There's no doubt about it, grades matter in law school. Your G.P.A. from semester to semester is a reflection of your willingness to learn, reflect, and improve. And we all know that cramming before the night of the final usually doesn't lead to optimal results.
But grades won't solidify your chances of landing a good job. In fact, I've come to find that grades actually matter little outside of clerkship and top law firm opportunities. Even those employers are looking for the skills that I will discuss in the following paragraphs: preparation and the ability to connect with your interviewer.
Let's start with preparation.
A while back, I had an interview with a prosecuting office for a summer externship. I felt confident that it would go well, but I failed to do one key thing - learn about that office inside and out. As a result, the interview went poorly. How could I tell? At the end of the interview, they asked, "do you have any questions for us?" I only had two, and neither of them demonstrated that I had a solid understanding of what they did.
At the end of the interview, they even commented on it by saying "In future interviews, it's probably a good idea to learn about the employer." I got the message.
To avoid the same mistake, here are some tips.
A great way to learn about an employer is to go their website and read about what they do. Copy and paste relevant information into a word document, and spend at least a week memorizing that document every night. When the interview comes, you'll feel like you know so much about that company that it'll seem as if you already work there. That'll pay dividends.
If they don't have a website (pretty rare in this day and age), go to the library and find books that discuss the work they do. For government employers, this is invaluable. In fact, if you are at all interested in a government job like the FBI, the NSA, or the DEA, read books AND their website. I know, reading a whole book doesn't sound appealing when it already seems as if you digest a novel a week in law school. But books offer what the websites don't: comprehensive information about the company or agency interviewing you.
A little trick that'll make retaining key pieces of info from a large book easier is to take pictures with your phone of relevant information. Then, when you have time to prepare for your interview, go over those pictures. This is a great way to kill time on a plane ride to the interview.
Switching over to the other skill, let's talk about making a connection with your potential employer.
First, you gotta remember, the person interviewing you isn't a robot. They have feelings, dreams, hopes, and fears. In other words, they are just like you. They want to see that not only are you competent for the position, they can work with you five days a week for years if needed.
So how do you communicate that? Start the interview by asking them how they are doing, and be sincere about it. It's a small gesture, but you would be surprised at how often it is appreciated. It demonstrates that you aren't there just to land a job, you want to get to know who they are.
Find ways to connect over similar interests. This requires taking the time to really listen to what they are saying. Pick up on comments that allow you to say "I've done that, and it was fun", or "that's a great town." I promise you, if you make an effort to do this, you'll set yourself apart from other applicants.
Perhaps most importantly, ask good questions. In fact, I would bet that 90% of employers evaluate the questions you ask MORE than the answers you give. That's because asking good questions takes effort and it demonstrates your ability to critically think.
Some good questions are, "what kind of co-worker do you want to work alongside of", or "what is a challenge that I might not expect to encounter with this position?" Ask specific questions about the job that demonstrate that you've put in the time to research the employer and what they do.
All of the above relates to a life truism: people can often be taught to do any job, but you can't teach them how to excel in it.
That's because excellence is a product of dedication, resilience, and the desire to succeed. If you demonstrate that in an interview, you'll land the job of your dreams. If you don't, keep trying until you do.Kanoa