By Melissa A. Peters, Esq., Submitted Post
It is universally understood that you should research the company with which you are interviewing. Know the key players of the company, the origins of the company, its mission statement, and any other details that you can glean from the company’s website. Take some time to Google the company; get up-to-speed about the directors of the company, learn whether the company has undergone any new changes such as restructuring, acquisitions, and/or management changes. If you are working with a recruiter, definitely press the recruiter for details about the company and the specific personalities of the people with whom you will interview. Find out as much as you can about the style of the interview (is it a panel, or is it a series of one-on-one meetings?) Your research, however, should not stop there. You should then turn your attention inward and really start to “research” and prepare yourself for the interview.
Have you researched yourself? Have you Googled yourself? Do you know what skills you bring to the table, and where your weak spots may be? Do you have specific examples of your work product or challenging times that you overcame professionally that you can quickly recall and discuss in an interview? Do you know what your online Bio and/or LinkedIn page say about you and your area of specialty? How does your law firm or company describe your practice on its website – does it match up with the experiences detailed in your resume?
As radical as it may sound, I really believe that it is better to spend more time researching yourself than researching the company. Unfortunately, too many lawyers focus more on researching the company than researching their own talents, weaknesses, and motivations. The following bullet points outline just a few of the questions that you should contemplate in preparing for an in-house interview:
- Do you know exactly what is stated in your resume? For example, if you were published in the Law Review ten years ago, can you recall the content of that Article? Truth is, it is difficult to readily recollect that without going back and familiarizing yourself with your past work. Also, make sure you know the hobbies/interests that you listed on your resume, because that is definitely good fodder in an interview.
- Can you readily and unapologetically explain every career move that you have made? The emphasis here is on the unapologetically part: no reason to feel guilty or embarrassed by some career moves, even ones that you now regret. Explain your thought process at the time you made the move, and explain it to the interviewer concisely and confidently. Remember that at the time you made the decision to make a certain move, there was logic and rationale behind that decision – tap into your mindset at the time, so you can better explain yourself. Also, explain how each move has benefitted you in terms of expanding your experience, gaining new skill sets, learning a new industry, or even just acquiring the skill of how to transition to a new place. If you truly feel regret about a certain move, there is no shame in stating that the move did not work out as you had hoped. Mention that hindsight is 20/20 – we are all human and can relate to that!
- Why are you interested in this position? It is an obvious question but it trips up the best candidates! Many of my lawyer-candidates do not know how many details they should disclose about why they want to make a move. They are understandably apprehensive about saying anything negative about their current job situation, and I second that apprehension. At the same time, it is not enough to just state that you are “looking for a new challenge”. In this competitive in-house job market, interviewers are savvy and are looking for “red flags”. They will push you on that answer and try to drill down to your true motivation. Do you know how to craft an answer that is genuine, informative, but not negative in any way? Also, do you know how to convey your genuine interest in this specific in-house position? Spend some time thinking about why the specific position, company and/or industry really excite you and make sure to convey that to the interviewer.
- Can you accurately describe your current roles/duties in depth, without boring the interviewer with ancillary details? This cannot be overstated!! You have to give “meat” in your answers about your daily duties. Over and over, I have my client-companies tell me that they want to really understand the depth of a candidate’s experience. Worry less that you may be “light” in a certain area of expertise, and worry more that you are not accurately explaining where your strength lies.
- What is your answer re compensation for this position? Do you know the proffered compensation range for this position? Most importantly, do you know what you are looking for financially? Are your expectations realistic? You need to research this as much as you can so that you can adjust your expectations and answer confidently. This is admittedly easier to do when a recruiter is involved in the process – I spend a lot of time talking with my candidates about how to field the ever-dreaded compensation questions!
- Who are you as a worker? What is your work style? How do you interact with your co-workers? What are your strengths/weaknesses? When I prep lawyers about this question, they all dread the “weakness” question. They all want to answer that they “just work too hard”! That answer does not cut it anymore. Interviewers really want to know what your perceived weaknesses are, and more importantly, whether you are awake enough to identify them and brave enough to admit them. Expect more on this theme of knowing yourself as a worker: If you make a mistake on the job, how do you handle it? Can you describe a time in which you had to overcome a professional challenge? Can you describe a time in which you had to tell a client “no”, and how did you handle it? Again, specificity, brevity and honesty are the keys to a successful answer.
Do you know how you typically perform in interviews? Are you someone who performs better in morning interviews? Do you get nervous and start rambling? Just knowing your own pitfalls will better prepare you to avoid them. Personally, I loathe awkward silence, so I am prone to talk more than necessary; because I know that about myself, I can watch for that tendency to start, and quickly course-correct in an interview.
Of course, the way you say the answers to the above questions matters as much as the content of your answers. A little preparation about your current practice, career moves, and motivation to make a job change goes a long way. When I was a lawyer interviewing for positions, I used to think that preparation made me sound too contrived and disingenuous. Now, as a recruiter, I realize that preparing for an interview makes you a sharper and better version of your unprepared self. Keep the honesty and genuineness, but practice your answers to gain confidence and anticipate any spots of vulnerability.
Finally, do not be afraid to inject humor. Just like preparation, a little levity goes a long way! When candidates are accomplished, impressive and also appropriately self-deprecating, they succeed in interviews. Being polished, dynamic and charismatic does not mean that you cannot be funny, mildly sarcastic (I am still working on the “mild” part) and/or downright entertaining. I am not suggesting that you dial-down your true personality in any way – just do some research about yourself so you can present your true and best self in interviews.
Melissa A. Peters, Esq. is Managing Director at Princeton Legal Search Group. She focuses exclusively on the permanent placement of lawyers in law firm and in-house settings. She can be reached at 609.734.7490 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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