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Employer Due Diligence, Part 1-Introduction

This is the first blog in a new LegalCareerView.com series on employer due diligence, the importance of which for legal job seekers cannot be over-emphasized. We live in an era when law practice is undergoing massive disruption thanks to technology, globalization and political turmoil. Staid and formerly stable organizations are subject to sudden uncertainty resulting in reorganization and, in the worst case, abrupt demise. Law firms, companies and even government agencies and nonprofits are not exempt from upheaval.

The American Bar Association says that 21st century law graduates will change jobs seven times during their careers. If that does not put a premium on doing employer due diligence, I don’t know what does. With organizations suddenly merging, reorganizing and even imploding, it behooves job seekers to find out as much as they can about prospective employer stability and viability before signing on to what might be a very temporary stopping-off point, if not a soon-to-sink ship.

What Constitutes Due Diligence?

“Due diligence” is an expression that arises most often in the context of a transaction between a seller and a buyer of a business. It consists of an investigation or audit of a potential investment or acquisition by the buyer. Due diligence is designed to confirm all of the material facts of the transaction. The buyer wants to make sure that its investment is sound and supportable, that it is not about to buy a pig in a poke.

In the employer-employee context, both parties are buyers. Savvy employers perform considerable due diligence before they make an employment offer. You need to do the same investigation before you accept a job offer.

Why Do It?

When you contemplate taking a job with an employer, you want to achieve a comfort level about this important decision you are about to make, if possible. Performing a due diligence investigation of your prospective employer is an essential component of the job-hunting process. Employer due diligence is something that every job seeker must perform—but rarely does—before accepting a position. This is one time when you should be one of the few that goes against the grain.

Lack of a due diligence investigation all too often leads to a bad workplace situation that might have been avoided, not to mention a possible adverse effect on your entire career.

Don’t let you career hang on a hope and a smile (or a wing and a prayer, if you prefer that metaphor).

While you will likely never be able to get answers to every one of your questions, you will nevertheless be able to make a much better decision about your career direction if you are armed with as much due diligence information as you can muster.

Next: Employer Due Diligence, Part 2-What Do You Need to Know?

Interviewing Primer 101.10: Understanding the Interview Process—What Employers Want: The Rest of the Hierarchy-2

The remainder of the Hierarchy of Legal Employer Needs, while mentioned less and with less emphasis by employers, is still important. This rest of the Hierarchy does not lend itself to the same precision or clarity as either the “Big Six” or the “second tier” job candidate attributes addressed in this blog series. Nevertheless, the more of these qualities you are able to demonstrate in addition to the ones most in demand, the better off will be your competitive position.

These additional candidate traits that employers are concerned about are presented below in alphabetical order. My survey of employer needs, empirical feedback from legal employers and my follow-up discussions with them did not reveal a clear hierarchical order.

  • Accountability
  • Analytical Ability
  • Attention to Detail
  • Business Bottom-Line/Budget Consciousness
  • Client Development and Retention Skills
  • Flexibility
  • Follow-Through
  • Goal-Oriented
  • Initiative
  • Law School Attended
  • Leadership/Leadership Potential
  • Leading by Example
  • Meeting Deadlines
  • Mentoring Ability
    • Attorneys
    • Staff
  • Organizational Skills
  • Problem-Anticipation Ability
  • Problem-Solving Ability
  • Productivity
  • Stability
  • Well-Roundedness
  • Work Ethic

Final Thoughts about the Hierarchy

The legal job candidate who possesses all 33 traits that comprise the Hierarchy probably does not exist. Don’t be discouraged if you do not possess all of them. Employers understand that the dream candidate is not out there.

Moreover, keep in mind what I said at the beginning of this blog series: there is considerable overlap among these candidate attributes. There is no need to agonize too much over definitions.

Even if your cold-blooded self-assessment reveals that you possess only a few of these attributes, the fact that you understand the Hierarchy and respond to it in both your application documents and especially during your job interviews will make you competitive and attractive to employers.

Finally, if you feel compelled to look for a Hawking-esque “Theory of Everything,” the bottom line is probably closer to this than anything else: apply common sense and good judgment to your job campaign and the achievement of your career goals. If you do that, you should be OK.

Interviewing Primer 101.9: Understanding the Interview Process—What Employers Want: The Rest of the Hierarchy-1

The Next Tier of the Hierarchy

There is a lot more to the Hierarchy of Legal Employer Needs than just the “Big Six” most important attributes employers seek in job candidates. While they are farther down on legal employer lists of key candidate traits, this does not mean that you can safely ignore them. While they do not qualify for the same elaboration I gave the Big Six in the prior blogs in this series, they are very important to legal employers. Consequently, they merit serious applicant consideration. The more of them you are able to demonstrate that you possess, the more competitive you will appear to prospective employers.

What follows is a brief synopsis of the next group of candidate qualities that employers value:


Accountability means taking responsibility for your actions. Unfortunately, some of society’s most visible role models—political leaders, celebrities, sports figures—are not exactly paragons of accountability these days. Moreover, society does not appear to value accountability very highly. However, within the context of the legal community, accountability still has high value.

The best way for an employer to determine if a job candidate is accountable is to speak to the latter’s references, provided that they tell the employer the truth. Accountability is almost impossible to document on a resume, and it is unrealistic to expect candidates to admit to any less than responsible behavior during a job interview. Perhaps the only way to get across the point that you are a responsible person is to develop one or more anecdotes that demonstrate this quality and that you can inject into your responses to questions at the job interview.

Career Progression

Career progression in its purest form means that each successive move depicted on your resume shows career advancement. Employers place a pretty high premium on career progression. However, the volatility of the legal job market makes this characteristic somewhat less significant with respect to hiring decisions than it used to be.

Nevertheless, you will earn points with prospective employers if you can demonstrate that the job changes that you made were motivated by the opportunity to advance your legal career; plus, it always looks good if other employers sought fit to promote you.


For most of my career running a legal career transition company, I would have viewed with concern an attorney resume that indicated that the candidate had held three jobs in only ten years. I would have labeled such an attorney a “job-hopper,” which probably would have been the kiss of death to a job campaign. Today, that kind of career history is commonplace. In a complete attitudinal reversal, I might question the ambition of an attorney who remained with the same employer for a decade!

Despite an increasingly volatile job market (the ABA’s legal employment gurus say that a 21st century law school graduate will change jobs seven times during his or her career), employers still like to see applicants who have had a stable career. The one positive for candidates whose careers have been less than stable is that this attribute now takes a back seat to many of the other attributes that employers seek. This should not, however, be viewed as a license to bounce around from job-to-job with disturbing frequency. That makes it difficult for an employer to feel good about a candidate’s staying power.

Two candidate anecdotes are relevant to this discussion:

One of our legal career counseling clients had the misfortune of having worked for four successive law firms in ten years that went out of business for various reasons. Despite his very plausible and compelling explanations of each firm failure, he was perceived as “damaged goods” by many prospective employers and was not invited to interviews where he might have had an opportunity to explain the circumstances.

Our “solution” was to recommend that he add a very brief italicized statement under each job description in his resume stating why he moved on to another position, e.g.:

Associate, Smith Jones & Brown LLC, Philadelphia, PA, 2006-2008. [Reason for Leaving: firm declared bankruptcy]

Once he did this, he landed a new position fairly quickly. This is a subtle way of letting the prospective employer know you didn’t leave any jobs due to poor performance.

Another counseling client held no fewer than seven jobs in 12 years, aggravating the situation by relocating from city-to-city five times. There was no obvious solution for her problem and she had an extremely difficult time finding a new position, despite being employed in secure jobs where she had performed well in each position. Employers don’t want to hire individuals, train them, and then lose that time and money a year later when they decide to move on.

Organizational Skills

Organizational skills are highly valued because they are central to strong performance in any organization.

There are many ways to get your “organizational skills” prowess across to a prospective employer. All of them should be utilized, given the importance of the message.

A Reader Friendly and Logically Constructed Resume. This is the first opportunity you have to impress an employer with your organizational skills. This means plenty of white space, bullets, and a less-than-overwhelming amount of type. You do not want the employer’s first impression of your resume to be that slogging through it is going to be an unpleasant experience.

An Impressive Reference List. “Impressive” does not mean celebrity references. Rather, it means a reference list that contains information about (1) your relationship to your references, (2) when and how the employer should contact them, and (3) something that you did of which you are proud and that the reference can address with your employer, thus affording you the opportunity to “control” their conversation.

A Writing Sample Cover Sheet. A cover sheet placing your writing sample in context wins you a great many points with employers. Without one, they may spend most of their reading time wondering what your writing sample is all about and paying little attention to your writing and advocacy style.

Asking Great Questions at the Interview. This is where you “lock in” the message about your organizational skills. Employers like to hear great questions and award points for the forethought (read: organization) that went into preparing them.


Does your resume show or imply that you are a drone who spent all your time in a law library carrel studying, or did you get involved in a variety of outside activities in law school? If you are an experienced attorney, does it indicate that all you do is work? If that is the case, then you are sending a regrettable message – that you are quite limited – to prospective employers.

Legal employers like to see that you have a life outside of the law, no matter how difficult that may be for you to attain. They have a good reason for wanting to see that you have more than one facet to your career personality. One of the ways you are likely to be judged is your capacity or potential to go out and develop business, keep clients satisfied, and/or interact comfortably with internal clients if you aspire to work for a company or government agency. A resume that contains some indication of a community life and a life outside of the law is one very good indicator of such potential.


Interviewing Primer 101.10: Understanding the Interview Process—What Employers Want: The Rest of the Hierarchy-2

Interviewing Primer 101.8: Understanding the Interview Process—What Employers Want: Persuasive Ability

I was surprised to see persuasive ability occupying the sixth and last position on the “Big Six” of the Hierarchy of Legal Employer Needs. My surprise was that it just barely squeezed onto the “Big Six” list.  When you strip away everything else from what attorneys are all about, persuasive ability to my mind survives as the key characteristic that separates top-flight attorneys from the legal masses, winners from losers.  Persuasive ability is perhaps the core essence of an effective and successful law practice.

Why Is This Important to Employers?

Persuasive ability pervades every aspect of law practice: attracting, retaining and dealing with clients; winning cases; and achieving a positive result in negotiations. In fact, persuasive ability should be valued even more now that we are immersed in the Internet Age, when competing opinions—and, sad to say, even competing facts—assault us from all sides.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to separate credentialed, vetted judgments and opinions from urban legends and outright fabrications…fact from fiction. It is also not easy to overcome escalating cynicism and skepticism.

How to Present This Ability

The inclusion of persuasive ability on the Big Six list, even as only the sixth most essential candidate attribute, means that you have to think about it and try to demonstrate it both when you prepare your initial job applications and for an interview.  Resumes that read like position descriptions can never meet employer expectations with respect to this attribute. Instead, you need to document your achievements/accomplishments/results/outcomes on your resume or online application form. These count for much more than a mere job description. In addition, appending a highlights addendum to your resume can go a long way toward confirming your persuasive capabilities. The addendum (I recommend a one-page narrative statement describing how you solved a particular problem, preferably a legal one) should be attached to your resume and referenced at the appropriate point in the body of your resume.

During your job interview(s), it is equally important to demonstrate this trait. You can do that by providing specific examples in response to questions from the interviewer(s) regarding almost anything. Examples should show that you were able to change minds, convince skeptics, and/or influence decisions in your clients’ favor. Keep in mind that you can prompt interview questions that allow you to wax poetic about your persuasive ability by virtue of what you said in your application materials.

Improving Your Persuasive Ability

This may be the most difficult of the Big Six candidate attributes to augment.  Opportunities to do so are limited to writing (preferably legal writing), advocacy, negotiation, regulatory commenting, or other action.

Similar to how I suggested in the immediately preceding LegalCareerView.com blog that you might go about improving your writing ability, you can also seek opportunities to write about issues where you can demonstrate your persuasive powers. These do not necessarily have to be in a professional workplace context. You can also write for outside publications, blogs, etc.

In addition, you can demonstrate your persuasive abilities by putting yourself in both professional and extracurricular situations where you have the opportunity to advocate for a particular position or initiative.


Next: Interviewing Primer 101.7: Understanding the Interview ProcessWhat Employers Want: The Rest of the Hierarchy


Interviewing Primer 101.7: Understanding the Interview Process—What Employers Want: Writing Ability

Candidate attribute number 5 on the Legal Employer’s Hierarchy of Needs is writing ability. Good writing plays a larger role in attorney recruitment, hiring and practice than it does with respect to almost any other profession with the possible exception of journalism. Attorneys write for a living. For most attorneys, writing consumes most of their professional time. In a legal work environment where expressing yourself in writing is central to an attorney’s daily duties, carelessness when it comes to writing is not tolerated. Moreover, your writing represents your employer and any document carelessness or “muddleheadedness” will be attributed to the organization for which you work. Employers won’t put up with poor writing for very long.

How Employers Assess Writing Ability

A would-be employer assesses your writing ability by examining your writing sample(s). That is by no means the whole story. Evaluation of your writing ability begins long before an employer sees your writing sample(s).

This is the easiest of the Hierarchy’s “Big Six” to demonstrate. Be aware that every document you submit to a prospective employer is, in fact, a writing sample. This includes resumes, online application forms, cover letters, transmittal emails, resume addenda, and reference lists.

Craft application documents that are logical, impressive, and correct when it comes to grammar, tense, syntax, agreement, parallel construction, etc. Always have a second set of eyes that you trust look over your documents before you submit them.

Something as small as a typo in a transmittal email can be the basis for rejecting your application. When I hired attorneys, a typo meant automatic rejection. My company lived and died by its writing. There was zero tolerance for carelessness and sloppiness.

If, in sorting through your potential writing samples, you find such errors, select another document.  The brilliance of legal arguments is frequently neutralized by grammatical mistakes in the eyes of employers. Worse, once the reader spies a grammatical error, s/he tends to obsess about it to the exclusion of your content.

The Writing Sample

If you don’t have a suitable legal writing sample, prepare one now before you are asked to submit one. If you are unemployed or not in a position to do much serious legal writing, volunteer for an organization such as a legal aid provider where you might have the opportunity to prepare legal documents.

Opportunity Knocks for the “Writing Sample-Bereft”

Alternatively, you can always craft a good writing sample by submitting a comment on a proposed government regulation. Hundreds of proposed regulations each year appear in the Federal Register where the issuing agencies request public comments. Public comments often wind up published as part of the preliminaries to the promulgation of the final rule or an intermediate document (both of which also appear in the Federal Register). Your writing bona fides will be enhanced if the regulatory documentation mentions your comment. Even if it does not become part of the record, you will have created a serviceable writing sample on a legal issue.

Choosing the Right Writing Sample

Legal employers today focus more attention on writing samples than ever before. What used to be a largely pro forma exercise, the last step before an offer of employment, is now taken much more seriously.

If you are blessed with an assortment of possible writing samples, the following criteria can help you choose the best one to submit (Note: These criteria are not presented in order of importance because what might be important to one employer might be less important to another).

It is the rare writing sample that satisfies each of the following criteria. However, legal employers do not take an all-or-nothing approach when reviewing writing samples. The bar is set a few ratchets down from perfection.

Currency. Employers are more likely to be impressed with a recent writing sample than one that is dated. An old writing sample implies that you have not done any serious legal writing for a long time. A rough rule of thumb: submit a writing sample prepared within the past two years.

Is your topic interesting? You are more likely to “imprint” your writing ability on an employer and have him or her remember it at hiring decision time if it is interesting. What makes it interesting is a timely topic and/or lively or entertaining facts. A murder case beats the daylights out of an analysis of collateral debt obligations any day.

Is it “quickly absorbing?” Does it quickly capture the reader’s interest? An ideal writing sample opens strongly and rivets the reader’s attention quickly, making him or her want to read further.

Complexity. This can be a double-edged sword. Complicated issues that require – and clearly manifest –your analytical skills can be a significant plus. At the same time, they can cause the reader to become bored, confused and lose interest. This becomes a balancing test—something you will have to determine for yourself, or in conjunction with someone whose opinions you respect. That person does not have to be an attorney. The best legal writing can be understood by non-attorneys, too.

Is it a legal document? If you seek an attorney position, a legal writing sample is more appropriate than something else. However, if you lack a legal writing sample, make sure the document you select satisfies as many of the other criteria as possible.

“Confusion Quotient.” If your argument or analysis is difficult to follow, the reader’s interest will wane while his or her irritation with you will grow. This criterion is one of the key reasons for you to have someone you trust read your writing sample and provide you with feedback prior to submission to the employer.

Relevance. Is your writing sample related to the position for which you are applying? If you are applying for a litigation position, for example, a pleading, brief, memorandum of law or argument in support of a motion, etc. are ideal submissions. If you seek a transactional job, then a properly redacted transactional document is best. If a regulatory position, then either a regulation you drafted, a position paper analyzing a proposed or final regulation, or a regulatory comment you submitted is ideal.

Relevance to the practice area or industry. If, for example, you are applying for a position as a trademark attorney for a cosmetics company, then a writing sample concerning a cosmetics industry trademark issue cannot be topped.

Is it about an issue of significance to the employer? While you may not be able to submit a writing sample that speaks to either the position, the employer’s industry or the practice area where you would work, one that discusses a timely issue applicable to the employer also  qualifies as a strong submission. For example, the impact of climate change would be very interesting to an energy industry or environmental employer, regardless of the employer’s specific industry niche.

Is it persuasive? The bottom line of all good lawyering is persuasion. If the logic of your argument/analysis is compelling, you will receive credit for your persuasive ability in addition to your writing ability.

Impact. What was the impact of your writing sample (if any)? Was this a “winning” document? Did it contribute to a positive outcome? Did it change something? Note: This is not quite the same as submitting a persuasive writing sample.  A document can be persuasive, but not a winning one for many reasons, and vice versa.

Readability. Does your writing sample read easily and flow smoothly? Your writing style should demonstrate that you have a strong command of English spelling, grammar, syntax, usage, etc., and that you are a good editor and express yourself clearly. Reading it should be enjoyable (or at worst tolerable), not an excruciating ordeal.

Does it survive careful proofreading? If there are typos or misspellings, choose another writing sample. More candidates are rejected for this reason, on the basis of their writing samples, than for any other reason.

Is it concise? The French polymath, Blaise Pascal, once wrote to a friend: “I apologize for writing a five-page letter…I did not have time to write a one-page letter.”  An economy of words is prized in a writing sample and any other document.

Ownership. How much of the writing sample is your own work? Every legal employer understands that lawyering is often a team effort. It is generally not expected that you must only submit a writing sample that is 100 percent your own work. At the other extreme, avoid submitting a document that has been heavily revised or edited by someone else. The closer you get to a document that is entirely your own work, the better. Indicate on the cover sheet accompanying your writing sample that: (1) the document is “____ percent my own work,” and (2) how and where it reflects someone else’s contribution.

Are you a capable “bluebooker?” Ideally, there should be a sufficient number and variety of legal citations to enable the employer to judge whether you understand bluebooking. Citations should be both correct and consistent.

Was your writing sample published or cited? A document published by a third party or cited in a court opinion, law review article or other publication gains considerable credibility because the third party has vetted your writing ability.

Does it have a cover sheet? Every writing sample needs one that puts the document in context. The cover sheet should explain what the document is about, when it was prepared, why and for whom it was prepared, how it was used, whether it is complete or excerpted, how much of it is your work, etc. The cover sheet should be reader-friendly and send a positive message about your organizational skills and forethought, for which you will receive extra points from the employer.

There is no hard and fast rule governing how many of these factors have to be satisfied for a writing sample to qualify as worthy of submission. That is a judgment call for you to make, once you have evaluated all of your potential writing samples.

Improving Your Writing Ability

There is only one way to do this effectively. Read, read, read and write, write, write. The more you do of both, the better you will become at expressing yourself in writing.

Next: Interviewing Primer 101.7: Understanding the Interview ProcessWhat Employers Want: Persuasive Ability

Interviewing Primer 101.6: Understanding the Interview Process—What Employers Want: A Quick Study

The fourth most important candidate attribute on the “Hierarchy of Legal Employer Needs” is being a quick study. This trait is highly valued by legal employers because time is money.

Why Is This Important?

If you can come up learning curve quickly, you will earn a great deal of credit for that at a time when corporate clients rigorously question outside counsel invoices and force price cuts and alternative billing methods on their outside law firms. At the same time, corporate in-house counsel offices are under increasing pressure to limit legal spending.

You will also gain a reputation for indispensability and being the “go-to” person in your organization whenever a case of first impression arises. This is not a bad thing to have in your corner in a volatile economy where employment security is always an issue.

One of my legal career counseling candidates developed a reputation within her law firm for being the person to see for new projects that no one had any expertise in and that needed to be accomplished in a hurry. These capabilities gave her some protection from periodic downsizings that the firm endured. She very much needed this protection because she was raising three young children and had to miss considerable work time as a consequence. Moreover, her billable hours were nowhere near what were expected of associates at her level.

When she eventually left the firm to raise her children, she was able to do so on her own terms, with a promise that she could come back at the same senior associate level.

Preliminaries—Getting the Point Across Before the Interview

You don’t have to wait for a job interview in order to imprint this trait on a prospective employer. In fact, it is important that you do so as early as you can.

You can do this via your resume, elaborate on it in a (preferably one-page) resume addendum (a narrative explanation of how you solved a particular problem), and emphasize it with specific examples in a cover letter or transmittal email.

At the Interview

Having laid the groundwork in your application documents, you can elaborate on this attribute at the interview. Reference your resume addendum demonstrating your quick study prowess, then expand on it with additional examples.

Another benefit of having this trait in your arsenal is the impression you leave with the interviewer, namely that you eagerly seek new challenges that others may recoil from.

Improving the Quick Study Trait

Put yourself into situations at work or in your volunteer activities where you are forced to deal with something new and come up a learning curve quickly. The more experience you have tackling and mastering new and unfamiliar subject matter, the better you will be at it and the more you will be able to say about it to a prospective employer in your resume and interview.

Next: Interviewing Primer 101.7: Understanding the Interview ProcessWhat Employers Want: Writing Ability

Interviewing Primer 101.5: Understanding the Interview Process—What Employers Want: Intelligence

Intelligence, to my surprise, was not number 1 in my survey of the “hierarchy of legal employer needs.” Moreover, my assumption that intelligence means getting top grades in law school and making law review—and nothing more—was blown up by the survey results. Savvy legal employers are coming to realize that intelligence means much more than just academic performance.

This blog dissects the four kinds of intelligence legal employers seek from the ideal candidate for a position in their organization.

The Traditional View of Intelligence

Past legal hiring practice focused on academic intelligence—primarily how a candidate fared in law school, as evidenced by grades and selection for the school’s law review. If you did exceptionally well in law school, that was all many legal employers needed to know about you.

While outstanding law school performance historically was almost always good enough to get you that first job, this is not always the case anymore. That narrow view of what constitutes “intelligence”is evolving. For a growing number of today’s legal employers, academic achievement is only one indicator of intelligence…and of only one kind of intelligence (the others being creative intelligence, situational intelligence and social-emotional intelligence). An increasing number of sophisticated legal employers want to see for themselves, having experienced the more-than-occasional disconnect between great grades and practitioner success, as well as the converse—the so-so law grad from a low-ranking law school who becomes a stellar performer.  I experienced this all too often as an employer of attorneys.

The Four Kinds of Intelligence

“Intelligence” not as easy or obvious a concept to define as it might seem. In fact, it is rather complicated, and getting more so as neuroscientists learn more about the brain.  Its complexities and subtleties are becoming increasingly important in hiring decisions.  There is a developing consensus among the people who study this that there are at least four different kinds of intelligence. Legal job candidates have to concern themselves with each kind because savvy employers of attorneys increasingly focus on them.

Academic Intelligence

Academic intelligence is what most people assume is meant by the term “intelligence.”  An individual who possesses academic intelligence is considered  “book-bright,” blessed with the ability to quickly absorb information, process it correctly and recite it back on demand. These individuals have superior ability to understand theoretical concepts and sort through and understand complexity. Objectively, academic intelligence is manifested by good grades and high standardized test scores. Despite the expanding view of what constitutes intelligence among legal employers, don’t discount the the importance of the academic variety. It is still a door-opener to a good job.

Creative Intelligence

Creative intelligence could also be called “relational intelligence.” It is distinguished by the ability to: connect the dots; see the long view; understand the implications of disconnected facts; activities and events; and learn from history. People with creative intelligence tend to be information sponges and “strong sorters,” meaning that they are able to separate “wheat from chaff.” They are ideophoric, meaning that they are interested in a wide variety of things and constantly search for new ideas and ways to do things.

Such Individuals demonstrate this by being result-oriented problem solvers. They like problems, anticipate them, seek them out, and are likely to be able to see looming issues before they jell. They are critical thinkers.

Situational Intelligence

Situational intelligence may be the easiest of the four to define. It equates to common sense, “street smarts,” good judgment and knowing what to do in the moment. People who have this attribute are rational, realistic, quick reactors and naturally tend to do what is in their own best interests and in the best interests of their organizations. They see things as they are and act accordingly.

Social-Emotional Intelligence

This kind of intelligence means having “people skills,” oral communications ability, listening ability and real interest in interacting with others. Manifestations are likeability, social comfort, enthusiasm for interaction with others and sales prowess (client development capability or potential).

Do not let the order of presentation make you think that social-emotional intelligence is the least important kind of intelligence. On the contrary, in predicting legal career success, it may well be the most important intelligence component of all. Part of social-emotional intelligence is affective empathy, being able to feel an emotion that another person feels. “I feel your pain,” to quote Bill Clinton, one of the most empathic individuals of all time.

Why Bother Differentiating?

If you are in the legal job market, Intelligence is worth dissecting in detail because legal employers increasingly are making its broader definition a key determinant of their hiring decisions. Even if a prospective employer has never thought of intelligence in quite so sophisticated a way, and may still be wedded to the notion that academic intelligence equates to overall intelligence, you need to be cognizant of the other kinds of intelligence so that you can make the very best case for yourself. In so doing, you will be educating the employer and expanding his or her horizons when it comes to the concept and perception of intelligence. In other words, breaking down intelligence into component parts enables you to compensate for less than stellar grades.

What to Do With This Information

Demonstrating Your Intelligence

There are a variety of ways to demonstrate your overall intelligence even absent superior law school performance. The way you structure your resume can serve as an intelligence indicator. A logical, organized, reader-friendly resume can go far toward validating intelligence. A resume addendum narrating your problem-solving ability in the context of specific examples is another way to manifest intelligence. Adding an explanatory cover sheet on top of a writing sample also works in your favor with respect to this point. A reference list that makes both contact and conversation easy also demonstrates intelligence.

Ideally, you are one of the rare individuals who possesses all four kinds of intelligence. If that is the case, your uniqueness is likely to come out in your resume and job interviews.  If not, and the vast majority of individuals are not blessed with enjoying all four intelligences, you might have to work on improving your intelligence weaknesses.

Boosting Academic Intelligence

Improving your academic intelligence is, on one level, not easy to do. What I mean is that it is a hard slog to become smarter and have your grades demonstrate that. However, if you still happen to be a student, you have an opportunity to present to employers as having high academic intelligence because employers generally take the approach of judging this trait by looking at your grades.  Work harder—and smarter—and your grades should improve.

Enhancing Creative Intelligence

Creative intelligence is the product of both nature and nurture. If nature did not particularly endow you with innate creative intelligence, you can compensate to an extent if you work at: connecting the dots; understanding the broader implications of what you see, hear and read; and soak up as much information about the world around you as you can. Immersing yourself in reading history is a great way to hone your creative intelligence. History affords you the luxury of knowing how a jumble of events actually evolved into outcomes. In other words, you already know the end of the story while you are reading about the snippets and seemingly unrelated events that led up to the end result. Applying the strategies, tactics and techniques that the “winners” employed into your own situation is guaranteed to improve your creative intelligence.

Example: Read about Hannibal’s military victory over Rome at the Battle of Lake Trasimene. His prodigious creative intelligence produced a stunning victory in what historians deem the greatest ambush in history. His thought process is instructive.

Augmenting Situational Intelligence

This is where you can do the most to improve your overall intelligence presentation. Situational intelligence is, for most of us, an acquired talent, one that improves as we are faced with more situations that require a rapid and reasonable response. If you have a dearth of such experiences,  you can create situations that force you to come up with solutions.

Improving Social-Emotional Intelligence

Social-emotional intelligence is a more daunting challenge. Whether you are an extrovert, someone at ease in social situations who actually enjoys person-to-person interaction, is something that is, to a large extent, embedded in your DNA. However, all is not lost.  Putting yourself in social situations can overcome some of this intelligence “deficiency” even if you still detest the idea or are intimidated by face-to-face communication.

A Final Note

One additional point needs to be made about intelligence:  There is not necessarily a precise delineation between one kind of intelligence and another. The possibility for some overlap exists. For example, creative intelligence and situational intelligence are not always distinct concepts and can blend one into the other.


Next: Interviewing Primer 101.6: Understanding the Interview ProcessWhat Employers Want: Being a Quick Study

Interviewing Primer 101.4: Understanding the Interview Process—What Employers Want: Fit

Legal employers say that the second most important job candidate attribute they look for (after likeability) is “fit.” In this blog, we’ll examine what exactly they mean by fit and how you can make the case that you have it.

Determining Fit

Similar to likeability, employers assess your fit with their organization—

  • first by an examination of your application materials,
  • then and most importantly during your job interview(s), and
  • last by posing “fit” questions to your references.

The Initial Application

Unlike likeability, fit is a more difficult and vaguer concept. It is not easy to pin down. What makes it even more problematical is that it is highly subjective and can vary markedly from employer to employer.

For example, if you are applying to a media company that has an obvious ideological slant, it may not be a good idea to include your volunteer work for an opposing ideology. Fit is sometimes like obscenity as described by the late Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”

Affirmatively demonstrating your alignment/congruence with a potential employer on your resume, print or online application form, cover letter and/or transmittal email is by no means as obvious or easy as showing the employer that you are likeable. You assert your likeability by including things in your application that signal that you are congenial. However, fit is not as easily asserted. You need to be careful with respect to this important trait not to include items that cause the employer to believe that you are out-of-sync with the employing organization.

The best advice for this stage of the application process is: do your research about prospective employers…and do it before you apply to them for a job. Learn what they are about and try to align with that without over-exertion.

The Job Interview

This is where you make or break your fitness quotient for the job. Key fitness questions employers pose to candidates (and references) include the following:

Tell me about yourself. This open-ended question can be a job killer for candidates who either say too much or say the wrong thing. While some personal background information is acceptable, don’t go overboard. Move quickly from your birth and formative years to your education and professional biography. Try to limit your response to approximately 90 seconds.

Are you a team player? “Yes” is not sufficiently responsive. Give specific examples of your collaborative work. Paint a picture for the employer that shows how your team approach was successful in specific situations.

What experience relevant to this position have you had? Again, specific examples of your relevant experience are sought. Make sure that you do not go off on a tangent and present experiences that it would be a stretch to call relevant. If your work experience is thin, include appropriate examples from any volunteer activities.

Note: It is important to remember that the absence of any relevant experience did not foreclose being invited to interview. The employer must have seen something that compensated for your lack of experience. Build on that.

What do you know about our organization? Do your research prior to the interview.  Even the smallest employers leave an online trail these days.

Why do you want to work here? Your response can be either a deal-maker or game-breaker. This is an open invitation to demonstrate that you fit within the organization.  General platitudes don’t work here. Draw on what you learned from your research.

Employer Reference Checks

Regardless of how you impress a prospective employer, s/he is likely to seek confirmation of your qualifications and fit from your references. The kinds of questions that the employer will ask the reference often focus on fit. To a great extent, the responses are outside of your control. However, you can make sure that each reference understands enough about the prospective employer and his or her business that they will align their responses appropriately.

Next: Interviewing Primer 101.5: Understanding the Interview ProcessWhat Employers Want: Intelligence

Interviewing Primer 101.3: What Employers Want: Likeability

Likeability was the candidate trait that surveyed legal employers mentioned more than any other. Thus, it occupies the number 1 position in the “Hierarchy of Legal Employer Needs.”

A more detailed discussion of this key attribute follows in which I’ll dissect Likeability, breaking it down so that you can understand (1) what it means to be “likeable,” and (2) what you can do to “tweak” your own likeability if it needs improvement.

How do legal employers determine if candidate is likeable?  Here’s what they say:

Initial Application

Initially, it means submitting a resume or job application that is (1) logically organized, (2) proofread to perfection, (3) responsive to what the employer seeks, (3) easy on the eyes, and – very important – (4) lacking any off-putting language or devices such as an irrelevant, self-touting or fawning Career Objective. If you submit a resume or application that passes this “reader-friendly” test, you will be well on your way to being invited to lock in your likeability during a job interview.

“Friendly” is the key word here.  Your goal is an employer who comes away from reading your application feeling positive and intrigued about you.

A reader-friendly application is the platform upon which every likeability determination rests.

Interregnum: Managing Your References and Contacts

You don’t need to be the only participant in your job campaign to endorse your likeability to an employer. You can also enlist the assistance of others in order to underscore this all-important attribute for your prospective employers


A good, compelling and likeable Reference List should contain the following eight elements for each reference:

  • Name
  • Title
  • Address
  • Relevant phone numbers
  • Email address (if that is the means of initial contact preferred by the reference)
  • Your relationship to the reference (i.e., why this person is on your reference list)
  • Ideally, something that you did (e.g., a job accomplishment) vis-à-vis the reference that shows you in a positive light
  • Contact instructions (days and times) for the employer to get in touch with the reference.

The care you put into crafting such a Reference List adds to an employer’s favorable impression of you. This enhances your “likeability quotient.” Moreover, when the employer contacts a reference and asks about item no. 7, above, you will have two people subliminally conscious of your likeability.  You will have “controlled” a very important part of the reference conversation and gone a long way toward impressing the employer.


Presenting your networking contacts with a clear and detailed idea of your career aspirations is a contact-friendly approach that will earn you likeability points. They will appreciate clarity and direction in order to effectively advise and assist you in a career transition. Motivating them in this way will make them feel kindly toward you and and enthused about you, both of which they will likely transmit to prospective employers when they talk to them.

To do this, you need to alert your contacts to the following:

  • Examples of specific positions that interest you.
  • Examples of specific employers where such positions are found.
  • Why it is logical for you to be interested in such positions.

The Job Interview

The Job interview is the critical element in your likeability campaign.

The way you present yourself when you walk in the door is vital. You should be well-dressed (conservatively) and well-groomed, absent visible piercings or tattoos; in other words, professionally presentable. Forget about “dress-down days” and “business-casual” garb. Studies show that, if two job candidates come to an interview with similar credentials and perform similarly, the better-dressed and groomed applicant is more likely to get the job offer.

Employers tend to jump to immediate conclusions about candidate likeability (and everything else about you) based on first impressions. Once formed, these are difficult to alter. Moreover, employers tend to obsess about them, distracting from the rest of the interview.

Employ a firm, but not crushing, handshake. Something between limp on the one hand, and excruciatingly painful on the other. This is not a mixed martial arts cage contest.

Ask great questions. Employers are attracted to candidates who ask them great questions. They react adversely to a candidate who, when asked if s/he has any questions, responds with something like: “No, I think you have answered all of the questions I might have had.” You may as well say: “Meh. This job does not really interest me.”

The likeability determination process then moves on to the substance of the job interview. Here is what I gleaned from the totality of employer responses to my survey.  Likeable legal job candidates—

  • listen attentively and with interest.
  • look the interviewer in the eye without making it a staring contest.
  • smile and nod approvingly, but only at appropriate times.
  • sit up straight and look comfortable.
  • act interested, polite and respectful.
  • manifest energy, enthusiasm and eagerness without going overboard.
  • don’t interrupt.
  • don’t flatter or “fawn.”
  • don’t fidget.

Every employer has a somewhat different list of likeability characteristics, so this one is by no means absolutely determinative. However, if you are able to demonstrate these qualities at your job interview, you will probably pass the likeability test.

One final point: Psychologists who have examined what it means to be likeable in an interview context sometimes claim that if you mimic the posture and breathing patterns of your interviewer, you will win the likeability battle. Take that with an ocean of salt. There may be some truth to this, but if the other likeability components are not present, I question whether mimicry by itself gets you there.

Likeability Summary

Employer consensus is that likeability is the first, last, and most important candidate attribute. If you pass the likeability test, you will be well on your way to competing successfully for the position.

Next: Interviewing Primer 101.4: Understanding the Interview ProcessWhat Employers Want: Fit

Interviewing Primer 101.2: Understanding the Interview Process—What Employers Want

Interviewing for a legal job is a much more sophisticated undertaking today than ever before. Interviewers are savvier than they used to be, forced by bad experiences, heightened sensitivity to interviewing pitfalls and faux pas that could land them and their organizations in both media and legal jeopardy, and the emergence of new interviewing tools such as artificial intelligence that go way beyond simple key word searches of resume databases.

You, the job candidate, must have a grasp of this new reality if you are going to succeed in today’s competitive legal employment market. The first step in acquiring this knowledge is to understand the interview process. Three components comprise what is necessary to this understanding:

  • Knowing what the employer wants.
  • Having a clear grasp of your objectives.
  • Avoiding certain “standard” candidate assumptions.

We’ll break down the first of these three elements in this blog series and the next two in succeeding blogs.

What Employers Want

While heading a legal career transition counseling company, I found that the overwhelming majority of our clients had no idea of what their potential employers were seeking.  In other words, they did not bother to think like an employer.

When you prepare for a job interview, you must put yourself in the potential employer’s shoes. If the tables were reversed and you were the prospective employer, what would you want?

Don’t ask this question and your job search becomes a “crap shoot.” Understanding how employers think and what their thinking prompts them to do when hiring legal talent will give your job search a significant boost and go a long way toward improving your competitive position vis-à-vis other candidates.

The Hierarchy of Legal Employer Needs

This Hierarchy was developed through three decades of listening to hundreds of legal employers’ gripes about job candidates plus an extensive survey my company conducted in which we asked legal employers to assign importance to specific candidate characteristics. What follows are these characteristics in order of employer importance.

Caveat: Particular employers may adjust this hierarchy to their own specific requirements.

The “Big Six”

Six traits identified by legal employers separated themselves from the rest of the Hierarchy, both in terms of number of times employers mentioned them, the emphasis placed upon them and where they ranked them. In descending order of importance, they are:

  1. Likeability
  2. “Fit”
  3. Intelligence
  4. Being a Quick Study
  5. Writing Ability
  6. Persuasive Ability

Next: Interviewing Primer 101.3: What Employers Want— Likeability