Interviewing for an in-house role requires a different approach to that which one would employ for a private practice interview. The interviewers are not simply assessing technical legal skills, they are looking for lawyers who understand the company and industry sector, who are commercially focussed and who fit the company culture and ethos.
A common misconception for solicitors interviewing in-house is to base all of your achievements on great pieces of legal work you have undertaken or legal arguments you have won. This approach is useful when demonstrating suitability for a private practice role, as technical expertise is king, but it doesn’t tell the in-house interviewer anything about you as a person, consequently impacting you chances of getting the job.
In-house interviewers often take technical legal experience as a given – your CV and work history convey your technical prowess – and therefore the interview tends to focus on getting to know more about you, your motivations, ways of working and your ability to interact with colleagues, the majority of whom will not be lawyers.
Opening up and showing your personality is vital for in-house interviews. You should avoid the “Corporate Cloak” of the professional lawyer who doesn’t want to give too much away about themselves. In other words be professional, be polite but be you!
When preparing for an in-house interview you need to ascertain the company culture and how the legal team works within the business. For example, most in-house teams are down to earth, approachable, use plain English, are integrated into the business, are solutions orientated and look to sell an idea rather than tell how it’s going to be. Winning technical arguments is not the sole aim of an in-house lawyer, it’s about being commercial and facilitating business as well as being accessible to everybody in the business – from board level downwards.
In-house interview questions can often be more about learning about you and how you tick. In answering these questions you should try and relate how your values go alongside theirs. For example, if you are asked “what does a great day at work look like?” you should be considering factors that relate to the company culture and working in-house. Perhaps you had a particularly good meeting with a client/colleague, or received some excellent feedback, or perhaps you learned something new, or made a new contact. Think of soft-skills and interpersonal achievements as well as technical achievements.
A final thought – Learning about a potential employer should not solely be based on online research. For example, if you are interviewing at a retailer you should consider visiting one of the company’s stores to get a feel for the working environment and the staff. How foolish would you feel if the interviewer asked whether you had been to a store and the answer was No!