General Counsel Interview Tips

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<<First of all, if you are standing outside the office door, it's a bit late to prepare for your interview. To really interview and impress them, you'll need to have started preparing long before. There are two things you'll need to know: facts about the company and facts about you.

Learning about the Company

It's axiomatic that you should know about the company you are interviewing with. Particularly in an in-house counsel setting, the difference between the candidate who knows about the company and has researched challenges the company faces and the candidate who knows just the name on the door is striking.

Remember this: companies hire people to help out the company. They'd much rather hire someone who has shown he will research the company and cares about it than some guy expecting to skate in on the virtue of his resume alone. Your resume got you to the interview; now it's time to show them why they should hire you.

It's also good to know enough about the company to see if it will be a good fit for you. If the company is a strong proponent of oil production and you walk in with your Greenpeace sticker, there's a possibility of conflict.

Start your research by looking at the website of the company and news stories. If you have access to LexisNexis, search for stories regarding the company. See if you can find out the size of the company — big firms such as IBM have legal departments resembling law firms, while smaller companies have a much different atmosphere.

Pump your contacts, if you have any, about the company — friends, classmates, etc. Ask tough questions of them. In the interview if you can show the interviewer that you went beyond the company resume, it will show you have done your homework.

Why Should They Hire You?

Not only do you have to find out about the company, you have to answer that basic question: "Why should this company hire you?" All of the questions you face will be, ultimately, variations of this one. Most likely, you won't actually be asked, "Why should we hire you?" but that's the question. Get your selling points ready.

Anticipate tough questions — especially the ones that probe your weaknesses. If you are fresh out of law school, your sad GPA may come up. Or they may ask why you've worked for three different companies in the last two years. It's crucial that you anticipate this and have answers ready.

In addition, know your resume! Be ready to clarify or expand details on it. Companies are looking for not just qualifications but signs you will fit in. If you say you love the performing arts but haven't been to a concert in 10 years, well, that's not good.

Explaining why you're relocating, if applicable, is also important. Be prepared to answer "Why do you want to move from New York to Nowhereville, Montana?" Your reply could be "Simple: I love horses" or something similar. Be knowledgeable about the city or wherever else you expect to be.

The Actual Interview

In-house interviews are a curious mix. You may well be interviewed by an attorney, who will interview much like any law firm. You may be interviewed by the corporate side, who will not be as impressed with your leading law review article. Regardless, you have to show you are a good fit with the culture, style, and personnel of the firm. Technology companies have a slightly more laid-back attitude than those in the financial sector, yet even in the hippest places the legal department is still likely to be conservative.

First impressions are important. Within the first five minutes, you likely will make or break your chances. A smile and warm handshake is great, and remember to make eye contact when you answer questions. Don't stare down the interviewer, though.

Your dress is also important. Be conservative. If you're a man, wear a nice suit that's clean and pressed. For women simple is good as well — not too much jewelry, and cut back on the perfume. Your dress shouldn't be noticed except as "good." If it draws attention to itself, then you've not done it right.

Keep your body language under control. Nervous habits should be controlled, especially. They are very distracting. Don't fold your arms across your chest — that's defensive.

Some of the questions you may be asked during an interview are ones such as these, though of course it's not guaranteed you will be asked any of these:

  • What are you looking for in a permanent job?
  • Tell me about a situation where you used initiative to solve a problem in the workplace.
  • Where else are you interviewing?
  • Have you been offered jobs by other firms? Where?
  • How is your work experience relevant to our company?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What would you like to know about our firm?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why did you decide to interview with our company?
  • What are your major accomplishments?
  • What are your strengths?
  • Tell me about a weakness you have overcome.
  • What are your short- and long-range career goals?
  • Why did you establish these goals, and what are you doing to prepare yourself to achieve them?
  • What qualities do you have that will make you a successful member of our company?
  • Why did you decide to go to law school?
  • What do you know about our firm?

After the Interview

Send a thank-you note! In the note mention something unique about your interview. This will help the interviewer remember who you are, amid all the other interviewees. Send it as soon as possible after the interview.

You may get a callback interview. Even more so, this will likely be a test to answer one question: "Can we work with this person (meaning you)?" Socially and professionally, you are on trial. Can they trust you to take over a part of the company that is important to them? Can they work with you in a stressful situation? Your actions, answers, and questions will provide the answer.

For the callback interview really prepare. You'll likely be grilled much more deeply, and you will want to have much deeper knowledge of the company this time.

Good luck with your interview!

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