Whether or not they have done it recently, many experienced corporate lawyers would say they feel comfortable with the basics of interviewing for a new position. But can they be confident that they have mastered the art of making the best possible impression?
Even accomplished candidates have been known to make gaffes during the interview stage. According to a survey commissioned by our company, 32 percent of executives polled said the interview is where professionals make the most mistakes.
Sometimes anxiety is to blame for interview missteps; in other cases, candidates simply exercise poor judgment in behavior or dress. Whatever the reason, committing an interview faux pas can jeopardize lawyers’ job aspirations. Following are some important but sometimes overlooked rules:
Turn off the technology. In today’s hyper-connected world, many people think they should always be reachable. But an interview is one time when it’s not wise to remain available to the outside world. Some hiring managers and recruiters have reported experiences with candidates who glance at incoming e-mails during an interview or ask to be excused to take a phone call. Needless to say, these candidates don’t get very far. The hiring manager expects — and deserves — a job seeker’s full attention. If candidates carry a cell phone or portable e-mail device into an interview, they should be sure to turn it completely off — not just to the vibrate setting, which can also cause a distraction.
Don’t be too candid. Although interviewers are looking for candor and a glimpse into a candidate’s personality, counsel should be careful not to go overboard, especially in offering personal details. Anxiety or the opposite emotion — feeling extremely comfortable with the interviewer — can lead a candidate to become too conversational, especially about issues outside the scope of the interview. Maybe their desire to find a job in a new city stems from a recent divorce, but it’s unwise to share this information. Not only do lawyers risk making the interviewer feel uncomfortable, but divulging such personal information could raise doubts about their judgment and ability to concentrate on work if hired.
It’s best to keep the conversation focused on work history and qualifications, but counsel shouldn’t let their guard down in discussing on-the-job experiences either. Criticizing or gossiping about the last company they worked for or former colleagues is more likely to hurt than help their chances of receiving an offer, even if the interviewer seems interested in hearing such details. It’s also smart to tread carefully in making small talk, especially about any potentially controversial topic. Even an offhand comment about a current news event could be misinterpreted and cause offense.
Look the part. Lawyers who have not job-interviewed in a long while may find it time to update their appearance. Both men and women can usually benefit from new wardrobe pieces that reflect current styles without being too trendy. A trusted friend, spouse or knowledgeable salesperson could be consulted for advice about what to wear to make the most favorable impression. Women, in particular, should also consider whether their hairstyle or makeup might need updating. Maybe a “make-under” — that is, a less flashy look — is in order. It’s a good general rule to dress up a little more for an interview rather than a little less. Rare is the story of someone who lost out on a job for looking too professional.
Don’t be too full of yourself.
Although their qualifications may be exceptional, counsel should take care to strike the right balance between presenting their accomplishments in a positive light and coming across as overconfident. In another Robert Half survey, 50 percent of executives polled said that being arrogant was the worst mistake a candidate can make when interviewing. Job applicants can come across in a negative light by claiming all the credit for past accomplishments, belittling former employers or co-workers or conveying a “you’d be lucky to have me” attitude. It’s helpful to remember that the interviewer is not just trying to ascertain a candidate’s qualifications but also evaluating what he or she would be like as a colleague.
By increasing their awareness of the finer points of interview etiquette, lawyers should be able to improve their odds of getting the job they are targeting. Although a good interview alone is not usually enough to land a desirable position, violating one of these subtle rules of professional engagement can easily dash even the best prospects.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.