Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Call Back Questions

Hiring Partner received a question from "E" concerning call back interviews:  E asked about the difference between OCI and call backs in terms of substance of the interviews.  E wondered whether it is true that the call back interviewers really don't care about grades.  A few points about call backs:

-- you are correct, E, that many interviewers in call backs have been told to assume that once screened and invited back, the candidate meets the firm's cutoffs for grades, etc.  Some interviewers are nevertheless grade sticklers and may question you about grades.  If the grades weren't exactly at top and outside the cutoff a little, I would expect more "wowing" from the candidate.

-- what else is different other than the interviews being longer?  In some firms, behavioral interviewing is implemented. That means that each attorney who sees you is assigned a particular attribute to observe and evaluate, e.g., "judgment," "maturity," "interest in firm."   They will ask you questions that try to get to these issues.  At other firms, these items are standard on the evaluation forms.  

-- lunch: typically you will have a lunch with a couple of attorneys. I have said this before, but your lunch conversation, discussion over the meal, and overall demeanor is crucial. Do not let your guard down just because you assume the interview is only over or just because you may be with some younger (junior) attorneys.  As HP, if I have a particular issue of concern  that I want explored, I will frequently go to the attorneys who will accompany the candidate to lunch and ask them to see if they can judge this issue for me, since they have more time with the candidate.  

-- people:  since it is a longer day, you will see more people.  Hopefully you will meet with men and women attorneys at various points in their careers.  Each brings a different background and view of candidates.  It is more difficult to impress 6-8 people than the screening interviewer.  It is unusual for one candidate to WOW all attorneys on the call back schedule. The goal is not to offend or annoy any of them.  If you get a list of names in advance, read their bios, and even Google them.  Especially when you have a more reserved interviewer, it is helpful to have some questions that draw on their area of practice, recent experiences etc.  If a lawyer's bio says nothing about pro bono or community activities, don't send those questions his or her way.  

-- look around. You are a buyer as well as a seller.  See what is going on in the office.  Quiet?  Pleasant seeming?  Doors closed? Open?  Staff friendly?  This is your opportunity to observe as well as to be observed.  HP once walked into a very white shoe NYC law firm for an interview and it was colder than Siberia.  HP knew this was not the place for HP long term.  

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I'm Back -- Reports from the Trenches

Hello Readers:

As you can see from the delays in posts, Hiring Partner has been busy with...well, hiring.  The on campus interview season is in full swing and some call backs have started in certain firms.  I'm happy to report that the candidates I have seen have come to the interviews prepared, enthusiastic, and generally acting normal.  You might be wondering what sets people apart when we see many people in an on campus interview day, or call back interviewees over the next several weeks. 

Of course, grades, and journals, moot court, etc matter.  That is how we screen in or out at first impression.  If you don't make the cut off, I may still give you an interview if you have a particular background that matches a practice area where we have a hiring need.  After that, when we meet, I am judging on your maturity, judgment (best I can tell in the short time we have together), interest in firm/office, conversational skills.  Each HP is different.  I look for someone who looks me in the eye, speaks clearly and intelligently about their work experience and interest in the city/firm/office, and seems like a go getter.  I also consider if this is someone that I could take with me to a client's office tomorrow.  If I have to train you how to act professionally and normally, I am passing.   Maybe some other firm is willing to take you, put you in the library for two years, and then think about bringing you out. But that is not how any of the firms I have worked at viewed recruiting.  I want someone who could be sent out to a client as a first year associate and not embarrass us.  Yes, I did meet clients as a first year associate (at a very large firm, no less).  


-- read up on the firm and in particular the office in which you are interested.  Most of us on the other side of the table notice when you bring up a case, transaction, etc that someone in our office handled, or a review from one of the major sources (e.g., Chambers, Vault).  It shows you did some homework.  I know I mentioned this before, but it is really important.

-- treat lunch in a call back just like the rest of the day.  It is still an interview. In fact, I pay particular attention to the comments of the lunch partners you had because they spent more time with you and in a different setting.

-- don't be too cocky. Even if you are top 10 at your school and you think you can reach higher than the firm you are talking to, don't appear aloof or cocky.  It is always better to have more options, especially in this type of economy.  

-- if your resume says you worked at X, be prepared that we may check references if we are serious about you. Remember, we know people at many places, you would be surprised, and we can easily pick up the phone and made an inquiry. 

A few quick don'ts from my and my friends' recent experiences:

-- no loose slang.  "That sucked," "The professor screwed me on that grade."  You get dinged for that in many books.  We are not so shocked by the language but it goes to judgment and maturity.  We have clients from all walks of life.  Many of them would not want to hear that in the workplace.

-- keep giggling to a minimum.  My former colleague saw a well qualified candidate, but she kept giggling (nervous?) and did not seem focused on areas of practices, thoughts about particular offices, etc.  Someone with grades significantly lower than the giggler got the call back. 

-- don't treat the recruiting coordinators like crap.  Be respectful when you call and email.  They actually will report back to us when someone seems great, or like a jerk.  We factor this in.  

I know you folks have asked several questions and I will be answering them shortly.  Thanks for your patience.  

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Answering Some Questions

I've received several questions over the past couple of weeks.  In the next few posts, I will try to address some of them.  If you wish to email me, you can reach me at hiringpartneroffice@gmail.com.  I can't promise that I can respond to every question, but I will try to address the most pertinent ones here. 

One party asked about "hot" practice areas in the next 5-10 years.  Well, if I knew the answer to 10 years out, I wouldn't be HP billing time, I'd find some better use of my omniscient skills.  At least in the short term, though, here;s my thoughts.

First, "hot" areas may vary by geography.  Do some Internet sleuthing and check top recruiter websites for jobs in your geographic area.  There are national legal recruiters as well as more localized ones.  See where they have multiple listings.  Right now, of course, corporate is slow, particularly capital markets work. Litigation hiring remains steady. In down economic times, there tends to be more litigation.  Certain regulated industries seem to have multiple job openings (e.g., energy). But if you have no interest in energy law (I have no such interest and it would bore me beyond comprehension), keep looking.  Bankruptcy and tax appear to be stable. 
Intellectual property similarly remains solid, if you have the right experience.  In a new administration, we will see certain areas with increased need, but as to which ones, that remains to be seen.

The bottom line is that you need to practice in an area where you have a strong interest.  Life is too short to suffer through hideous projects you hate.  We all work on tedious assignments from time to time, but don't feign interest in bankruptcy if it would pain you more than sitting through "Mamma Mia."  

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

On Campus interviewing: Don't Screw It Up

Hello again.  Hiring Partner is preparing for some upcoming on campus interviews, so perhaps I will see you at a campus in the near future.  This will be a tough year, as we have discussed.  The days when mediocre students could easily snag great jobs are over.  Now, you may have an o.k. interview, yet not receive a call back.  There could be any number of reasons for this.  Try not to take it personally.  If your law school offers mock interviewing with third parties (e.g., outside volunteer lawyers), I recommend you take advantage of that service before OCI to get some constructive feedback.

Over the years, Hiring Partner has seen some amusing and horrendous OCI candidates.  These folks stand out from the crowd as awkward, odd, cocky you know whats, or just plain weirdos.  Try not to fall in these categories.  Here's some DO NOTs for interview season (in addition to those suggestions already provided, though some bear repeating): 

What not to do during OCI:

10. Don't show up late

9. Don't tell the interviewer the reason you chose the firm is because the interviewer works there (happened to my sister).  We know when you are sucking up.

8. Don't talk about all the other interviews or offers you have, unless specifically asked.

7. Don't put down the classmates of yours who you know are on our interview list.  Similarly, do not put down other law firms or organizations.  This is a repeat, I know, but worth reiterating.  You never know who knows who.  Be gracious.  

6. Don't give us a whole sad sob story for why your grades could be higher.  Try to stand proud. If these interviews were by pre-selections, we chose you for a reason.

5. Don't get all jumbled when we ask you about something you worked on.  Be prepared to speak about your prior work intelligently.  

4. Don't fidget or look down.  Look at the interviewer (without a stalking glare).

3. Do not get a "deer in headlights" look when we ask if you have any questions.  Be prepared with a couple questions. Not a dumb question like "do you have a full service law library."  Duh.  Yes, I was asked this once.  How about something specific to the office you are interested in "what are the plans for growth in the NYC office?"  "What practice areas are you looking to grow in the next couple of years?"  "Can you give me some examples of the types of assignments that summer associates have worked on during the program?"

2. Do not decide that today is the day for super trendy dress or hair choices.  Stick with the basics.  Dark suits for men and women work fine.

1. Do not make inappropriate comments ...I realize this is another Duh one, but my former colleague once had a law student remark about her hometown "I didn't realize ___ live there"  (insert ethnic group).  

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Tide is Turning: the New Legal Market

Hiring Partner has been busy and thanks you for your patience.  I've also been pondering the next post and wanting to address recent attorney layoffs (including last week's announcement of almost 100 attorneys laid off at Cadwalader).  Several of you have also asked for insights and advice relating to upcoming on campus recruiting.  The tide is turning, my friends.  We are heading back into an era where firms have the power, with push back on the days where associates could simply keep demanding larger starting salaries ("NY to 190" screamed the Above the Law masses) and huge bonuses. 

As you can see from the layoffs at Cadwalder (quite public) and the other layoffs that we know are ongoing (albeit more quietly), we are returning to a legal market where attorneys (especially associates and summer associates) need to keep their heads down, and work, work, work.  I realize this may sound depressing to many of you. But, ponder this:  how many jobs are out there where a fresh out of law school, perhaps 25 year old can make $160,000, and possibly a bonus?  Hello, people, be happy to have such a job if you do have one and if the prospect is there (summer associate interviewing, for instance) think about the opportunity presented.  I am sure that most of the Cadwalader attorneys were fine attorneys.  They happened to be working in a down practice group in a down economy.  This could happen to any one of us, no matter who we are.  I've seen  partners fat and happy one year and then a client merges or is sold, and the partner does not have much to do.  I've seen a star associate billing up the wazoo and then the market tanks and the associate is looking for a job.  "Remember, none of us are indispensable.  And, if you think you are, you are fooling yourself." Of course, having a nice book of business will help, or a critical niche specialty, but these niches are few and far between.  We are all pretty much potential castoffs.  Disheartening, I realize, but true.  

So, how does all this depressing news relate to on campus interviewing or interviewing in general (e.g. lateral moves)?  Hiring Partner will get into specific tips later, but for now the thing to remember is that due to the economy, firms have more leverage. You will need to show you are a star and that you can work like a dog and/or bring something special to the table. Some quick "what not to do" as you interview this season (again, remember, these are HPs opinions, take them or leave them):

-- do not focus on work/life balance issues in an interview...you can get into those after you have an offer.

-- do not indicate you are "shopping" different cities.  Most firms want someone who has a connection of some sort to the city.  If you are interviewing in like 4 different cities, you seem rather undecided.

- do not act cocky -- yes, this applies even if you are the Editor in Chief of the law review and go to Harvard.  No one likes a cocky SOB.  I realize again this is common sense, but we do see these people every year.  Firms like candidates that we think other firms want.  It helps to be in demand, but there is a line between being a sought after candidate and being a cocky jerk.  You need to be more of a "seller" than a "buyer" in this market.  

-- have some good, thoughtful questions. I've given some suggestions regarding questions.  Someone will ask why you are interested in firm X.  Do not say "I just applied to all firms that were from Atlanta and doing OCI."  Even if it is true, this is a crummy answer.  (HP has heard this answer and it got the person dinged immediately).   Come up with some valid reasons -- again, do Internet research -- e.g, "I saw that you are building a strong IP practice and I have a background in engineering," etc. or "the training program that your firm does for 1-3rd year litigation associates really impressed me. "   Be prepared with a couple good reasons.  

-- do not act shy or anxious.  Not all of us are extroverts, and some firms will just hire the top person from X law school because that person looks smart and they are not concerned about client contact. But, at most firms, the people interviewing you do not want to sit there for 20 or 30 minutes and have to carry the whole conversation.  Even if you are on the shy side, you need to come on out and engage.  Do you want a six figure job?  Then open your mouth and be charming, engaged, and interested.  Pretend you are reading the news if you have a hard time interacting.  

-- no sweaty palms, shaking legs -- get there a little early and go for a bathroom break before the interviews start.  Check your suit, dry your hands, and be confident.

-- do not bad mouth other firms or attorneys.  Even if you worked as a paralegal at a sweatshop extraordinaire, DO NOT crap on them in the interview.  It is a small legal world.  For all you know, one of your interviewer's spouses could work at that firm.  Badmouthing never helps.  

-- do not UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES UNLESS YOU ARE HIT BY A BUS (in which case, take your dying sweaty hands and call firm to tell them)...be late!  Trains may run behind, you may get stuck in traffic.  PLAN AHEAD...LEAVE EXTRA EARLY.  Worst case scenario is you are early and have to chill out at a local Starbucks.  It's like going to the airport, but more important -- get your butt to the interview on time, and preferably early.