As a practicing attorney who regularly volunteers at a couple of local law schools, I spend a fair amount of time advising students. A question I often get during recruiting season is, “How can I explain to interviewers why my grades aren’t great?” While it’s true that you can’t change your ratings, the way you explain less than stellar ratings can be the difference between a callback interview and, well, nothing at all.
First of all, it should be noted that qualifications are, as most people assume, the factor that most interviewers assign the most weight. However, the ratings often serve as a cut-off point rather than a classification system. That is, a company may, as a policy, consider only students in the top 25% of their class, but a student ranked in the 87th percentile of their class is not necessarily in a much better position to receive an offer than a student ranked in the 87th percentile of his class. 77.
However, if you think your qualifications place you outside of most employers’ target range, a convincing explanation may give your interviewer a reason to fully consider you — and perhaps a callback interview.
As a threshold issue, I think poor grades should be addressed in an interview. Some students (and even some career service advisors) believe it’s best not to call attention to poor grades, and instead focus on making a positive impression during an interview. However, whether a student chooses to address or ignore grades, the interviewer it is will consider them. Not talking about a C+ is not going to change it to an A-. In my experience, a student who can speak candidly and thoughtfully about her failing grades makes a much better impression than one who simply ignores the problem. An honest and well-thought-out explanation suggests a student who is self-aware, confident, analytical, and enthusiastic about self-improvement. All important traits in a new attorney. On the other hand, it can be assumed that a student who does not address his poor grades is simply a bad student.
for 1L: If you are a 1L interviewing in the spring for your first summer job as a law student, then you only have one semester of qualifications to be assessed. If those grades aren’t as good as you would have liked, your explanation should:
- Discuss what you learned by taking tests
- Please provide some concise details about why your exam did not get as many points as others
- Highlight what you did Correct
- Explain how you intend to improve your performance in the current semester (Spring)
For example: “My scores are not where I expected them to be. However, when I went back and compared my essays to the model essay, I noticed a few areas where I was dropping points on the chart. On the troubleshooting questions, I was able to identify all the important problems, but my analysis went too deep, which didn’t leave me much time to discuss the minor secondary problems in the troubleshooter. For example, one of our criminal law experts involved a kidnapping, false imprisonment, and murder that took place in a barn. In my reply, I thoroughly analyzed each of the elements of major crimes. The professor’s model response, however, included only a cursory analysis of the elements, but then also addressed other minor crimes that I did not do, such as the killer committing larceny when he took a wheelbarrow that was not his to move the body. outside the barn. For this semester, I’ve already started working on past exams from my current teachers to get a sense of the balance of breadth and depth my teachers prefer, and I’m going to tailor my essay responses to each teacher’s preferences.”
An explanation that includes a plan for how to improve grades in the future may influence an interviewer to give you the benefit of the doubt. However, 2Ls and 3Ls who have two or more semesters of poor grades will have a harder time convincing interviewers that their poor test results were a fluke.
For 2L and 3L: Poor grades for two or more semesters suggest to interviewers that the candidate is simply not a good student. However, there are still things 2Ls and 3Ls can do to mitigate the impact of poor ratings.
First, all other components of your file must be Perfect. Make especially sure that the writing sample shines. A great writing sample shows the interviewer that he has strong analytical skills and that his writing is clear, concise, and organized.
Likewise, work on your resume until you’re sure it will make an interviewer pay attention to you. If you don’t have an eye for design, ask a friend who does to help you with resume design and layout. Ask for help from your Career Services office and any mentors you may have. Get as many comments as possible. And most importantly, make sure your job descriptions and past experiences are clear, concise, accurate, and well-written. People often don’t realize that a resume is actually a writing sample. A poorly written resume (long descriptions, tense changes, typos) is often the only reason an interviewer should reject a candidate. If a student isn’t willing to put in the effort to put together a perfect résumé, interviewers will reason, then what is the probability that he or she is willing to put in the effort that the job requires?
Finally, once you’re sure your candidate package is perfect, prepare and rehearse an explanation for your disappointing transcript. Be honest. Draw attention to any academic achievement. Remind the interviewer of your stellar writing sample or other work product. Focus on the positive reviews you received on internships or apprenticeships. In other words, explain that your qualifications do not reflect your true skills as a lawyer.
Remember, your goal is to get a job. Show the employer that you are the best candidate for the position.