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Have in house interviews become more intense over the years?

Have in house interviews become more intense over the years?

Having successfully guided candidates and clients through this for many years, I feel I can say, with some confidence, that the in house interview process has increased in its intensity and become longer, more rigorous and multi-layered. This is not a negative thing. Rather, it is an observation and very much reflects the positive changes and increased importance of the role of lawyers in house over the years.

As well as lawyers, HR representatives and other non-legal stakeholders are frequently involved in the interview process, across multi-jurisdictions. Be ready for this. And, besides being asked to demonstrate your substantive legal skills, you will be expected to convey that you have more than a basic level of commercial/business acumen.

The UK in house legal community, in particular in and around London is very international and quite often the role that you will be interviewing for will focus on at least one other region, besides the UK. Whilst the majority of your interviews will be conducted in English, be prepared to be tested on your language skills, if you have them.

As part of the process you may be required to travel to meet Country Leaders & Managers. Alternatively, video conferencing tools, such as Skype may be used. These may be used regardless. Interviewees for senior level appointments are often asked to prepare a presentation or a response to a series of hypothetical scenarios to be used later as a basis for discussion. Get comfortable with this. Finally, the number of ‘stages’ involved before a confirmed decision and offer can follow, can be as many as 8 as opposed to 3 or 4 in the past.

You will not get the opportunity to do any of this if you are ill prepared and unable to get past that important first round meeting however.

Virgin Group founder, Richard Branson explains in his book, The Virgin Way: Everything I know about Leadership’ that he is not a fan of the traditional job interview and comments,

‘Obviously a good CV is important, but if you were going to hire by what people say about them on paper, you wouldn’t need to waste time on an interview.’

He is absolutely right of course. A well structured CV is just the beginning and it is equally important, if not more so that you mentally prepare for a series of challenging interview questions as part of the process.

Apparently, Richard Branson’s favourite interview question is,

‘What didn’t you get a chance to include on your resume?’

His question is a great opener but if you are not ready for this kind of question it could get you into a lot of trouble! Similar, frequently occurring questions might be, ‘tell me something about yourself,’ or ‘tell me about a time when…...’

‘Open’ questions like these and Richard’s can be dangerous. The danger is that the interviewee responds by giving a meandering, non-specific answer. What the interviewer is asking for here is that you tell them about the most pertinent (and interesting) aspects of your professional experience and how this experience directly reflects what they are looking for, making you an excellent fit for this job. Other difficult questions you might encounter include,

‘Tell me about a time when you missed a deadline and why?’

This is a ‘behavioural’ or ‘competency’ question. The premise of which is that you demonstrate how past behaviour is a strong indicator of future behaviour. Another example is,

‘Why are you looking to move in house?’

The interviewer does not want to hear you get into a negative mind-set or speak less than positively about your current employer or previous job. Rather s/he would like to understand what you have learnt about yourself, from a professional perspective and how that knowledge has spurred you on to consider a positive move in house. Ideally, they would like to hear about your ‘passion’ for this role and genuine excitement about the career development opportunities that might follow.

‘Tell me about your strengths or weaknesses?’

This is another favourite question for many interviewers, legal and non-legal. The idea here is to answer the question honestly, but not to over expose yourself. Try to strike a balance. For example, if you are asked to talk about weaknesses, try to find an example that interviewers will be able to view positively i.e. you could talk about presentations.

Many people find ‘presenting’ a nerve wracking experience. You might begin by talking about your lack of confidence here, however you could add that after receiving training you have volunteered to take on more speaking engagements and become more actively involved in presentations. As a result, your confidence, enjoyment and the quality of your content has improved. A good illustration of a ‘weakness’ that has become a positive strength.

Salary. Should you ever discuss this in the early interview stages? No. There are some questions that you should always avoid during the first few rounds of an interview process and these include compensation, holiday entitlement, benefits, hours and work life balance. Whilst they are all relevant considerations, these are all better discussed after an offer is made and when you will be in a stronger position to negotiate more successfully.

Besides preparing to answer some difficult questions, below are some additional, basic pointers that I would suggest to anyone getting ready for an interview:

1. Take the time to research the company thoroughly.

It is astonishing when clients feed back that it appeared that the lawyer interviewing walked into the room knowing very little about the company. The internet makes research easy for everyone. Look at company websites, watch videos on YouTube; read company forecasts and re-visit recent press releases for information about strategy, direction and earning results etc. Your legal search consultant should help you with this.

2. Think about who you will be meeting?

It is really important that you know about the people with whom you will be meeting. At the very least you should have an interview schedule including names and titles. Besides this, it is important to learn what you can about their background, experience, professional career and read up on any relevant articles, publications, or deals that they have been publically involved with. Again, you will often get some very valuable personal insight from your legal search consultant here too.

3. Remind yourself of the job role and responsibilities and consider these against your own profile.

Make sure you are aware of what is written on your CV. This may sound peculiar but people are occasionally caught out when asked about something which is on their CV because they have forgotten about it. Be prepared to speak about anything on your CV.

4. Plan for some great questions of your own.

Interesting and relevant questions during an interview are really important because they can demonstrate to the interviewer that you have done your due diligence and you have taken the time to consider the bigger picture. This opportunity generally comes at the end of the process and a great closing question will help the interviewer to come away with a lasting, positive impression.

5. You should never enter an interview feeling afraid.

You might be nervous which is acceptable, but if you have done your research, you should actually enjoy the experience. Try to strike a balance, between appearing professional and ‘relaxed’ but not overly so.. Don’t be afraid to reveal a little bit of your personality. This is very important. It is part of who you are and is your opportunity to demonstrate how you worked incredibly hard to get to the point where you are at today.

Remember to smile and to pause, especially when asked a question where you need more time to think. If you feel that you have been caught slightly ‘off guard’ I always recommend saying something like this, ‘That is a good question, thank you.’ You can even repeat the question back to the interviewer to ‘buy’ a little more time and add ‘Let me think about it please……’ Allow yourself a small pause before responding. A slightly slower, considered response is preferable to an impetuous, non-relevant ‘gush’ – which could cost you the interview and the job ultimately.

It is really important to know when to remain silent. Steve Jobs – CEO of Apple did not care about CV’s apparently. He cared about how the person was contributing to Apple and if they were being efficient. In an interview situation and even later in ‘real life’ when there was not a question worth asking, or an answer worth telling, there would be silence.

One final thought, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook famously said this about his own hiring process:

‘I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work directly for that person.’

Remember, interviewers are people, just like you and I and are generally seeking to appoint interesting and positive, like minded people whom they can respect and enjoy an excellent working relationship with. Good luck!

For further information please contact Rachael North at or telephone: +44 (0) 203 651 5718 or +44 (0) 2737 630 220. Alternatively, please visit our website BCL Legal.

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