At large law firms, unless you’re interviewing for a small practice group, nobody’s losing sleep over whether you’ll fit in. They’ll take you so long as you’re smart, willing to work crazy hours, and not obviously a jerk. (Although if you’re a rainmaker jerk, they can’t seem to roll out the red carpet to the corner office quickly enough.)
You’ll tend hear the concern about the “right fit” voiced more often for in-house than Biglaw job openings. When you interview for an in-house position, your technical and substantive abilities certainly need to pass the bar (every possible pun intended). But after that, there’s a broad and maddeningly vague analysis regarding how good a “fit” you are….
Besides technical skills, what else do in-house interviewers fret about during their unbillable time in deciding whether to hire someone? Well first, there are soft skills. I’ve mentioned before that this would come up again and again. And I know that some of you disregarded my sage advice last time, so here’s your chance to pay attention and then not do what I say yet again. (Have I told you that you remind me of my kids sometimes?)
The phrase, “not the right fit,” sounds pretty neutral, doesn’t it? I mean, not everyone’s going to “fit” just like clothes don’t always fit, right? It’s nothing personal. Well the dirty little secret is that it’s not always neutral. Sometimes “not the right fit” is a euphemism for: “Gee whiz, when are law schools and law firms going to start training people on soft skills?!” There are some particular soft skills, such as great communication and effective conflict resolution, that help candidates to be a good “fit” in any working environment. The better you can convey to the interviewer that you’ll bring those skills to the workplace, the more likely it is that you’ll be perceived as a good fit.
On the other hand, if you come across as, say, kind of gossipy during the interview, that’s generally bad for you (even if the interviewer looks like she’s thoroughly enjoying it, which I probably am). If, for instance, you criticize your current boss or other coworkers, this tells the interviewer a couple of things from a “fit” perspective: (1) you may be someone who’s generally critical of others and therefore difficult to work with; and (2) you may be a gossipy person in general. Now, don’t get me wrong — gossips are a blast at cocktail parties, as degenerates on the Jersey Shore, and as editors for a certain indiscriminate legal news blog. But in a work environment, gossips are a black fog of terror that leeches into our offices and cubes, destining legal teams to decreased efficiency and morale blows unless an antidote is found.
There are other “fit” concerns that really are more neutral. For example, when considering communication styles, it may sometimes be more advantageous to bring in someone who has a similar communication style to those they will directly be working with — it may help them to relate to each other better. In other situations, it may be more beneficial to hire an individual with a different communication style — for example, if most of the group is more laid back and compliant in personality, perhaps they could benefit from a more bossy assertive voice.
There are other “neutral” fit considerations as well. One is job satisfaction potential. In an ideal world, we want employees to be happy on the job because it makes us happy. Happy employees are more productive and usually less of a pain in the butt to have around. So, for example, if a very senior attorney applies for a very junior role, we may wonder whether that candidate would grow restless in such a role over the long term (if not within their first five minutes on the job). They may grow mind-numbingly bored with the less sophisticated tasks and responsibilities involved.
How about the candidate’s future plans and desire for advancement? Sometimes candidates are incredibly ambitious and want a clear, straight path to become the Master of the Universe — does the position they’re applying for provide such a path as well as relevant training, such as how to mind-control the minions who will serve them? Other candidates enjoy their basic responsibilities, and really aren’t all that interested in being in a position where there’s a lot more pressure to produce. They just want the steady paycheck that is given to all minions who adequately perform their duties. Would that be acceptable for this position?
Deciding whether someone is the right fit depends, of course, on what the rest of the team looks like, kind of like how you can only figure out where the puzzle piece goes only after observing the empty spaces in the puzzle. The difference between job interviews and jigsaw puzzles is that it’s rare that anyone’s a perfect fit for a job opening. And those who get the job usually have to be jammed into the position a little bit. Oh wait, actually, I HAVE done that for puzzle pieces too… when it took forever to find the right piece! So never mind — finding someone who’s a good fit for the job is EXACTLY like working on a jigsaw puzzle if it’s taking longer than half a nanosecond to find the piece that fits right in place. Just jam it in there, and get over it by watching some Jersey Shore.
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 SusanMoonATL@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.