of interviews are often done by public defender and district attorney offices, and can seem quite hostile at times. See Section 7 of your Manual for more information on this type of interview. Most legal interviewers will not expect you to know certain areas of the law, especially if you are first or second year law student. However, some governmental agencies with specialized practices (securities, tax) or public sector organizations such as the public defender’s office may expect you have some basic knowledge of the area in which they practice. During the interview you may be asked questions that deal with issues common to that area of law.

The Telephone Interview

The telephone interview is most commonly seen in summer jobs, but it is also something that is arranged as an initial interview for a permanent job. The difference is that a summer employer will likely make hiring decisions based on the telephone interview, where a permanent employer will invite to its office for an in person interview before making an offer.1 A telephone interview can be very useful and effective, but it can also be difficult because you lose an important element of the interview process: body language and eye contact. You will not necessarily be able to read how the interviewer is reacting to you, nor will you be able to convey that all important confidence by using your eyes and your body language. Remember to keep the following things in mind when interviewing over the telephone: P P Voice is vital. You will need to keep your voice up (but not speak to loudly). Moreover, you will need to use your voice, and what you say, as a way to convey your enthusiasm and confidence. Don’t let yourself become distracted with other things. If it is not appropriate to do in while you are in an in-person interview (stare out the window or do a cross-word puzzle), it is not appropriate to do while you on the phone with the interviewer. Otherwise, the interview should be conducted like any other interview (except you don’t have to wear a suit).


Video-conferencing is something that is taking place more and more in public sector job interviews, and may be useful if you simply can’t get to an employer, and the employer insists on “meeting you in person.” Penn does have access to video-conferencing equipment and can help you set up an interview, provided the employer also has access to the same type of equipment. This type of interview can be similar to an in person interview in that you and the interviewer can see each other. However, there are distractions, such as a time delay, and the lack of a true in person interview experience. INTERVIEW QUESTIONS AND ISSUES

If you are interviewing for a permanent job in a city other than Philadelphia, you will have to be prepared to travel to that city by your own expense. Most public sector employers will not have money to fly you out to their city, or, they may only be in the position to offer you partial reimbursement. You can use telephone interviewing and video conferencing, but if the employer wants to meet you at their offices, you will need to be prepared to do that.


Questions That May Be Asked at an Interview Remember to review Section 7 of your Manual for more information on interviewing generally and common questions to expect. Additionally, the Harvard Public Interest Job Search Guide has a great list of common questions. Below are a few issues and questions you can expect to come up in an interview. P P P P I see from your resume that you ....... can you tell me about that? Anything on your resume is fair game. Make sure you know what is there and can explain anything you included. Why did you decide to go to law school? (Yes, people will ask). Why do you want to work for us? Employers want to know you know who the employer is, what the employer does and why you want to work there. Tell me about a situation in which you had to handle a [difficult person] [a crisis situation] [a hostile person or situation]? In other words, when our most difficult client walks through the door, are you going to be able to keep your cool and work to resolve the situation? Why did you choose to specialize in [tax] [children’s rights] [criminal prosecution]? How did you decide that you wanted to work in [Miami] [Chicago] [San Francisco]? Tell me about a situation in which you had to meet a quick deadline? What other organizations did you apply to? What are your long-term career goals? (a.k.a. Where do you see yourself in 5 -10 years?) Tell me about a project you handled from start to finish? Do you like to work as a team or are you more comfortable working on your own? Do you like a lot of supervision and direction or do you prefer to just go your own way with a project? What are your outside interests? What is your ideal salary? This can be tricky and you may have to hedge on this as much as you can. What are you strongest at doing? What do you feel you are weakest at doing? If I call reference X, what will she say about you? Questions about your grades, writing sample, references or anything else you submitted.


Questions You Can Ask in an Interview Don’t forget that one of the goals of the interview is to establish rapport with the interviewer and to make the interview more of a dialogue. One way to do this is to ask questions of the interviewer along the way. Now this may not be possible in an public defender interview where you are asked to present the testimony of a client who just told you she is going to lie on the witness stand and you are being harassed and grilled by the interviewers

who are posing as the judge, the client and the district attorney, but for most other interviews you should try to have some questions prepared (in your head) in advance. Below are some questions or issues you may want to bring up. Wherever possible, draw from the materials you have read and the issues that came up earlier in the interview to ask questions. Try to avoid questions that have already been answered or that are clearly addressed in the materials you have reviewed. P P P P P P P P P P P P P P You talked about case X a minute ago, can you tell me how that case started and how you originally got involved? I noticed from your web site that .... Can you tell me more about that? How does your organization decide on what cases it is going to take. What is a typical day like for a [summer intern] [new staff attorney]? How will my work be supervised? What important or changing issues do you see coming up in you’re your practice area? How did the change in administration affect your job? What differences do you see in your office under the new executive director? What are your expectations of the person filling my position? Why did you specifically want a person with my background in ..... to do this job? Is your office ever in the position to make permanent offers to interns who worked here during the summer? What kind of training program do you have for [summer interns] [new attorneys]? How did you end up at XX [department] [organization]? What is the process from here? What kind of time line are you looking at from here? (These are commonly asked at the end of the interview.)

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