A lot of people ask me how I ended up in this in-house gig. Oh fine, nobody has asked, but darnit, I’m gonna tell you anyway. And I’ll even include a couple of tips that I think helped me. I’ll assume you’re already familiar with a lot of basic interview tips, such as doing your research, preparing a great résumé, and not picking your nose in front of the receptionist, so I’ll avoid mentioning those.
I like to call the interview process I had for my current job the Shortest Interview Process Ever (SIPE, for short). If you’ve worked at a company before, you’ve probably noticed that companies absolutely love, love, love acronyms and use them all the time. Just FYI, your ability to learn acronym-speak is directly proportional to your success as an in-house lawyer, so feel free to start making up your own and using them on your BFFs!
At one point, after a few years in Biglaw, I called a recruiter I had used before and asked if there were any jobs out there. The recruiter was not happy to hear from me. But this was reasonable because, a few years earlier, he had helped to get me a job offer — that I didn’t take. At that time, I had four job offers (obviously, this wasn’t during the economic hellhole that we’re in right now) and decided to go with one other than his. So understandably, he wasn’t a happy camper to hear from me this time around….
This brings us to Tip #1: Use ALL of your resources and contacts, even ones that you may be reluctant to use. Did I think the recruiter would welcome my call? No. When his tone conveyed something less than the usual recruiter cheer, did I say, “Well, it’s obvious that you’d rather not talk to me, so bye”? No. I knew that this particular company had exclusive in-house placements, so I graciously ignored his crabbiness and focused on the end goal: a job. More likely than not, your friends and close colleagues won’t be the ones to help you land you your next job. The odds are that it will most likely be an acquaintance — someone you’ll feel less comfortable approaching.
After politely hearing me out, the recruiter said (rather unenthusiastically), “Well… there is an opening at this one company… I don’t know if you’d be a good fit but… I guess we can try sending your résumé in…” The next day, he called me and said, “Guess what? They want you to come in.” This also was said without the typical gung-ho-ness you’d expect from an average recruiter who has landed an interview for you. The interview was scheduled for Friday of that week to meet with the company’s recruiter and three attorneys.
Tip #2: Don’t worry if you’re not a perfect fit. I had a good amount of experience on large projects and diverse matters that I had worked on in Biglaw, but I certainly didn’t have all of the qualities that would have fit the “ideal candidate” for my position. For example, most companies prefer lawyers with prior in-house experience. And the closest matter I had worked on that related to hospitality was a hotel convention space rental contract that I had reviewed as a junior associate. The job description even called for someone a little more senior than I was. But chances are, the “ideal candidate” may not apply for that position, or even if they do, for whatever reason, they may not take or accept the job. As for industry experience, many in-house lawyers don’t have such experience going in and many change to completely different industries all the time. So if there’s a job out there that you’re interested in, as long as you can make a sensible case for yourself, my recommendation is to go for it.
So I did my research. I read the company’s 10-K, looked for recent news articles and press releases, and scrounged together anything I could find on the three attorneys — their pets’ names, locations of their vacations homes — you know, typical stuff, and went in prepared to talk about everything on my résumé.
On the following Monday (SIPE, I tell you!), I got a call from the recruiter saying that the company wanted me to return the next week to meet the general counsel of the business unit. He sounded surprised and a tad more enthusiastic than he had before. He must have had visions of dollar signs beginning to dance in his head.
That Friday, I met with the business unit general counsel. This time, I felt a little uneasy because she started the interview by pulling a bent metal spoon out of her bag. She gazed at it in wonder like it was the only thing in the room and proceeded to tell me about how she had gone to some event where this guy, à la Uri Geller, had bent the spoon right in front of her eyes, could I believe it? She proceeded to chit chat with me about nothing for what seemed like a really long time. It was probably only 5 or 10 minutes, but it felt really long. I assumed she was trying to help me relax in the interview. But I later learned that she’s just a really, really chatty person. We did eventually get to the actual interview part of the interview, but by that time, my mojo was kind of thrown off a bit, you know?
Which brings me to Tip #3. Be flexible. Per Forrest Gump, life is like a box of chocolates — you never know when your interviewers will whip out eating utensils for discussion.
While I thought that the interviews during the prior week with the other three lawyers had gone well, I really had no sense of how this interview had gone. The general counsel hadn’t smiled as much. I knew I should have shown more curiosity for the twisted spoon! That same afternoon, I got a call from the recruiter saying that the company was going to call me soon with some good news. He finally sounded like a regular, satisfied — meow, my that canary was delicious — recruiter.
So this is why my experience was a SIPE. From the moment the recruiter sent in my résumé, until the time I got my job offer, only two weeks had passed. I wish I could share a Tip #4: Keep the interview process super short. But you probably know already that this rarely happens, especially for in-house jobs. Generally, my friends who’ve gone in-house have usually spent about three to six grueling months after submitting their résumé for a particular position to finally receive an offer for that position. They also typically have had several rounds of interviews, including with business people. To this day, I’m not sure how I was able to slip by with just two rounds. I suspect that there were forces beyond my control, and beyond my interviewers’ control, at play. Uri Geller-type forces perhaps.
Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company. Also, the experiences Susan shares may include others’ experiences (many in-house friends insist on offering ideas for the blog). You can reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.