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The Asia Chronicles: Interview Tips

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[Disclosure: This post is authored by Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney of Kinney Recruiting — sponsor of the Asia Chronicles, and an ATL advertiser. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates and partners in Asia than any other firm in the past two years. You can reach them by email at asia at kinneyrecruiting dot com.]
In an earlier article the Asia Corporate Lawyers (the prior authors of this column) discussed what life is like when you are an associate in Asia from their own perspectives. This week we are going to discuss what partners at U.S. or U.K. firms’ Asia offices seek when they are considering U.S. associate candidates. These topics are related in that the partners who interview candidates typically are looking to identify the people who will be most happy not only with the work that is presented by the Asia practice, but also with the style of practice and with their lives outside the office.
Interviewing for an overseas position at any busy U.S. law firm or with the U.S. practice group of a UK firm is a bit different from interviewing for a spot in a domestic market for the same firm. As with any interview process, the gating factors at top U.S. practices in Asia are academics and law firm experience. Without impressive grades and top firm experience, you generally won’t be considered. But overseas partners are also looking for the right personality fit much more so than in a large domestic office. A major reason for this is because the offices are much smaller overseas, making it harder to hide a misfit (even a junior associate can be the face of the firm), but there are other reasons as well.
At a basic level, the factors that are especially important to demonstrate in an interview overseas are these:

  • you have an entrepreneurial nature;
  • you have a high level of maturity for your experience level;
  • you have an outgoing personality (not overly “academic” in nature);
  • you are able to fit in with different cultures;
  • your personal presentation is generally positive; and
  • you are a team player (no prima donnas need apply)

These are obviously all factors that are relevant in any interview at least as “plus factors”, but what follows is a discussion of why these particular factors are especially important in this environment. In our next article, we will discuss ways in which you can demonstrate (or fail to demonstrate) that you qualify based on your resume and interview performance. Some of our experience in this regard has been amusing as well as frustrating.
Read more, after the jump.

Entrepreneurship is everywhere in Asia. The newspaper bleeds it every day. So showing that you understand how an entrepreneur thinks will matter to your clients. But also there is a much less structured environment for associates in busy overseas U.S. practices (similar to working in a exciting start-up company, albeit one extremely well financed). At most firms you will have formal training available only via video conference and the occasional trip to headquarters. For the most part your training is one-on-one mentoring from a partner, quite commonly with no more senior associates in between. In Asia it is rare, for example, for junior U.S. associates to simply do due diligence work.
Maturity is especially important in Asia because associates are given as much responsibility as they can handle. Simply put, a mature person can balance his or her workload between competing demands more than an immature one. There is a lot more client contact, including travel to meet with major clients. Each associate, no matter how junior, is usually a vital part of their office’s overall practice and client development and retention. Each associate is also expected to be a self-starter and figure out things on the fly much more than is the case in a domestic office of the same firm.
The smaller offices of course make personality fit and personal presentation more important, for obvious reasons. Jerks are hard to hide. But as an associate at a top U.S. practice in Asia, you are more of a vital cog in the entire offices’ practice and your personality is going to directly affect the firm’s practice. Senior partners overseas, especially those that moved to Asia from U.S. offices, have in many cases put a tremendous amount of effort into building their book of business and reputation in a foreign country. Thus, they can take a lot of pride in their accomplishments, as they should. Understandably they want to avoid placing their reputation and practice in the hands of an associate with whom they do not have a strong personality fit or who cannot be counted on to be at his or her best every day.
Keep in mind that U.S. firms have more risk with hires they make overseas, due to the high level of responsibility each associate has, and also because associates are simply less fungible in small busy overseas offices. In Asia over the past two years, many U.S. practices have found themselves to be severely understaffed when just one or two associates leave, combined with increased deal flow. In a busy and competitive lateral hiring market in Asia, it can easily take a U.S. practice up to six months to replace an associate that has not worked out. Further, there is the added cost a firm takes on when hiring a U.S. associate lateral, especially if from the U.S. markets, such as annual housing / expat packages (which can run from $40,000 to $130,000 depending on the Asia market and firm), international relocation costs, which includes up to two months in a luxury serviced apartment. Some firms even handle private school tuition for associates’ children.
As noted above, next week we will share some ways in which associate candidates can help themselves to pass muster under these criteria.
Earlier: Prior installments of the Asia Chronicles (scroll down)
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The Asia Chronicles are sponsored by Kinney Recruiting. You can reach them by email at asia at kinneyrecruiting dot com.

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