Home Legal Job Interviewing Interviewing Primer 101.3: What Employers Want: Likeability

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


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