Callback interviews (“callbacks”) are the series of interviews that follow successful initial screening interviews. During a callback, you will typically meet with four or more lawyers, individually or in pairs, as well as possibly a member of the recruiting staff. Traditionally, callback interviews were always held in person in the employer’s office, but now some employers conduct all callbacks virtually, or some may offer you the choice to interview in person or virtually. Callback invitations are often made via phone. Therefore, we recommend that you make sure your voicemail is set up and your message is clear and professional.
Callback interviews are expensive for employers because of the cost incurred in attorney time (and if in person, the cost of getting you to their office). You should take the callback invitation as a positive sign that you made a good first impression and the firm is seriously considering you. Students often ask about their chances for an receiving an offer after a callback interview. Unfortunately, there is no rule regarding the number of offers given as a percentage of the number of students interviewed. It depends on the firm’s policy, the number of positions, and the quality of the interviews. Also, some employers make a first round of offers, see how many students accept, and then make a second round of offers, if necessary, to fill their program.
Differences from a Screening Interviews
At a callback interview you have a chance to ask more specific questions about the employer and the position. You may want to discuss the firm’s plans for the future, the specifics of their summer program, or associate training opportunities. It is important to remember that while you are interviewing them, they are also still interviewing you, so avoid appearing arrogant or rude. If you want the position, let the employer know. This is not the time to be coy.
If the callback is in person, then you have the opportunity to see the interviewer’s office environment. Try to get a feel for the office culture and watch for subtle differences between employers. For example, are most of the attorneys’ doors closed or open? Do the associates seem content or do they all look harried and overworked? While you’re waiting for your interview to begin, pay attention to activities at the reception desk and observe interactions among staff members and attorneys. Is the staff friendly to one another and to you? Are the attorneys respectful to the staff and to one another? All these factors can give you an insight into what working for a particular employer might be like.
In addition, in-person callbacks sometimes include lunch, dinner, or drinks. This is still part of the interview no matter how your host attorneys characterize it. Here are a few tips to get you through: follow the attorney’s lead as far as what to eat, whether to order an appetizer, which fork to use, and when to start eating. Order a mid-priced entrée that will not be messy or difficult to eat; use good manners; and either limit yourself to one glass of wine or no alcohol at all, regardless of the amount everyone else drinks. NEVER order an alcoholic drink unless the attorney does. Remember, you are being interviewed, not joining a purely social outing.
Scheduling Callback Interviews and Reimbursement of Expenses
You may receive multiple callback invitations, and while many firms work to issue invitations during or soon after the screening interviews, some firms may offer callbacks later. It is not possible to predict the timing with any certainty. When considering your schedule, it is important to balance callbacks with other factors such as school, extracurricular activities, and work. You do not want to overextend yourself because your performance in interviews, and in your other activities, may suffer. You also do not want to accept a callback interview with an employer from whom you are sure you would not accept an offer of employment. It is unfair to the employer and your fellow students in the applicant pool. Recognize, too, that the earlier you can release a callback invitation, the higher the likelihood the invitation will be given to one of your classmates.
When you receive a callback interview, respond to the employer promptly. Make sure you keep a detailed calendar for yourself to avoid scheduling interviews when you have other commitments for school or work. You need not schedule the callback immediately upon accepting it. If you have to travel any distance, it may be wise to wait a day or two to see if you receive other invitations callbacks in the same city to allow you to schedule those consecutively and make only one trip. On the other hand, waiting too long may make it more challenging to secure your preferred date(s). If you are scheduling several interviews in one city at the same time, inform each employer about your other interviews to enable you to find convenient appointment times with all and to facilitate the sharing of your travel expenses among the employers. Avoid rescheduling interviews. If you must cancel or reschedule an interview, do it as far in advance as possible.
In general, law firms will reimburse you for reasonable expenses you incur traveling to a callback interview: transportation, hotel accommodations, meals, and sometimes other related expenses. Because guidelines and limits vary among employers, you should confirm the travel reimbursement policy with each firm’s recruiting coordinator. Students often want to schedule callback interviews in conjunction with a visit to see family or friends. Although this is permissible, you must make sure that the expenses incurred by the employer(s) do not exceed what they would have paid without your personal plans.
While it is common for employers to make all your travel arrangements, some will expect you to do it yourself. If you have questions about travel or any other expenses, NALP recommends contacting the recruiting coordinator (or other person arranging your interview) for clarification before incurring the expense. Let the employer know if you have any reasonable special requests such as taking the latest flight possible. Do not abuse the reimbursement policy by ordering pay-per-view movies or raiding the mini-bar. Keep your receipts to submit for reimbursement. Most firms use the NALP Travel Reimbursement Form.
Before a callback interview, make sure you know how to get to the office and the name of the person who is to meet you when you arrive. Be sure you understand how the callback will be structured (e.g., meet with X lawyers for Y minutes each), as well as the overall length, to allow you to plan your day appropriately. A callback interview is usually divided into several 20- to 30-minute interviews with one or two attorneys at a time. If you would like to meet with particular people or attorneys from certain practice areas, be sure to let the recruiter know when you schedule the interview. However, be understanding if they cannot accommodate you or if they have to make last-minute changes to your interview schedule. You can reach out to the recruiter a day or two before your interview to find out who will be interviewing you.
Preparing for the Interview
As with any interview, it is important to be prepared and professional. While interviews vary in style and format depending upon the interviewer and the applicant, the content typically centers around two issues: what you can offer the employer and why you want to work for the employer. The steps in callback interview preparation are essentially the same as screening interviews; see Preparing for Legal Interviews for advice and resources. The principal difference in preparing for callback interviews can be summed up as “more.” First, employers know that you will conduct fewer callback interviews than screening interviews and will expect that you know more about their firm at this stage. Second, you will have more interviewers to research. Finally, because you will be talking to more people, you will have more chances to ask questions, which means you should have more questions prepared. Although you can pose a question to different attorneys to see how the responses differ, it is better to include more variety through the day.
The Day of the Interview
In person: Wear a suit: pants suit, skirt suit, or a dress with a jacket. The traditional suit colors are navy blue, gray, or black, and any would be a safe choice. Pair the suit with matching closed-toe shoes in a conservative height (no more than 2-inch heel), which have been polished and show no scuff marks or other signs of wear. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early (20 minutes if at the beginning of the work day), to allow enough time to get through security. Bring a portfolio containing several copies of your resume and transcript, along with any other documents the employer requested, just in case an interviewer needs a copy. The portfolio does not have to be fancy, but should be sturdier than a cardboard folder. When you arrive at the employer’s office, give the receptionist your name and the name of the person you are meeting. If you arrive early enough, you can ask the receptionist to direct you to the restroom, where you can freshen up and check yourself over one last time. Last, but not least, make sure your phone is silent.
Virtual: Sign in 5-10 minutes early, to be sure that there are no issues with connecting to the platform. Wear a suit as advised above. Have PDF files of the documents you submitted to the employer readily accessible in case you need to send something to the interviewer or the recruiter. Make sure your phone is silent.
Final Interviewing Tips
- Be sure you have eaten and are well rested before your interview.
- Treat everyone you meet, from the receptionist to the hiring partner, with respect and friendliness.
- When introduced in person, smile and if the interviewer offers to shake your hand, use a firm handshake (How to Shake Hands and Introduce Yourself); not everyone is back to complete comfort with handshakes yet, so take your cue from the interviewer.
- Do not disparage previous employers.
- Email personalized thank-you notes to each interviewer, and the recruiting professional who arranged the interview, within 24-hours of your interviews.
Responding to Employment Offer
Firms usually extend offers within two weeks. Some firms, however, will wait until they have interviewed all their candidates before making a decision, while others will make an immediate offer during the interview. If you are unsure of an employer’s time frame, it is appropriate to ask an employer when you can expect to hear back from them.
The CSO encourages you to accept or decline employment offers promptly and courteously. It is common to respond to an offer in the same manner in which it was conveyed, i.e., respond to a telephone call with a telephone call. If you accept a job offer over the phone, it is usually not necessary to follow up with a letter. The employer will typically follow up an acceptance with a confirmation letter providing additional information about the position. If you call to accept or decline an offer and leave a voicemail, you should follow up with a short email confirming the details of your message. For more information about accepting or declining offers, please review the Interview Program Guidelines.
To promote fair and ethical practices for the interviewing and decision-making process, NALP has promulgated standards for the timing of offers and decisions. The CSO endorses NALP’s Principles for a Fair and Ethical Recruitment Process.