Whether you are about to interview for a General Counsel, Head of Legal or Paralegal role, there is an array of elements you must think of before shaking hands with the hiring manager. From exuding confidence through body language to avoiding inappropriate topics during your exchange, our team of legal consultants have listed below the top things you need to do – and think of – at a legal job interview.
Arrive Early and Dress the Part
While it might seem obvious, never underestimate the importance of punctuality and first impression. Make sure you arrive 10 minutes early in an outfit that matches the standards of the firm. Doing some research beforehand on the company you are about to interview for will help you figure out if you need to show up dressed to the nines or in a casual smart attire. A well-presented candidate can outperform other equally qualified ones at the interview stage.
If you can’t find any information online regarding the company’s dress code or overall culture, your best bet is to ask your recruitment consultant, as they already have a privileged relationship with the firm. For example, going for an interview at a magic circle firm will usually be a lot more formal than a startup or a quantitative hedge fund.
Also, make sure you plan your travel and leave a lot of leeway. You don’t want to arrive just on time and sweating buckets. And once you are at the firm’s office, always be nice with every person you encounter before sitting down with the hiring manager: they may be asked for their input after you leave.
‘In-Tray’ Exercises, Written Tests, Presentations, Questionnaires and Psychometric Tests
These will happen to you at most firms, so it is best to be mentally ready for them. You should be told about these beforehand, and your recruiter must let you know how to fully prepare. Make sure you are aware that these are common within the field – if you don’t hear anything about them in the process, ask your recruiter if any of those tests are to be expected.
They are less likely to occur when you are applying for senior legal roles or if you are going in-house.
Many books and studies have shown how communication is mostly done nonverbally: the verbal component of a face-to-face conversation only makes up for less than 35 percent of communication. It is therefore incredibly important to be aware of your own body language when interviewing.
Experts say you must nicely balance the percentage of time you lock eyes with your interlocutor in order to exude confidence without seeming arrogant. Try to aim for 60%-70% of the time: too much eye contact will be perceived as threatening, while not enough will be seen as a sign of lack of confidence and poor communication skills.
Your posture is known to influence how people think of you. Walk with your held high and sit up in your chair. By doing so, you will be perceived as more active and diligent. Note that if the interview progresses for some time, you can lean on something like the top of a chair: this will show that you are comfortable. It will also have the subconscious effect of showing that you are powerful without being dominating.
Crossing your arms is a sign of defensiveness and closed-mindedness, so make sure you don’t do it while the hiring manager is conversing with you on your past experience. Also be aware of the fact that putting your hands behind your head, showing your armpits, is seen as aggressive.
Because interviewing can be a stressful process, some people might naturally express the need to fiddle with something. While this is a natural reaction and is totally acceptable, don’t fiddle with your phone. Instead, if you really must play with something in your hands to keep you calm, bring a pen and a notebook to the interview. Just don’t use them too much as a crutch, or you’ll detract from the quality of the conversation.
Don’t Dominate the Conversation
Has anyone ever said you talk too much? Even if they haven’t, just don’t.
It is important to leave space for the interviewer to ask the questions they need to ask. Interrupting their rhythm won’t help them to form a good opinion of you. Make sure your answers are quick, direct and straight to the point. Same goes with your questions. If the interviewer is genuinely interested in following up on your answers, divulge, but quickly.
Listening is key. Let the interviewer talk about what they want to talk about and use the biases they convey to augment your answers or comments, preferably covertly. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being manipulated. Also, you might just learn what the job entails, which is useful stuff.
Money and Benefits
When it comes to money and benefits, follow the interviewer’s lead. If they bring up the subject, talk about it, and if not, leave it for another time. This is especially true for early round interviews and less true for final rounds. where it can be an important subject to broach at that stage – especially if you are sensing there will be a problem around remuneration.
When you are talking about money, make sure you are giving a consistent message to all parties, in this case your recruiter and the interviewer. And by no means, don’t get flustered and feel pressured to lie: if salary is important to you, engage some finer points of negotiation strategy. If you are looking for a good salary negotiation strategy, we recommend reading Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, an ex-FBI negotiator, as there is a whole chapter on the matter.
Don’t badmouth your old employer. Of course, answer truthfully any questions about why you left the company, but you must appear magnanimous, not bitter, complaining or spiteful. This is exactly the sort of behaviour employers are trying to avoid: employers hire people to solve problems, not to make their HR problems worse.
Try not to swear, even if you are nervous. You need more time to read the room before you can swear like a sailor with your new colleagues. Also, companies usually don’t hire people for their opinion, so try and avoid politics, religion, gender, race or anything that can be deemed controversial - leave it for another time.
Finally, don’t lie about anything and try not to hyperbolise too much either. It will degrade trust quicker than pretty much anything else. There are numerous ways you can be caught out for this. Instead of worrying how you’re going to be found out, don’t do it in the first place. A refreshing, but tailored amount of truth is advised. Also be honest when you don’t know something: when a situation like this happens, suggest how you would solve the problem instead.
A light sprinkling of name dropping will never hurt: your background research into the interviewer should now come out. If you know anyone that you know the interviewer knows, it could be a good time to name drop. Include anyone that they have worked with who would provide a good reference for you. Discretion is advised, they may not like the person, and this could reflect badly on you.
Current news and gossip are also appropriate in an interview context. This is basically the reason why language was invented in the first: so we could all talk about each other’s business. If the interview has moved to a more conversational mood, this can illustrate that you know what you’re talking about and that you’re well connected, which are both excellent traits in a new employee.
Tevia Kretzmer is a Compliance and Legal Consultant at Rutherford, the executive compliance recruitment specialists.
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Rutherford is a boutique search firm that specialises in legal, financial crime and compliance recruitment within the financial services and legal sector, with London and New York being the main focus. We use our carefully curated relationships, networks and market knowledge to find the best fit for the clients in hand. We work with a wide range of clients, spanning from advisors, corporate and commercial banks, brokers, exchanges, MTFs and financial tech, through to global investment managers, hedge funds, private equity firms and investment banks.