Your first in-house job interview

August 10, 2016

Much has been written about interviewing and a great deal of it is really helpful, but I have still not read anything that I think comes close to identifying the purpose of the interview from the perspective of the interviewee; especially if it is your first in-house legal role.

I am not interested in the stuff about arrive on time, wear a suit etc. I am not your mum; I’ll also trust you know your stuff. What I am really interested in is what you need to find out to be able to make a good decision should the job be offered.

Most employers talk about recruitment as being a bit of a lottery; in part this is because, frankly, HR professionals have smothered the life out of the process. Competency-based questions are all very well, but they are formulaic and result in formulaic answers. Rather than driving difference they result in a gloopy mush of averageness and everyone feeling slightly underwhelmed. The imperative of ensuring processes are fair, has resulted in processes being safe. This is not the same thing and we are often left none the wiser.

Shifting the dial towards a truly insightful process is beyond a short article like this and in the absence of insightful I would rather have safe than stupid. However I think we can explore how candidates might approach an interview with a different mindset.

I will suggest six areas to explore, but first some contextual remarks to all candidates.

This is not meant to burst any bubbles; however I want a modest recalibration of expectation. It will be incredibly rare to move into any organisation and stay there until you reach your retirement age. So may I suggest you are not looking for the job of your dreams, but a role that will give you a platform to learn and move on to something better.

May I also suggest that despite lots of lovely company policies on everything under the sun to protect your interests as an employee, you may not be the centre of everyone’s attention. If you are a bit ignored, this is normal. Also EVERY employer will employ their fair share of idiot management. It is not a hard luck story, it is life.

This new role will probably last between three and five years. It is not your life, it is not career defining, you are not making a mistake you will never recover from and neither are you walking into a Zen induced state of tranquil ecstasy. It is one of seven or eight roles you may have in the next twenty-five. Give of your best, learn as much as you can and try to make a difference.

Finally, this job will end. Ends can be messy. You might be head-hunted into your next role and made to feel like minor royalty, but it is just as likely that you will be reorganised into a cul-de-sac and made to feel like the last guest at a party that ended hours before.

So, as you prepare brilliantly for your interview and you have every competency based story you can muster rehearsed within an inch of its life, I would like to suggest six areas that you should consider exploring.

Try and make the interview a conversation, it is after all a preliminary to a contract negotiation and you presumably hope that you will be a party to that contract. You are in effect doing your due diligence at this point and so don’t let the interview drift to a limp end and only then chip in when asked “do you have any questions?” with an awkward shuffle and an apologetic question about salary.

Six areas to be comfortable about before you move roles:

  1. How would your interviewers describe the culture of the organisation and how well do they judge the alignment between strategy and culture?
  1. What specific steps are in place to better manage employee well-being and workplace stress in the team you will be joining?
  1. Most people stay in their role for around three years before that role should be developed or they should move on. What is their expectation about your role and what is the experience of others in the team?
  1. Are professional ethics, whether formally or informally, ever discussed? How are professional standards articulated and maintained?
  1. What is the investment plan for the team to build resilience in the infrastructure including to better manage process, documents and low risk work?
  1. What is expectation of you to be active in your personal development in the first two years in role?  What expectation should you have of your new employer in your personal development in the first two years in role?

None of these questions is rocket science, but I very rarely hear them asked in interview. Good answers to these questions however are a good indicator of a team that has a sense of purpose, a strategy to support it and a focus on individual contribution and well-being.

Good luck. Take care and come to the LBCambridge programme just as soon as you possibly can… 🙂




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