August 2016

For a Great Interview Remember: GAIN

By Stacie Patterson

Attorney at Law

The following article was originally published in the July/August 2016 issue of San Diego Lawyer.

Many people wonder what makes for a good interview. As Director of the San Diego County Bar Association-ACC Diversity Fellowship Program (DFP), I recently had the opportunity to review applications and interview numerous DFP applicants.

During the application process, it became pretty clear that some students are stellar when being interviewed. In thinking about them they seemed to share characteristics and skills that can be summed up with the mnemonic: GAIN.

The successful students showed:

  • Graciousness and were filled with gratitude;
  • advocacy for themselves and appeared to possess the ability to advocate for others;
  • insight into themselves and others; and realized there would be
  • no do overs.

Graciousness and Gratitude

The students who gave successful interviews appeared to be happy to be at the interview, excited to be afforded the opportunity to participate in the DFP process and pleased to meet the interviewers.

We have all heard about the benefits of gratitude: increased energy, more emotional intelligence, decreased depression, less anxiety and reduced loneliness.

“When our brains constantly scan for and focus on the positive, we profit from three of the most important tools available to us: happiness, gratitude, and optimism.”1 Luckily, for gracious and thankful candidates, our frontal lobes are filled with mirror neurons. Mirror neurons have been compared to “’neural WiFi’ – we pick up not only another person’s movement but her emotional state and intentions as well.”2 A happy and pleasant interviewee creates an environment in which the interviewer is more likely to reflect the attitude of the interviewee.

In addition, gratitude and graciousness change the focus from the candidate to the employer. Having a gracious attitude requires the candidate to ask: What is impressive about the employer or interviewer? What are their contributions on behalf of their clients or the profession? What positive attributes are the employer and interviewer bringing to the table?


The interview is likely the first opportunity for a candidate to orally advocate for himself or herself. If done well, the interviewer will hopefully see how the candidate will advocate on behalf of his or her clients.

When interviewing, one of the goals of an attorney’s self-advocacy is to show trustworthiness. Hiring someone is extremely risky and attorneys tend to be risk adverse. The potential employer needs to answer: Can I trust this candidate? Can I make what is valuable to me vulnerable to this person? Am I willing to put my business, reputation and client’s well-being in this candidate’s hands? Consequently, it is incumbent upon the job candidate to demonstrate trustworthiness.

In professional settings, trustworthiness is judged by assessing the candidate’s reliability, sincerity, competence and care.3 Strong candidates show that they truly want the opportunity; can be counted on to do what they say; have or can obtain the relevant skills; and care about the employer, work and clients. For instance, the most successful candidates demonstrated knowledge of, and a commitment to, the mission of the DFP. In addition, they were able to discuss how they had encouraged diversity in the past and were committed to doing so in the future.


The insight needed to interview has four components: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.

“People high in self-awareness are remarkably clear in their understanding of what they do well, what motivates and satisfies them, and which people and situations push their buttons.”4

Self-management allows candidates to be aware of their emotions and put them on hold to pursue larger, more important goals.

Social awareness builds upon the self-awareness that allows candidates to pick up on subtle social signals that indicate what others need and want.5 Perceiving what the interviewer values and responding accordingly will build trust. 

Self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness all build upon each other to allow successful relationship management. A candidate who interviews well knows who they are and manages their personalities and emotions while being aware of subtle clues being given by the interviewer.

Successful DFP candidates were very aware of who they were and the personality traits and skills they were presenting. The candidates were attuned to what interested the interviewers and were able to steer the conversation to include beneficial information and topics.

No Do Overs

Great candidates put their best foot forward the first time and appreciate they must show their gratitude, advocacy skills and insight immediately. They have already provided their best resumé, writing sample, and references.

Luckily, all of us can grow in our GAIN techniques. Gratitude, self-advocacy and insight cost nothing and can increase with only a little consistent practice.

1 Achor, Shawn, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology, 97
2 Bessel Von der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score; Daniel J. Siegel, Mindsight.
3 Charles Feltman, The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work.
4 Id.
5 Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, 43.