One of the questions I receive quite often from attorneys I am working with is whether or not they should talk about other interviews while they are interviewing with a law firm. Let me emphasize one thing: This is one of the more important questions you will ever be asked in an interview. Regardless of your qualifications, how you respond to this question will have a direct bearing on whether or not you receive an offer from the law firm asking you this question. Be very careful as to how you answer this question.
At the outset, it is important to point out that you do not have to answer this question but should. This question will also often not be asked. Indeed, it is my opinion that this question is entirely inappropriate. In no instance should you even volunteer this information unless you are asked. The problem is that if you are asked this question you will look bad if you refuse to answer it. Not answering the question gives the employer the impression that you will similarly “hide the ball” when you are working for them. It also does not do much to assist you in establishing a bond of trust, empathy and understanding with potential new employer. Therefore, it is my opinion that his question must be answered. There are two important rules you must keep in mind when answering this question.
First, you need to understand that most firms are unlikely to give you offers unless they think you are their first choice firm. There are certainly exceptions when firms make offers to people who they do not think are their first choice law firms. As a general rule, though, if a firm believes you are their first choice you will be better off. Because I am a legal recruiter, I see instances all the time when attorneys go to work for law firms that initially were not their first choice. Many firms are very good at recruiting and can convince most people to join their firm when they extend offers-even in the face of competing offers. Nevertheless, for the most part a firm wants to believe you are their first choice and this will have a direct bearing the substantial majority of time on whether an offer is extended.
Second, how you justify why you are interviewing with the firms you are interviewing with will also have a direct bearing on whether or not the firm makes you an offer. In addition to knowing that you are their first choice, law firms also want to know that you are likely to remain with them after joining. They also want to know why they are the best fit among potentially competing offers. Furthermore, the law firm wants assurances that it is not making a mistake making an offer to you. How you justify where else you are interviewing will have a direct impact on your potential success in terms of getting an offer.
1. Before You Ever Tell An Employer Who Else You Are Interviewing With The Firm Must Believe You Are Their First Choice
I have a quick story from personal experience that is related to law firm interviewing-albeit, indirectly. I am an Area Chair for the admissions office of a major American university in Los Angeles. In this position, I am largely responsible for ensuring applicants to the University in my area are interviewed. While I am not the one making the ultimate decisions as to whom the school admits, I do put together reports on everyone I speak with and express my enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for each applicant. I would have a hard time believing that my reviews do not carry at least some weight in the admissions process. This year I probably interviewed 50 students for the school. This school is generally ranked a “Top 10″ American college; however, in some years it is slightly lower.
As is typical of most interviews, I speak with the high school students about their dreams and aspirations for college and ask them why they are interested in attending the University. Because I also attended the school, I have a decent understanding of the sorts of students that are likely to be happy and fit in well at the school. This experience is derived largely from personal experience of having attended the school myself. In my experience, the sorts of students I believe would be a good fit for the school are also the same sorts of students who seem the most enthusiastic to me and give me the most compelling reasons for wanting to attend.
One challenge of these interviews is trying to decide who among a great number of highly qualified individuals really wants to go to the school. If someone is not qualified for the school, my job is easy because I know they will be rejected. Because the University is a highly ranked school, the majority of students I speak with inevitably are applying to schools like Princeton, Yale and other similarly situated schools. Accordingly, one of the first questions on my mind is this: Why my school and not another highly ranked one?
This situation is compounded by an obvious fact: While I certainly believe the school I am interviewing with is the top university in the United States (and could argue convincingly about this all day) it is not the number one ranked university and probably has never been. Now if I was interviewing for a university consistently ranked number one in the United States, I would think that the university was every student’s top choice. Because it is not the top university, I know that several people I am speaking with would probably rather go to a more prestigious university.
Now if you think about this, this rationale is very similar to what goes on when law students and attorneys are interviewing with law firms. In an extreme, if you are interviewing with Skadden Arps Slate Meager & Flom (“Skadden”) and a small 15 person law firm in New Jersey that pays less than half of what Skadden does, most rationale observers would presume that you would rather go to Skadden than the small 15 person law firm.
Imagine for a moment what the 15 person law firm is thinking if you tell them that you are interviewing with Skadden. Do you think that you would really want to go there? Now imagine what Skadden is going to think if you tell them you are interviewing with the small 15 person law firm. They are likely going to think that you are not that marketable, for one. Or they might think that Skadden is a reach for you and want to help you advance. You need to put yourself in the shoes of the person making hiring decisions because what they think will determine whether or not you are ultimately hired.
Why do I ask myself if the student really wants to attend the university I am interviewing for? I ask myself this question because I want to make sure that if I put a strong recommendation behind the person they are likely to attend the school. Do not get me wrong: If you are a stellar applicant you will still get a stellar recommendation. But someone who really wants what you are offering is always going to be far more attractive than someone who does not.
What the University does with this information is their business. However, I do like to be able to say “the University is this person’s first choice and I am confident they will come if they are admitted. I believe the person that the school is their first choice because of X, Y and Z. Furthermore, they are the sort of person I imagine would do quite well there because they share so much in common with others students I knew while there.”
When a law firm is interviewing you, the same sort of logic applies. Law firms receive numerous applications from highly qualified individuals constantly. If a law firm thinks you will never take an offer from them, they are not going to be interested in speaking with you. In the event you do get an interview, if the law firm thinks you are just looking to go to the most prestigious law firm (and they are not that prestigious) then the law firm is not likely to make you an offer.
As an aside, I should note that I see this sort of phenomenon all the time. I deal with attorneys at some of the top law firms in the world on a daily basis. Many of these attorneys want to go to smaller firms that pay far less. While most of these attorneys are under the impression that the smaller firm would “die” to have them, the opposite is most often true. If the attorney is coming from a far superior law firm, the smaller law firm and its attorneys might be intimidated by hiring the attorney because they never worked in such a smaller law firm. People do not like to spend time with those they think (or others think) are superior to them.
You can draw on personal experience in this analogy. One example would probably be a lot of your high school friends if you went to a public school and now practice law. A lot of these people probably have not done much with their lives. You are not the same people anymore and they are not as comfortable around you anymore. They are uncomfortable because they perceive inequality. Surely this does not apply to all your past friends, however, I am confident it applies to many of them. Regardless of how you may feel with this continued association, they are not like as likely to be as comfortable. This is also one reason people do not tend to marry outside their social class, for example. It creates too many difficulties due to a perceived superior and inferior role. No one likes to be around others that remind them of their potential inadequacies. Law firms are the exact same.
I am an expert in getting attorneys jobs inside law firms. I know nothing about in-house placements, or other sorts of legal-related placements. Law firms, by their nature, are strange and unique creatures. Law firms want to save face. Having someone take another offer over them makes the law firm look bad in their eyes. It makes them feel inferior. This sort of event makes it seem to the attorneys that interviewed the candidate that the other law firm is a more attractive alternative. It is also a negative vote of confidence from you if you do not take an offer if one is extended.
So how does the question of whom you are interviewing with fit into the equation? First, you need to answer this question. This question will rarely be asked at the beginning of the interview, though. This is a very important question to answer and it must be answered correctly. Before you ever answer this question, though, the law firm you are interviewing with must-and I mean must-know that they are your first choice. If the firm thinks this then telling them everywhere you are interviewing can help you.
Back to the situation with the 15 person New Jersey firm. You could still very easily get an offer from this firm if you play your cards right. First, you need to walk into this interview and convince the firm that you really want to work there. Maybe you know someone at the firm that has said good things about it. Maybe they practice in an area of law you have been interested in since high school. Maybe their office is right across the street from your house. Maybe you want to work in a smaller firm so you can make partner. You need an arsenal at your disposal to give the law firm compelling reasons for hiring you. If you give the firm enough reasons that you are a good fit, they will look upon the fact that Skadden is interviewing you as something that verifies your worth in the market. The firm needs to think that you will be their first choice over Skadden. You taking an offer from them over Skadden will be a major vote of confidence in the small firm that is something the firm will use to impress upon its attorneys as to what a great place they are.
When I am interviewing candidates for the University, I can answer the question of whether or not the candidate is really interested in my opportunity in several ways. For example, if the student has 1580 on their SATs, is Captain of the football team, student counsel president and first in their class and my school is the only top school they are applying to then my job is easy. The student most likely is most interested in what my school offers.
Even if the student is applying to several more prestigious schools, I can still judge whether or not this same applicant really wants to attend the University by several methods: (1) If their parents went to the University and they have always wanted to go there, (2) If they attended the University for summer school, (3) If they worked for a professor of the University during high school, and (4) If their life has been profoundly influenced by the work of some professor they want to study under. You should get the idea. Even without this a stellar applicant will still get serious consideration. The point is your interviewer wants to say “this school is their first choice and I believe it.”
A law firm wants the same assurances that they are your first choice. These assurances need to be given at the interview stage and they need to be given early on. This is not an article about interviewing and I cannot tell you how to interview. I can tell you, though, that when a law firm believes you are their first choice you will have a better chance of getting an offer with the firm.
In an improving market (which this is) you are likely to get more than one interview and may very well end up with several offers. Accordingly, you may often be asked in interviews who else you are speaking with and so forth. How you address this question will actually have a strong bearing on whether or not an employer hires you.
2. How You Justify Why You Are Interviewing With Other Firms Will Have A Direct Bearing On Whether Or Not The Employer Hires You
There are several scenarios that you should be aware of and each one merits a separate response. If you have prepared the interviewer properly, you will do very well when asked where else you are interviewing. The potential scenarios are: (a) you are not interviewing with any other employers, (b) you are interviewing entirely will less prestigious firms, (c) you are interviewing with a mix of firms, corporations and other types of employers, (d) you are interviewing with a mix of more prestigious and less prestigious firms, and (e) you are interviewing with all more prestigious firms. Given the importance of each of these hypotheticals, they will all be discussed below.
a. You are not interviewing with any other employers
If you are not interviewing with any other employers then you should tell the firm so. If you are in law school and this is occurring, the firm should be under the impression that you are just starting the interview process if this is the only interview you have so far. Employers do not want to feel as if you are the black sheep and someone without a lot of options.
If you are interviewing laterally, it is perfectly acceptable to tell the employer that you are not interviewing with any other employers. In this situation, the rationale for having only one interview should be that (1) you are not interested in a new job for the sake of a new job, and (2) the only reason you are speaking with this firm is because they are a perfect fit for your interests. The firm needs to think they are a perfect match for you. There are several additional reasons firms like to hear you are interviewing only with them:
?It makes you look loyal to your current employer-by stating that you are interviewing with only one employer, it makes it seem as if you are not doing an “all out” search to find new positions. You are only interested in this one interview because the firm matches what you are seeking so closely.
?It puts the firm in a position where they know if they make you an offer you are likely to take it-By having only one interview, the firm can give itself more assurances that if an offer is made to you that you will likely take it.
?It puts the firm in a position where they know if they make you an offer you will not choose one of their competitors over them-If you inform the firm that you have only one interview, the firm will have the assurance that they will not look “lose face” if you take an offer from one of their competitors.
b. You are interviewing entirely with less prestigious employers
There are some potential positives to this admission. The positives are:
?Since we are the best firm, if we make the candidate an offer they will most likely come here.
?If the firm is more prestigious than the one you are currently at, the employer will think that you are trying to “move up”. It is almost axiomatic in American culture that we respect individuals who are trying to move up and improve their lot in life. After all, most of our ancestors were immigrants at some point and moved up the ladder. Indeed, some of their offspring are now even lawyers!
If you tell your interviewer that your other interviews are will less prestigious employers, you may have a problem. Here, the firm will certainly think to itself: “Can’t this attorney get an interview with better firms? Is there something wrong with them that we are missing?”
In this situation, you need to be very careful. One way to approach this is to state that you only are applying to places with openings and these are the only firms you are aware of with openings. In this way, the firm will believe that you are applying to these other firms and them simply in response to what you know. While in all likelihood you probably applied to more prestigious firms and have not heard back or were rejected, if the former is true you need to make the firm aware of it.
The most important thing you can do in this situation is to make it clear to the firm that you are qualified to work for them. For example, if you are interviewing with less prestigious firms that pays far less then tell the more prestigious firm that money is not a concern for you. Here, you can tell the firm you are most concerned with finding the “right fit” and that the less prestigious firms have a lot of attributes that might not be immediately transparent. In this instance, you put yourself in the position of someone who is more concerned with practicing law in the right environment than someone who is concerned with making as much money as possible. This sort of characterization can only help you.
There are many ways to get creative with this response. In sum, the most important thing you can do in a situation where all of your interviews are with less prestigious firms is to make the firm aware that (1) you are very interested in them, (2) seeking to move up, and (3) most concerned about finding a good fit.
c. You are interviewing with a mix of different classes of employers such as law firms, government offices and corporations
This is also a potential problem for you. If you are interviewing with different classes of employers beyond law firms then you also need to be extremely careful. The problem with this is that law firms are unique institutions. Most law firms have a billable hour requirement, have a division between partners and associates, encourage you to develop business and so forth. While I have written extensively on this topic before, the point is that law firms are unique institutions that have great respect for their own way of practicing law but look down on those who do not practice law under their methodology. For example, many law firm attorneys consider government attorneys lazy bureaucrats and look upon going in-house as a way to escape the pressure of law firm life. While these generalizations are not necessarily true, what is important to realize is that law firms think this way and believe that individuals that do not want to practice inside a law firm are not cut out for law firm life. Accordingly, telling a law firm you are interviewing with the government or and in-house employer is not necessarily in your best interest.
How you address this question is up to you. You must tell people where you are interviewing. If you are asked what other law firms you are interviewing with, then tell them what other law firms. You need to be honest with employers and not doing so is not only ethically wrong but will come back to haunt you.
If you are interviewing with an employer that is different than a law firm and are asked about this, you are going to need to let the employer know why you are going out on these interviews. There can be many potential explanations. Perhaps a friend asked you to interview with an in-house employer, you are interested in environmental law and interviewing with the environmental branch of the United States Department of Justice so you can get more experience doing environmental trials. Whatever the explanation you give for these other interviews, though, it is essential that you let the firm know that (1) a law firm is your first choice and (2) the other employer represents an opportunity for you to get significant experience and “move up” in terms of your skill level and so forth with a law firm.
In any law firm interview you go on, one of the most important things you can do for yourself is leave the firm with the impression that your actions in seeking to leave your current employer are motivated to “move up” and become a better attorney. However you phrase the fact that you are interviewing with other types of employers than law firms, this point needs to be made. Law firms want to hire winners. The fact that you are interviewing with non law firms interviews a lot of potential doubt in the law firms mind that you are not committed to practicing law in a law firm. Make them think the alternatives you are exploring to this are just as demanding.
d. You are interviewing with a mix of more prestigious and less prestigious firms
The issue in this situation is about the most normal occurrence for attorneys interviewing with law firms. Most attorneys that are interviewing are speaking with more prestigious and less prestigious firms. Here, your case does not need to be as compelling. Like in all the situations discussed above, the employer still must be left with the impression that they are your first choice. In addition, the employer must have a basis for understanding why you are interviewing with more than one firm.
Assuming that you have done your job of giving the employer the impression they are your first choice., the employer should also understand why you are speaking with so many different sorts of law firms. Here, the employer needs to be aware of why you are doing such a broad search. Accordingly, the employer needs to be aware of why something is seriously wrong with your current employment situation.
This is again a delicate topic. In all interviews you never want to leave the employer with the impression that you harbor any sort of ill will towards your current employer. Employers typically do not like attorneys who say bad things about those they work for because they believe that they could one day be on the opposite side of this. This simply makes you look bad. What you do need to do in the interview, though, is convince the employer that your current employment situation is preventing you from reaching your full potential. You need to project that you are leaving your current employer because you are trying to grow.
By upward momentum, I mean that your desire is to be better at you job, get more business, get better work and so forth. In sum, you should always try and portray yourself and your job search as follows:
While your decision to join your current employer was a good one, you have continued a pattern of “growth” that has characterized you from the very beginning and is evident in everything you have ever done. While it is unfortunate, your current firm is limiting your growth potential. The environment of the firm you are interviewing with offers this growth potential and that is why you are speaking with them. In fact, the growth potential of the firm you are interviewing with offers is “hands down” the best of the bunch in terms of the employers you are speaking with because of X and Y and Z …
If you were someone in charge of determining who you were going to hire, which candidate would you want to hire (1) someone without compelling reasons for being interested in your firm, (2) or someone who needs the environment your firm offers to grow? I am sure you can see the logic of this.
It is a fundamental human characteristic that we want to feel good about ourselves. Finding someone who needs an organization like ours to thrive and letting them work with such an organization is something that makes hiring authorities feel good about themselves. You need to give employers compelling reasons for hiring you.
Moreover, giving yourself “upward mobility” makes you sound like a winner and not a loser. People want to associate with winners and not losers. Firms want to hire winners and not losers. Give yourself upward mobility.
e. You are interviewing entirely with more prestigious firms
Given what has been said above, this section should not require a great deal of analysis. Here, you want to make the law firm believe that they are your first choice and that you will accept an offer from them if extended. The firm needs to feel special and understand your reasons for choosing them over competing opportunities.
You need to understand that how you address where else you are interviewing will have a major impact on whether or not you are hired. This, in fact, is one of the more important secrets to interviewing effectively. If there is one thing you take from this article it should be this: Always make the firm you are interviewing with feel like you are their first choice.