Candidates often ask us legal recruiters about the differences between interviewing for in-house counsel roles versus interviewing for positions at law firms. In private practice, though firms ultimately have unique styles and approaches to candidate assessment, at a high level, the interview process tends to be somewhat similar and the interviewers will most often be lawyers or have a solid understanding of the legal profession. In-house interviews, however, tend to vary more considerably depending on the size of the organization, nature of the role, industry, and reporting structure, among other things.
Broadly speaking, below are a few common themes that often distinguish in-house legal department interviews from typical law firm interviews.
- You are likely to have a human resources (HR) professional involved in your in-house interview process. HR professionals will typically examine your skillset at a broad level, to ensure that your skills match the job requirements, but will usually be equally (or even more) focused on cultural fit.
- In order to assess cultural fit, HR professionals will commonly employ behavioral questions, inquiries designed to examine your demonstrated behavior in relevant circumstances (e.g. “Tell me about a time when…”). These questions may relate to your leadership skills, how you deal with conflict, stick-handle ethical issues, manage priorities, or work with peers.
- Firms are increasingly shifting to using behavioral questions, but most lawyer interviewers still adopt a conversational approach.
- Other than HR, your interviewers may include non-lawyer internal clients. If they don’t have expertise in your area of focus, these panelists will have a surface-level understanding of your technical area/background so it may be more incumbent on you to sell your skills in layman’s terms and connect the dots on how your background fits the organization’s needs. This is especially true when your skills don’t perfectly align with the job description.
- Further to the above point, it can be more critical to be able to explain the depth of your skills, especially if you are technically distinguished, in a practical and understandable manner that is not condescending.
- In addition to your legal skills, if you are interviewing for a more business-oriented position, it can really set you apart as a candidate to do your research on the organization. If you are fluent about the business, you are more likely to ask better questions that help to distinguish you beyond your technical background.
Increased Due Diligence: Assessments and References
- More often than in law firm interview processes, companies often subject their finalist candidate(s) to technical and/or psychological assessments:
- Technical assessments may include having to draft an agreement from scratch, issue spotting, or mooting. Employers also often ask for examples of your work product.
- Psychological assessments typically involve multiple choice questionnaires designed to gain an understanding of your personality, values, or strengths and weaknesses. Some employers may even ask you to undergo a more exhaustive assessment with a trained workplace psychologist.
- Be aware that some employers require a finalist candidate to produce current internal references as a condition to the job offer. It is key to clarify the purpose of the internal reference and aim to limit the scope inquiry as such references can respond unpredictably due to the emotion of losing a key team member; ideally the scope is limited to confirming that you are employed, and relevant representations you have made regarding your experience, and that you are not being terminated for cause.
At a certain level, an interview is an interview so there will usually be more commonalities than differences in your interviewing experience between law firm and in-house environments. After all, any employer is simply aiming to assess your suitability for a particular role. However, as a part of your research, be sure to inquire as much about the process itself so that you can prepare accordingly.
– David Namkung, Partner