Just wondering what a standard second interview is like? It says somewhere that they are around 2 hours long, I was just wondering if it is question based or if there are aptitude tests or anything? Thanks
Second round interviews are not much different than the first round interviews, just a little longer, more in-depth, and with the writing sample as a new component of your application package. You will have two 30-45 minute interviews, each 1-on-1 with a DOT attorney. Then the group of applicants in your time slot (usually 4 at a time) will meet together with a current Honors Attorney for an off-the-record Q&A. This is strictly for your benefit - what is said in the room is never reported to the hiring committee, and gives you a chance to ask any questions you like.
1: I assume that it's important to go in for the callback even though it says phone interviews are an option?
2: Any advice on what's important in a writing sample? My two obvious samples are something I wrote in an advanced writing class, which is very good but not written in a real work environment, or memos I wrote at a state transportation agency, which are very related to DoT subject matter and as such would need to be extremely heavily redacted.
3: Is there an advantage to interviewing earlier in the callback cycle?
I think there is a benefit to being at the interview in person. No one will hold it against you if you have a legitimate reason you can't travel to DC, but in-person interviews are just easier to conduct. That may make a subconscious difference when an attorney is evaluating you in a highly competitive applicant pool.
A good writing sample is more heavily focused on analysis/argument than factual exposition (though it's good to show a bit of both for evaluation). If you have an analytically-focused writing sample from a work experience, always use it, even if heavily redacted. You could even rewrite it in a way that would require less redaction - we don't care/won't know if it's not how you submitted it at work. We only care if you submit something that you didn't actually write/edit yourself. If you use a school assignment piece, try to use one where the assignment was open-ended. The least useful writing samples are ones responding to a fact-pattern prompt written by a professor. Inevitably the professor has written the prompt with a closed universe of cases/arguments in mind (even if not given to you) and it's less useful in evaluating your original research/analysis ability.
There is no advantage/disadvantage to the timing of your second round interview. The hiring committee will not review any of the applicants until all of the second round interviews are complete.
A lot of non-DOJ Honors programs seem to ask for some particular grade percentile to apply. Are these typically soft floors, considering the differences in school rank? As in, a median student at, say, UVA is probably more impressive than a top 25% student at Florida Coastal.
DOT's only grade requirement is a top 50% standing, no matter the school. If you're below median you have to have a really compelling application in all other respects to get an offer. After that, grades and school rank matter some, and we do look at those on a bit of a sliding scale based upon the school, but I would say grades, writing sample, substantive work experience, and interviewer feedback are all weighed pretty equally in the process.