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