Years ago, the Texas energy industry was thriving and candidates were driving the hiring process. Candidates could sit back and let the client sell them on why they should move from a job that is stable and fulfilling to an even better opportunity. But our legal headhunters saw a dramatic shift recently. Corporations suddenly held the bargaining chip – a job. Sometimes, the job was pulled before an offer went out to the selected finalist due to other corporate constraints.
Now, our legal recruiters are beginning to see the in-house counsel jobs stabilizing, with neither the client nor the candidate in the driver’s seat. Companies are bringing more work in house as a way to reduce outside legal fees and the recent Texas energy boom is fueling this as well. Our legal recruiters characterize the in-house legal hiring market as “good opportunities” with positions at higher levels, but highly competitive. Thus, it is critical for attorney and compliance candidates to make the best presentation for the choosy corporate client from the very first meeting. Below are some ideas to set yourself apart:
1. Personal Presentation
Treat your entry into the company as the beginning of the interview. Your interactions with the receptionist and your stance walking in at the front entrance are the company’s first impressions. Eye contact, standing and sitting up straight, walking with purpose and confidence and appearing calm are key things to remember. Take a deep breath outside of the door before entering – this will help you appear calm and collected. It is also important to note that cell phones should not be in sight even if you use your cell phone for keeping time.
Be aware that corporations are looking for a culture fit above and beyond relevant legal skills, so the ability to connect to all employees of the corporation is critical. During in-house counsel interviews, often the hiring authority, human resource professionals, paralegals, and legal assistants are part of the interview process and contribute to the culture fit determination.
During the interview, be aware of your interviewer’s communication style, and seek to find ways to connect through communication. The concept of “mirroring” is a method of creating a subtle connection. “Mirroring” is noting body language and conforming to the person’s body language.
2. Know the Position
Never walk in and say “tell me about the position”, but also don’t become a victim to answering questions without knowing what the company seeks from you. Tell your interviewer that you have researched the company and reviewed the job description, but that you would like to hear from them any additional insight about the role beyond the written details. Listen to the things that are important to the company, and once you feel you have all of the information, begin sharing information about your background that is relevant to the most important aspects of the job. Make sure you don’t guess what is important to the company-ask and listen to what is important to the company.
If there is an area of the job description that is new to you, first establish credibility in your strength areas and then be upfront on the areas that are new. There are several ways to gain an interviewer’s trust that you can learn a different area: 1) cite examples of situations that were once new to you, but are now areas of expertise; 2) cite personality traits that lend to enjoying new tasks; 3) cite a teamwork attitude that shows a desire to solve issues regardless of the subject matter. For in-house counsel positions, it is rare that an attorney candidate has every skill listed on the legal job description. It is the trust and confidence that you foster during the interview process that overcomes this challenge. Truth be told, what attorney candidate would leave a job for the exact job they were already filling, absent extenuating circumstances?
3. Questions to Ask
This is the most feared part of the interview, but it is easy to determine questions you should ask. Before going to the interview, you should make a list of those points that are known deal breakers for you. No in-house client wants to get through the interview process and have a surprise come their way at the end of the lengthy selection process.
If you are working with a legal recruiter, tell the recruiter any information that would cause you to decline an offer if one came immediately – do not play the “wait and decide if the opportunity transpires” attitude. Do not wait until the offer to get your questions answered about commute, a year-end bonus, relocation, future progression, etc.
Make a plan with the legal recruiter on who will raise each issue. If the issue is something that is a matter of personal opinion, such as corporate culture or long term fit, you as the attorney candidate should raise those issues with the interviewer directly during the interview. This will make you appear engaged and interested. Allow your legal recruiter to handle initial questions about in-house compensation, benefits, office hours, vacation, etc.
4. 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 is exciting to you. You will likely have three or so points that make the position attractive to you. At the end of the interview, give the company your feedback. Tell the interviewer why what you heard during the interview is exciting and appealing to you. Let the interviewer know you came prepared, and because you had already researched the position, the interview only solidified your interest (and tell them why).
After letting the interviewer know you are interested and you are qualified, ask them if they feel the same way based on the information you provided. This is an excellent opportunity to cover any points you didn’t previously hit. Finally, ask the interviewer what the next steps are, when they expect to make a decision, and when you should follow up. This information is best gleaned directly in your interview, and you should not simply rely on your legal headhunter to provide this information.
Our legal recruiters at Momentum Search Partners spend much of our time during the search process fielding compensation questions such that how to appropriately handle compensation questions during the interview process deserves its own section.
If you are truly interested in the legal job you are considering, compensation is important, but it has to be addressed appropriately or you will damage your candidacy with a negative first impression that is difficult to overcome. The ability to ask more detailed compensation questions to avoid wasting a corporation’s time is one of the most attractive benefits to working with a legal recruiter. For most legal positions, the legal recruiter should have some sort of a range. The ranges can sometimes be broad, making it difficult to gauge where you might fit within the range. Do not press either the legal recruiter or the company to commit to a certain compensation level before meeting the client. You will more likely than not stop the opportunity in its tracks because the corporate client is hesitant to commit to a certain salary before even meeting you in person.
Beyond determining that the basic salary range is within your acceptable range, the more detailed compensation questions are best saved for the second or third round. It is possible that the corporation is considering two different levels and ranges – if you are more experienced but at the top of the range, your risk is that the more junior but cheaper candidate develops the trust and rapport that can overcome their shortfalls in experience. And vice versa. Try to know what challenges you face.
Finally, be clear with your legal recruiter before or after the second interview what your expectations are after assessing the position. An experienced legal recruiter such as our Momentum Search Partner legal recruiters have experience handling a wide range of salary issues, and they will walk you through the specific course of action depending on the situation.
At the point the client is ready to give an offer, it is good to develop rapport and confidence to bolster the client’s choice to give you an offer by handling any questions about the offer directly. When doing so, make sure you approach the corporation with an understanding of how they arrived at the offer, and know realistically what the corporation has the ability to change. Ask your legal recruiter for information before pursuing any changes on the offer – they can give you insight into the proper approach with the corporate client.