So, you have been presented to a prospective employer, and have been invited to interview.  Now what?  A simple question, right?  The answer is both yes and no.  Having worked as a legal recruiter for 15+ years, I never assume anything when it comes to preparing a candidate for an interview.  It is folly to assume that even the most experienced professional will interview well, without proper “woodshedding” beforehand.  Perhaps self-servingly, I would submit that interview preparation is one of the many benefits of working with an experienced legal recruiting professional, as the old maxim applies here, “the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client”.  In the course of this two-part article, I will share with you some anecdotes over the years which underscore this fact and give you tips on how to ace your screening interview.

Legal ResumeLet’s start with the phone screen, our focus for Part One of this article.  Increasingly, in this fluid legal market, where clients are searching out of city or state for highly credentialed candidates, we see the use of phone screens in advance of an in-person interview.  At this point, you are probably thinking, “what could be so difficult about a 30 minute phone screen?”  In theory, that is true.  However, like an in-person interview, the success of this phone call will depend as much on how you connect with the interviewer on a personal level, as with your substantive abilities.  There is a presumption that you are substantively sound, as you have been selected for the interview based on the skills, experience and academics contained in your resume.  Of course, the lead work, timing and manner in which your candidacy is presented, something Kinney Recruiting excels at, is a tremendous advantage as well.  But that’s an article of its own, for another day.

When I prepare a candidate for a phone screen, I begin with the proviso that nothing I will say will be earth-shattering advice, and to not take anything I say personally.  I relate that after my years of experience, I never take anything for granted, regardless of the seniority of my candidate.  This process is simply about being another set of eyes and ears for the lawyer, and in most cases, reminding them of things they intuitively already know and adding focus to their professional narrative.  For instance, making sure a candidate is as prepared for the phone screen via research and background information as the candidate would be for an in-person interview.  With the wealth of information available online about potential employers, an interviewer expects a candidate to have a working knowledge about his/her institution, practice type, key clients and other details that will be relevant to potential employment.  Since this is a phone interview, candidates should have prepared notes and their deal sheet or case list readily available, as well as insightful questions prepared, in case the call takes a turn where the candidate is tasked with leading part of the discussion.  In short, be fully prepared, and be fully prepared for anything.

It is crucial that a candidate takes the call in a quiet place with clear reception.  This may seem obvious, but is essential since so many candidates take screening calls on their cell phones.  We represented a candidate who did not get invited for an in-person because he took the screening call on his cell phone in a parking lot that had poor reception.  There was a delay and the lack of call clarity reflected badly on the candidate, fairly or unfairly.

However, since, as referenced above, this phone call is as much about conveying your potential personality fit with the firm or in-house group, as it is about your experience, how exactly do you achieve that result?  Remember, you do not have the benefit (or potential liability) of eye contact, body language or facial expression.  All you have is your tone of voice and responsiveness.  Let’s start with tone.  I had an experienced and very successful sales professional relate to me that he had been taught to always smile when he is on the phone.  I know it probably sounds a bit trite, but try it sometime.  When you smile while you speak, your tone of voice actually reflects your positive state of mind.   You do not sound “sing-songy”, but instead convey all the necessary professionalism and focus, while displaying a tone of likeability.  It may sound silly, but trust me, it works.

Now, on to responsiveness, or more importantly, lack thereof.  What I mean by that is it is crucial to be timely in your responses.  The most important skill you can bring to the phone screen, or the in-person, is restraint.  Being a good listener is imperative.   Cardinal sin number one is speaking over and interrupting the interviewer.  My wife reminds me of this repeatedly.  I recently had a candidate, an experienced lawyer, who was substantively outstanding.  My client wanted to have a phone screen with him, as he was out of state.  I knew from my numerous conversations with this gentleman, that he was a “talker”.  Very enthusiastic, and quick to impart information, but he had a tendency to talk over you.  Even for a guy like myself who talks on the phone for a living, I found this moderately annoying.  If I found his habit “off-putting”, what would a prospective employer think?  Therefore, in advance of his call, I tactfully reminded him the importance of being a good listener.  That no matter how excited he got as to the subject, and his knowledge, to wait until the interviewer finished, and then to thoughtfully, and pointedly, respond.  After I had advised him of this crucial point, he thanked me, and said that he needed to be reminded of this seemingly obvious point of preparation.  He took this advice into the phone screen, was invited to an in-person, where he imparted the same restraint, and was ultimately hired.

After the call do not forget to send a short thank-you email to every person on the call.  Obviously, thank them for their time, and state that you hope to have the opportunity to meet them in person, impliedly via an in-person interview.  A succinct and well-written email is all that is required.  And I will be Captain Obvious here, and remind you to spell check and ensure grammatical correctness of your email.  I will share another anecdote about that in my next article.

The point of this article is that it is natural to be excited about an interview.  We get so caught up in trying to convey our knowledge and substantive fit, that it is easy to forget that the personal connection is every bit as important.  If you go into the phone screen prepared, try and smile when you talk, and listen and respond well, you will soon be scheduling a call-back.

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