Published: Sep 15, 2021
Whether you have an interview for an in-house position lined up or you're simply thinking ahead and want to learn more about the process, we've got the scoop on what to expect—plus tips for before, during, and after the interview. While the process certainly has similarities to more-traditional law firm interviews, there are unique aspects of interviewing for an in-house position that you should be aware of too.
In-house attorney interviews can vary greatly by company, industry, and interviewer. Unlike law firm interviews, a candidate will often be meeting with non-lawyers, including senior management. If a candidate is interviewing with a company with a large legal team, the structure may mirror that of an in-house process: generally two rounds of thirty minute interviews with 6-8 attorneys. While thirty-minute interviews are common, smaller companies or those with a small legal team may include longer interviews with fewer people. In-house interviewers are sometimes required to take an assessment test or complete a sample assignment as part of the interview process (generally after at least one round of interviews).
Before the Interview
Unlike a law firm interview, a suit might not be the appropriate attire for all in-house interviews. If a candidate is interviewing with a startup or technology company where the interviewers are very casual (shorts and tee shirts), business attire can make it seem that the candidate does not understand the business. Ask the HR contact or recruiter about appropriate attire. If your interview is in person, arrive 5-15 minutes early, but not so early that you put pressure on the company to start earlier or to find a place for you to wait (especially at a smaller company). You want to leave yourself enough time to get through building security and to make a last minute stop in the restroom. Check your hair, makeup, and clothes (don't forget to make sure you're all zipped and buttoned up). Take a few breaths in the mirror to settle your mind. If your interview is taking place virtually, be sure to log on at least five minutes ahead of time to ensure your technology is functioning properly.
During the Interview
While in-house interviews can vary greatly, a single interview will generally last about thirty minutes and will either be one-on-one or two-on-one. If you're in person, make sure to offer a firm handshake and make eye contact during introductions. If you're on video, try to make eye contact with the camera instead of looking down at your screen.
Casual Conversation: The interview will usually start with general, casual conversation, often about the weather or current events. During this portion of the interview, your goal should be to establish rapport and demonstrate that you are a normal person the interviewer would enjoy working with. Try not to fidget, and focus on remaining relaxed. Try and get yourself in a calm place—stillness can project confidence.
Substance: The conversation will pretty quickly shift to the meat of the interview, with questions about your experience. Fellow lawyers and senior management may dig into your experience more than interviewers who do not have a legal background. Everything on your resume and deal/case sheet are fair game, so make sure you have reviewed them before the interview. It’s hard to remember everything about all of your cases or deals, so try to focus on two to three that you can speak about intelligently in greater detail and that are interesting to discuss. They do not need to be the most high-profile or complex matters you have worked on.
The interviewer will typically ask some sort of general question about your practice (“Tell me about your practice” or “What have you been working on?”). Your answer should start general and get more specific. You can steer the conversation by saying “for example…” and then bringing up a case or deal that you want to discuss. Bringing up examples invites follow up questions on those matters. If you do not bring up examples on your own, you are more likely to get probing questions about matters that you may be less enthusiastic about discussing.
The interviewer will also typically ask why you are interviewing (“Why are you looking to leave your firm?” or “Why do you want to go in-house?”). Before you answer this, you always want to stress that you are doing well at your current firm, that you are valued and happy, and you are only interested in this role because you find it compelling. General reasons for going in-house can include going vertical with one client, getting to know the client business in a way that you can’t at a firm with lot of clients, and being able to have an impact on a full spectrum of deal. You should start with general reasons like these and then get more specific about why this role in particular is interesting to you. You can certainly take things that you glean in the first couple of interviews to hone that answer in the later interviews.
In-house interviewers—especially in the tech industry—may ask behavioral interview questions. Those questions generally take the form of: “Tell me about a time when…” and ask for specific examples of problem solving, leadership, success, or failure. Review lists of typical behavioral interview questions and how to answer them before an in-house interview—they can be tricky to answer on the fly.
Questions: The interviewer will generally close the interview by asking if you have any questions for them. You’ll want to ask questions that reflect well on you and also give you information that you’ll need to make a decision about the role. Feel free to ask the same questions to multiple interviewers; the answers may vary, and they are unlikely to compare notes. You’ll want to avoid questions about salary, hours, or benefits; those can be asked once you have an offer, but generally reflect poorly on the interviewee. This is especially true in an in-house interview where the interviewer may be leery of someone looking for an easy lifestyle and where they may be concerned that an interviewer is not willing to take a pay cut from a law firm salary.
Great questions include: How is work assigned and staffed? What are you working on right now? What would I take off your plate on day one? How is the company growing? What is different about it from when you started? How do you use outside counsel?
After the Interview
You’ll want to send a quick thank-you email to everyone who interviewed you. If you did not catch their email addresses or forgot a name, ask your HR contact to get this information for you. Make sure your thank-you notes short and sweet, as this gives you less room to make an error or typo. If you are working with a recruiter, thank-you notes are generally not required, as the recruiter will relay your thanks.
A knowledgeable legal recruiter can be a great asset during your job search, but you must keep in mind the recruiter’s motivations and access to employers—and whether you are in a situation to benefit from their assistance. Most legal recruiters are paid only for successful placements—at the end of the day the recruiter wants you to move in order to get paid.
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