Up Your Leadership Game for In-House Interviews

by Elena Deutsch, Founder, WILL – Women Interested in Leaving (big) Law

Recently, a personal contact shared an in-house listing.  I forwarded it to a client who promptly got an interview.

After the interview my contact called and told me my client would not move forward.  She had three pieces of feedback and would I share them with her?  They were:

  • Up-speak
  • She talked too much
  • Didn’t listen adequately to what they were saying

(Up speak is when people, mostly women, end sentences with their voice trilling up where a period should firmly go.  For example: “It then sounds like you are asking a question instead of making a statement?”)

Let me state the obvious: in-house counsel is a leadership role. 

As you apply and prepare for in-house interviews, you will want to know and speak to your leadership qualities.

Most big law attorneys do not have leadership training.  Given the emphasis on billables, learning & development outside of CLEs often falls off the to-do list.  That doesn’t mean you don’t have leadership skills!

I work with attorneys who want to leave (small, medium, big) law. Many see in-house as a stepping stone to the business side. You can’t make that leap or ascend without leadership presence.

My clients who want to make the move in-house or do something else with their law degree, discover what they excel at easily.  They develop clarity on their leadership talents, gaps and become able to speak to them.

Three ways to grow your leadership awareness and presence:

  1. Know YOUR strengths.

Don’t just say what you think an interviewer wants to hear.

If your strengths are in learning, reading, and analyzing complex matters, say that.

If you excel in building relationships with people, say that.

If you’re a big picture thinker or strategic problem solver, say that.

Don’t BS. They can smell it a mile away.

How do you learn more about your strengths and skills?  Here are two ideas.

> Ask five of your closest friends/family to name your top qualities.  Identify the common words and themes.  One of my clients did this.  His ability to include others and activate a group rose to the top.

> Take the CliftonStrenghts assessment (formerly known as StrengthsFinder).

For $20 learn your top five natural talents. Go through your reports and highlight what resonates for you.  Sprinkle that language liberally throughout your resume, cover letters, and interview prep notes.

  1. Actively seek out leadership roles. From your internal or Bar Association committees to your kid’s school – step forward.  Raise your hand. 

Leadership takes practice.

A good organization is not looking for perfection.  They are looking for a demonstration of putting yourself out there, learning and growing.

Those experiences demonstrate your gumption and provide fodder for leadership stories in interviews.

  1. Listen.  Leaders take in information.  They don’t need to have all the answers. 

Remember the wise saying, “We have two ears and one mouth.  This is to help us listen twice as much as we speak.”

What helps you zip your lip and listen?

How good does it feel when you are truly listened to?  Offer this to others.

Back to my client…

When my contact asked if I would give my client the feedback, I said “Yes.”  I called and asked how she thought it went.  She said, “Not great.  I won’t be moving forward.”  I listened to her experience of it.  Then I asked if she wanted feedback.  Like a growing leader, she said, “Yes,” and listened.  She thanked me, and ended that sentence with a period.


Elena Deutsch helps women (and some men) attorneys who struggle to leave big law or the law become clear on what they want to do next, and take new action.  She can be found at WILL – Women Interested in Leaving (big) Law.

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