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It is the first time you have done it since law school. Whether it is to seek a better opportunity or by necessity, taking a job interview can be stressful. Interviewing as a practicing attorney is a very different experience from interviewing when you were in law school. Many of the contact opportunities were arranged for you, and specialized resources were managed by your career services office. Once you have a resume ready to go, you will need to develop and be able to articulate a professional goal. You will not be very credible in an interview if you sound indecisive about what you want to do next and why. The interviewer has to be convinced that you will not only be a good fit for the firm’s particular style of practice, but also that you are committed to staying at the organization and can bring needed skills and experiences. You must be able to develop a connection between the practice goals of the firm and what you bring to the equation. When you were in law school, employers evaluated you and made their hiring decision based upon your potential; they assumed that they would provide the training and early development. Now there is an assumption that you will not require initial training, and that your previous experience is what they are “buying.” Also, your interview will be better and more successful if the interviewer has an idea of your interests and plans over the next few years. The closer that you come to fitting the interviewer’s expectations of what an associate of your graduation year should be able to do, the better your chances of obtaining an offer. The letter or telephone call comes and you are asked to arrange an interview appointment. Preparation is the key component for a successful interview. If you are trying to keep your search confidential, make that fact clear to whomever you speak with or write to from your first contact. Whether or not you are able to openly ask your contacts questions about the firm, do your own thorough research. The most comprehensive information is now found online through some of the following Web sites: www.martindale.com(Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory can provide biographical information about members of the firm as well as representative clients and practice areas); www.nalpdirectory.com(The National Association for Law Placement now has its comprehensive employer directory in an online version. It can provide you with a short description of basic statistics and a brief narrative of the firm’s practice); the firm’s Web site (is now more directed towards hiring and often includes a section about the firms employment practices); and your law school (each law school offers different support, counseling and resources). Many times you will be able to find a former member of the firm who is a graduate of your law school to speak to through networking lists maintained by either the Alumni/ae Office or Career Services Office; The American Lawyer‘s Mid-Level Associate Survey; Vault reports, etc. Also, do a search of the legal press. Determine whether the firm is mentioned as a potential merger candidate, or if an entire department just departed for another firm. Has the firm just acquired a new important client or a “hot” expert? Law firms, as do other professional associations, change and evolve. You want to know if any recent events at the firm will have an impact on your professional development and the firm’s stability and growth. It is important to have a sense of the changes before you make a decision about interviewing and then perhaps accepting a position with an institution in transition. Most interviews follow a pattern. The questions begin with something on your resume and move forward into more complex matters related to your experience and skills. The questions will be aimed at determining both where you would fit in the firm’s class structure and the department for which you are most suited. Lateral candidates are usually hired directly for a particular department; thus you will be expected to state a specific interest in an area of specialty. You might be asked who else you are interviewing with and why, another typical question relates to the contribution that you can make to their firm as well as why you are interested in them specifically. Your pre-interview research should provide you with the information you need to answer these questions thoughtfully. DOWNSIZED? Also, be prepared to discuss in some detail why you are seeking new employment. If you have been “downsized” from your previous employer, resist the temptation to vent your feelings about how it was handled and how you feel about leaving the firm when others remained. People want to hire positive, enthusiastic workers, not depressed or angry employees. Have good questions ready when the inevitable comes and you are asked if you have anything further to ask the interviewer. Think of some issues that are important to you in selecting another employer. No job is perfect, but if you need to have more training opportunities or if working more closely with partners or with clients is important to you, now is the time to determine if you will be able to obtain what you need in this new environment. One important area involves the evaluation of associates and how the firm not only structures feedback but the criteria that are used. Determine whether you are expected to develop clients or if a certain number of associates in particular departments are “downsized” each year. Also, although it is a rare occurrence these days, inappropriate questions are sometimes asked of candidates. All questions directed at you should have business intent. The firm cannot and should not ask personal questions such as “do you have children, and what kind of family support do you have?” but they can tell you that the job requires long hours and ask if that would be a problem for you. They cannot ask what your immigration status is, but they can ask, at the time of an employment offer, if you are eligible to work in the United States. Federal, state and local employment laws govern the types of questions that can be asked of any applicant. If a question seems unusual to you or if you are made to feel personally uncomfortable at an interview, follow your instinct and ask an employment expert whether the question was appropriate and relevant to the employment process. If it was not, decide whether you wish to explore remedies available to you, including speaking with the offending firm’s hiring attorney or recruitment office. SALARY Salary is often discussed near the conclusion of the interview process. At most firms, it is an established salary taking into account your graduation year, the class you were with at your previous job and the depth of your skills and experience. These factors will often determine where you will fit on the firm’s salary chart. If the department that you came from at your previous employment was slow in providing you with challenging work, you might not have developed the skills expected of your class. Be aware of your skill level and do not promise more experience than your work quality will show. After the interview is over and a decision is made to make you an offer, you should expect that the offer will be a conditional one depending upon a conflicts and a reference check. Conflicts checks are now standard and most firms are aware, just by looking at your resume and knowing the firm and department that you came from, what clients you were most likely to have been exposed to in your work. If you are aware that there is a potential conflict in some of the matters that you worked on at your prior firm, raise the issue yourself and discuss it at the interview. The interviewing firm will often ask for a waiver from the client but do not expect the firm that you are leaving, or have just left, to request a similar waiver. CREDIT CHECK One interesting new wrinkle in the lateral hiring process concerns the small but growing number of firms that are requesting a credit check from an individual as part of their final employment screening. The reason given is that you will be expected to handle a great deal of responsibility, both financial and professional, and the firm needs to assure itself that you can handle your own finances before they will trust you with a client’s sensitive work. The next step in this process involves the timing of your response to the conditional offer. The firm will expect an answer from you within a very short period of time. Most firms make offers for positions currently available due to immediate business needs. Larger firms may be able to allow you up to two weeks to decide and smaller firms may need a response much sooner. You may be able to discern how much time you can request after carefully assessing the situation. The more junior you are, or the smaller the firm, the less time you will most likely be given. Take into consideration why the opening might exist and how important and necessary your skills are to the firm. Delaying your response too long or requesting an extension may jeopardize your future relations with the firm. Be aware that until the conditional offer is accepted, the firm has no obligation to keep the offer open — especially in a tight economy where there are many talented and experienced people seeking employment. At the time of the conditional offer, you should be ready to make a decision as to whether or not you will accept. REFERENCES Once you accept the conditional offer, references will be requested. The usual request is for an oral, not written, reference from two partners. If you are a junior associate out of law school only a few years, your direct contact with a partner may not be great, thus your ability to obtain references from a partner may be difficult. Ask if it would be acceptable to obtain references from senior associates or an in-house counsel who is familiar with your work. Do not offer references from a more junior associate even if he or she has the most familiarity with your work product. Firms much prefer to see a reference from someone in a supervisory capacity rather than from a colleague. Remember to ask potential references permission before providing their name and contact information to anyone. Searching for employment can be nerve-racking, but it can also provide an opportunity to learn about yourself, meet new people and stretch your capacity to develop professionally. Individuals who tend to be successful at “winning” in the interview process are those who have a clear goal, know their own strengths and weaknesses, show self-confidence, a wide range of interests and a willingness to learn. Be assured interview skills are learnable and improve with practice. Ellen Wayne is dean of Career Services at Columbia Law School.

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