By the time you graduated from law school, you probably had multiple job interviews and were prepped by your law school’s placement office and counselors. So, four to five (or more) years later, when you’re considering a change, you may dust off your resume and recall your prior experiences and think you’re good to go for an in-house legal interview. Unfortunately, that may not be enough. Interviews are not “one size fits all” and can vary depending on a number of things – e.g., whether you’re a law student or an experienced attorney, an associate or a partner, or whether you’re considering a law firm versus a corporate legal department.
A good legal recruiter, who knows their corporate client, can effectively guide any candidate through their client’s in-house legal interview process. Having recruited and prepared attorneys for interviews in both law firms and in-house corporate legal departments, I’ve noticed some key differences in those interview processes, respectively. To complicate matters more, many companies differ in the way that they conduct their interviews.
Below are a handful of helpful general tips that can help a candidate interviewing for any inhouse role.
4 Tips To Prepare for In-house Legal Interviews
1. Research the company thoroughly.
Research and familiarize yourself with the company with whom you’re interviewing. It’s surprising how many attorneys walk into an interview knowing very little about the company with whom they’re considering a career change.
During in-house legal interviews, it can be very off-putting to an interviewer when the interviewee knows nothing about their company.
There’s a simple solution – the Internet. It takes very little time to research the company on the Internet by reviewing the company website, Wikipedia and recent press releases. This prepares you for the common question that almost all companies inevitably ask attorney candidates during in-house legal interviews: Why do you want to work for our company? This is a question that cannot be answered intelligently or sincerely if you know very little about the company.
Also be prepared with knowledge about the position you are applying for, the primary responsibilities, and what is expected.
2. Find out whether the company utilizes “behavioral” interview questions.
More and more companies are using behavioral questions with attorney candidates during inhouse legal interviews. If you aren’t expecting this type of questioning, it can catch you off guard, throw your confidence and cause you to flub the interview entirely. Therefore, it’s important to know whether to expect and be well prepared for behavioral questioning.
What is a behavioral question? It’s a question that asks you about something that you did in the past in a certain scenario. For example, “tell me about a time that you missed a deadline and why” or “tell me about a time that you disagreed with a client’s or supervisor’s directive and how you handled it.” The premise of behavioral questions is that past behavior is a strong indicator of future behavior. They typically ask for specific, real-life examples of your past “behavior.” This differs from, for example, what you might do in a hypothetical situation in the future.
There are a variety of behavioral questions that come in many forms. If you are working with a recruiter, that person should be able to tell you if their client utilizes them. Ask your recruiter if there are any common questions that they have asked in the past during in-house legal interviews.
3. Familiarize Yourself with the Interviewers
It’s important to know about the people with whom you’ll be interviewing. Many companies will provide the candidate and/or their recruiter with an interview schedule that provides the names and titles of the people with whom you’ll be meeting. In this regard, while it’s not necessary do “in-depth” research on each interviewer, it is important to familiarize yourself with their backgrounds – e.g., schools, level of experience (JD year), practice areas, employment history (former firms, companies, how long they’ve been with the current company, etc.).
Much of this information can generally be found on Linkedin, Martindale Hubbell, professional biography on the company website, etc. If you share an alma mater or a former employer, for example, these could be good icebreakers during the interview. Also, knowing more about the person with whom you’re meeting lends you confidence during the interview (you’re not walking in blindly) and enables you to ask substantive and relevant questions.
4. Come up with questions of your own.
Questions during the interview are very important! They are important not only because they provide you with the information that you’ll need to make an informed decision about the opportunity, but because they can demonstrate to the interviewer(s) that you’ve done your due diligence and research on the company. They also help the interviewer assess your level of interest in the opportunity.
An analogy to a first interview is a “first date” — when you go on a first date and spend the entire time talking about yourself without showing any genuine interest in getting to know the other person, that person may feel that you’re not interested in them or getting to know them and be less inclined to go on a second date with you. The same is true with a job interview, especially an in-house legal interview. Ask questions! Let them know you’re interested so that you can move forward to a second date!
However, not all questions are created equal. The questions you ask should be substantive questions regarding the opportunity — e.g., questions regarding the company, organizational/department/reporting structure, recent news items, why the position is open, level of interface with the business team, duties/responsibilities, corporate culture, etc. You want to avoid questions that may be perceived as inappropriate — e.g., compensation, vacation, benefits, hours, work-life balance, etc. These are all relevant considerations, but are better discussed after an offer is made.
We hope these interview tips help you prepare for an in-house legal interview. If you have any questions or would like help, please don’t hesitate to contact LHH.