Years ago, the Texas energy industry was thriving, and candidates were driving the hiring process. Candidates had the luxury of sitting back and letting the clients sell them on why they should move from a stable and fulfilling job to an even better opportunity.
But then, one day, those energy jobs began to cool off. Our firm’s legal headhunters noticed a dramatic shift as corporations suddenly held the bargaining chip— a job. Sometimes, they pulled the job before making a formal offer to the selected finalist due to other corporate constraints.
Today, our legal recruiters have seen in-house counsel jobs stabilize, creating a level playing field for both client and candidate. Companies are bringing more work in-house as a strategy to reduce outside legal fees as the Texas energy boom heats up once again.
Presently, our legal recruiters characterize the in-house legal hiring market as “good opportunities,” with positions at higher levels— one that remains highly competitive. As a result, it’s critical for attorney and compliance candidates to make a lasting impression when interviewing with picky corporate clients starting from the very first meeting. What follows are some interview tips that will help set you apart from the rest.
Know the Position
One of the first job interview tips is never to walk in and say something like, “Tell me about the position.” Conversely, don’t fall victim to answering questions that go beyond “Tell me about yourself” without knowing what the company is seeking from you. Let your interviewer know that you have researched the company and reviewed the job description, and that you are interested in hearing about any additional insight about the role beyond the written details.
Listen carefully to the qualifications that are important to the company. Once you feel you have all the information, begin sharing details about your most relevant background to the job opening. Don’t just guess what matters most to the company, but instead ask them specific questions and listen attentively to those responses.
If there is a job description area unfamiliar to you, first establish credibility in your strengths and then be upfront and honest about those new areas. Several ways to earn an interviewer’s trust about your ability to learn a different area include:
- Cite specific examples of situations that were once new to you but are now areas of expertise.
- Cite personality traits that lend themselves to enjoying new tasks.
- Cite a teamwork attitude that shows a desire to problem-solve issues regardless of the subject matter.
An attorney candidate rarely has every skill listed on the legal job description for an in-house counsel position. Fostering trust and confidence during the interview process helps one overcome those challenges. Truth be told, what attorney candidate would leave a job for the same position they were already filling unless there were extenuating circumstances?
Questions to Ask
Although this is usually the most feared part of the interview, it’s easy to come up with questions you should ask. Compile a list of points that are known deal breakers for you beforehand. No in-house client wants to get through the lengthy interview and selection process only to have a surprise come their way at the end.
If you are working with a legal headhunter, tell them about any information that would cause you to decline an offer if one came immediately. Do not play the “wait-and-see” game, or wait until the actual offer to get answers to essential questions about the commute, year-end bonus, relocation, future progression, etc.
Plan accordingly with the legal recruiter on who will raise each issue. Suppose the issue is a matter of opinion, such as corporate culture or long-term fit. In that case, you, as the attorney candidate, should raise these issues during the interview. This strategy will make you appear engaged and interested. Allow your legal recruiter to handle initial questions about in-house compensation, benefits, office hours, vacation, and similar topics.
Practice Your Answers to Common Interview Questions
If you were offering first job interview tips and sample questions for law school students prior to graduation, you’d undoubtedly tell them to practice their answers to commonly asked job interview questions. You’d also advise them to keep their responses concise and focused. Heed your advice and always prepare the same way when it’s time for you to pursue “greener” employment pastures.
Make a Great First Impression
Treat the entire interview process as your entry into the company. From the beginning, your interactions with the receptionist and your stance walking in the front entrance help shape the company’s first impression. Take a deep breath outside the door before entering, as this will help you appear calm and collected. Keep your cell phone out of sight even if you use it for keeping time.
Good lawyers know how to build relationships, and that starts with trust. One way to build trust is to be personable while showing interest and enthusiasm for meeting your interviewers. After all, they are taking time out of their busy days to meet with you. Being late is usually the “kiss of death” in the job interview world, so show up on time or— better yet— early.
Be aware that corporations are looking for a culture fit above and beyond relevant legal skills, which makes your ability to connect with all employees critical. During in-house corporate counsel interviews, the hiring authority, human resource professionals, paralegals, and legal assistants are often part of the selection process. Those individuals might also help determine how well you will fit in and contribute to the company culture.
Practice Good Manners and Body Language
How you present yourself in job interviews is just as important as the words you use to respond to questions. Be polite and courteous to support staff you encounter along the way, such as secretaries, front desk receptionists, and other non-attorney personnel.
When escorted down the hall by an assistant, let them take the lead and walk behind them until you reach your destination. Pick up on their demeanor and tempo during that walk and try to mimic it as much as possible to convey the sense you can easily fit into that environment.
During the interview, note your interviewer’s communication style and as you seek ways to verbally and non-verbally connect with them. “Mirroring” is the process of identifying and mimicking another person’s body language so that you can establish an unspoken bond.
Interview body language can help you emphasize points you are making and help the hiring manager see that you are relaxed and confident in your abilities. Even when conducting a Zoom interview or another type of virtual interview, you can convey body language through hand gestures, posture, facial expressions, and even the volume and tone of your voice.
When interviewing in person, use these body language tips to convey the right message to potential employers:
- Make eye contact without staring intently.
- Maintain an upright posture.
- Use hand gestures sparingly, without touching your hair or face.
- Mirror the movements of the interviewer without making it appear unnatural.
- Avoid nervous habits that could be distracting.
- Offer a firm handshake without appearing too aggressive.
- Nod your head occasionally to show the interviewer you are listening and understand what they are saying.
- Exit with a smile and handshake for everyone in the room.
Display Confidence During the Interview
Your clothing and grooming say a lot about you as a candidate. Show up with a well-groomed appearance that includes clean shoes, combed hair, and clothing that’s clean and free of wrinkles.
From the moment you step out of your car, be aware of your body language so that anyone who observes you will gain the sense that you are confident and self-assured. While seated, sit back with your chest open and back straight, as this lets anyone in the room know that you are self-confident and assertive.
Maintain eye contact without making the interviewer feel comfortable, and don’t let them see any nervous habits that might indicate that you are unsure about your abilities. Shake their hand firmly after the interview without being overly aggressive. And finally, walk out of the building in the same manner as you did when you came in— upright and self-assured.
Whether it’s a phone interview or in person, never, ever lie. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say, “Good question. I don’t know the answer and am happy to get back to you.” Don’t be dishonest about your qualifications, experience, or education.
If invited to lunch during your interview, don’t let your guard down. Interview lunches are often strategically placed in the interview process and are notorious for testing how candidates interact in a casual setting. Be your usual genuine self, stay professional, and represent yourself the same way you would in an interview room.
Close the Interview
The most successful in-house counsel candidates close the interview. Lawyers are not innately salespeople, but those lawyers who have learned to sell themselves are the ones who will thrive in an in-house counsel role. During the interview, your job is to assess whether the position interests you. You will most likely have three or four points that make the position attractive to you.
At the end of the interview, provide the company with your feedback. Let the interviewer know why what you heard during the interview is exciting and appealing to you. Tell them that you had come prepared by researching the position, which only solidified your interest. Then, specifically, tell them why.
Once you’ve let the interviewer know you are interested and qualified, ask them if they feel the same way based on the information you provided. This is an excellent opportunity to cover any points that you didn’t previously hit.
Finally, ask the interviewer what the next steps are, when they expect to make a decision, and how soon you should follow up. The best time to glean this information is during your interview rather than simply relying on a legal headhunter after the fact.
The legal recruiters at Momentum Search Partners spend so much time during the search process fielding compensation questions and advising clients on how to appropriately handle compensation questions during the interview process that this topic deserves its own section.
If you are truly interested in the legal job you are considering, compensation is important. However, it must be addressed appropriately, or you will tarnish your candidacy with a negative first impression that is difficult to overcome.
The ability to ask more detailed compensation questions so that you won’t waste a corporation’s time is one of the most attractive benefits of working with a legal recruiter. For most legal positions, the recruiter should have some ranges in mind. The ranges can sometimes be broad, making it difficult to gauge where you might fit within the range.
Before meeting the client, do not press the legal recruiter or company to commit to a certain compensation level. You will be more likely than not to stop the opportunity in its tracks because most corporate clients are hesitant to commit to a given salary before meeting you in person.
When should I ask about compensation?
Beyond determining that the basic salary range is within your acceptable range, you should table more detailed compensation questions for the second or third round of interviews. It may be possible that the corporation is considering two different levels and ranges.
If you have more experience and fall at the top of the range, you run the risk that the junior, cheaper candidate develops enough trust and rapport to overcome their experience shortfalls (and vice versa). It’s important to know all the challenges that you face.
Finally, be transparent with your legal recruiter before or after the second interview regarding your expectations after assessing the position. Experienced legal recruiters like those at Momentum Search Partners are qualified to handle a wide range of salary issues, allowing them to walk you through the specific course of action depending on your situation.
Once the client is ready to make an offer, developing additional rapport and confidence will help put you in the driver’s seat and empower you to field any questions directly. When doing so, make sure you approach the corporation with an understanding of how they arrived at the offer, along with realistically knowing what they can or cannot change.
Your best bet is to ask your legal recruiter for information before pursuing any changes on the offer so that they can provide insight into the proper approach to use with the corporate client.