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CAREER COUNSELOR'S CORNER

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Should You Talk About Other Interviews in Your Interview? [by A. Harrison Barnes, Esq.] It’s a question that’s coming up a lot in law firm interviews: Where else are you interviewing? Your answer could make the difference between the offer or the rejection letter.

One of the questions I receive quite often from

ever offers are extended -even in the face of

speak with the high school students about

the attorneys I work with is whether or not

competing offers. Nevertheless, a firm wants

their dreams and aspirations for college and

they should talk about other interviews while

to believe that your first choice is to work

ask them why they are interested in attending

they are interviewing with a law firm. Let me

there and this often will have a direct bearing

the University. Because I also attended the

emphasize one thing: If asked, this is one of

on whether an offer is extended.

school, I have a decent understanding of the

the more important questions you will have

sorts of students that are likely to be happy

to answer in an interview. Regardless of

Second, how you justify your reasons for

and fit in well there, and these are generally

your qualifications, how you respond to this

interviewing with the firms you are inter-

those students who seem the most enthusias-

question will have a direct bearing on whether

viewing with will also affect whether or not

tic and give me the most compelling reasons

or not you receive an offer from the law firm

the firm makes you an offer. In addition to

for wanting to attend.

interviewing you, so you have to be very care-

knowing that they are your first choice, law

ful with your answer.

firms also want to know that you are likely

One challenge of these interviews is trying to

to remain with them after joining. Therefore,

decide which of these highly qualified students

In no instance should you ever volunteer this

explaining to the firm why they are the best fit

really want to go to the school. If someone

information unless you are asked, but many

among potentially competing offers is crucial.

is not qualified for the school, my job is easy

law firms, though not all, are asking it. At the

Furthermore, the law firm wants assurances

because I know they will be rejected. Because

outset, it is important to point out that you do

that it is not making a mistake by offering you

the University is a highly ranked school, the

not have to answer this question, but not doing

a position.

majority of students I speak with inevitably are applying to schools like Princeton, Yale and

so is likely to make you look bad, as it gives the employer the impression that you will

Before You Ever Tell An Employer Who Else

other similarly situated schools. Accordingly,

similarly “hide the ball” when you are working

You Are Interviewing With, The Firm Must

one of the first questions on my mind is this:

for them. It also does not do much to help you

Believe They Are Your First Choice

Why my school and not another highly ranked one?

establish a bond of trust and understanding with a potential new employer. Therefore,

I have a quick story from personal experience

it is my opinion that this question must be

that is related to law firm interviewing, albeit

This situation is compounded by one obvious

answered, even though it is probably inappro-

indirectly. I am a Los Angeles Area Chair for

fact: While I certainly believe the school I am

priate for an employer to ask.

the admissions office of a major American

interviewing for is the top university in the

university. In this position, I am largely re-

United States (and could argue convincingly

There are two important rules you must keep

sponsible for ensuring applicants to the Uni-

about this all day), it is not the number one

in mind when answering this question:

versity in my area are interviewed. While I am

ranked university and never has been. Now if

not the one making the ultimate decisions as

I was interviewing for a university consistently

First, most firms are unlikely to give you an

to whom the school admits, I do put together

ranked number one in the United States, I

offer unless they (when I use the pronoun

reports on everyone I speak with and express

would think that the university was every

“they” in reference to a firm, I am generally

my enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for each

student’s top choice. Because it is not the top

speaking of the firm’s hiring committee mem-

applicant. This year, I probably interviewed

university, I know that several people I am

bers) believe that they are your first choice

50 students for the school, which is generally

speaking with would probably rather go to a

firm. There are certainly exceptions, however,

ranked as a Top 10 American college, though

more prestigious university.

and as a legal recruiter, I see them constantly.

it has been slightly lower in some years. Now if you think about this, this rationale

Many firms are very good at recruiting and can convince most anyone to join the firm when-

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As is typical of most college interviews, I

is very similar to what goes on when law

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1. 800. 973. 1177

students and attorneys are interviewing with

going to be interested in speaking with you.

know someone at the firm that has said good

law firms. In an extreme, if you are interview-

In the event you do get an interview, if the law

things about it, the firm practices in an area

ing with Skadden Arps Slate Meager & Flom

firm thinks you are just looking to go to the

of law you have long been interested in or

(“Skadden”) and a small 15-person law firm

most prestigious firm you are interviewing

their office is right across the street from your

in New Jersey that pays less than half of what

with (and they are not the most prestigious),

house - you need an arsenal at your disposal

Skadden does, most rational observers would

then they will probably not make you an offer.

to give the law firm a compelling reason for

presume that you would rather go to Skadden.

hiring you. If you give the firm enough reasons As an aside, I should note that I deal with

that you are a good fit, they will look upon the

Imagine for a moment what the 15-person

attorneys at some of the top law firms in the

fact that Skadden is interviewing you as some-

law firm is thinking if you tell them that you

world on a daily basis. Many of these attor-

thing that verifies your worth in the market.

are interviewing with Skadden. That firm

neys want to go to smaller firms that pay far

The firm needs to think that you will choose

instantly feels like a backup. Now imagine

less. While most of these attorneys are under

them over Skadden. If you take an offer from

what Skadden is going to think if you tell them

the impression that the smaller firm would

them over Skadden, it will be a major vote of

you are interviewing with the small 15-person

“die” to have them, the opposite is usually

confidence that the firm will use to impress

law firm. They are likely going to think that

true. If the attorney is coming from a far more

upon its attorneys as to what a great place to

you are either desperate or that Skadden is

prestigious law firm, the smaller law firm and

work they have.

a reach for you. You need to put yourself in

its attorneys might be intimidated by hiring

the shoes of the person making hiring deci-

the attorney if he or she has no experience in

When I am interviewing college candidates,

sions, because what they think will determine

a small firm environment. People do not like

I can answer the question of whether or not

whether or not you are ultimately hired.

to spend time with those they think (or others

he or she is really interested in my oppor-

think) are superior to them.

tunity in several ways. For example, if the

Why do I ask myself if the student really wants

student has 1580 on their SATs, is captain of

to attend the university I am interviewing for?

I am an expert in getting attorneys jobs inside

the football team, student counsel president

Because I want to be sure they are likely to at-

law firms and, in this work, I have seen that

and first in their class and my school is the

tend the school if I put a strong recommenda-

law firms always want to save face, no mat-

only top school they are applying to, then my

tion behind the person. Do not get me wrong:

ter what the situation. Having someone take

job is easy. The student is likely to be most

If you are a stellar applicant, you will still get

another offer over theirs makes the law firm

interested in what my school offers.

a stellar recommendation. However, some-

feel rejected and inferior - as if the law firm

one who really wants what you are offering

who “won” the candidate is a more attractive

Even if the student is applying to several more

is always going to be far more attractive than

alternative. It is a negative vote of confidence

prestigious schools, I can still judge whether

someone who does not.

from the candidate if he or she does not take

or not this same applicant really wants to at-

an offer if one is extended.

tend my school by several methods: (1) If the applicants parents went to the university and

What the university admissions officials do with this information is their business. How-

So how does the question of which law firms

the applicant has always wanted to go there,

ever, I do like to be able to say “the university

you are interviewing with fit into the equation?

(2) If the applicant attended the university for

is this person’s first choice and I am confident

First, you have to answer this question if and

summer school, (3) If he or she worked for a

he or she will come if admitted. I believe the

when and it is posed. Before you ever answer

professor of the university during high school,

applicant’s statement that the school is his

this question, though, the law firm you are in-

and (4) If his or her life has been profoundly

or her first choice because of X, Y and Z. Fur-

terviewing with must-and I mean must-know

influenced by the work of some professor of

thermore, this person is the sort of person I

that they are your first choice. If the firm

the University. You get the idea. The point is

imagine would do quite well there because he

thinks this, then telling them the firms with

that your interviewer wants to say “I believe

or she shares so much in common with others

which you are interviewing can help you.

that this school is the applicant’s first choice.”

students I knew while there.” Back to the situation with the 15-person

A law firm wants the same assurances that

When a law firm is interviewing you, the same

New Jersey firm. You could still very easily

they are your first choice. These assurances

sort of logic applies. Law firms are constantly

get an offer from this firm if you play your

need to be given at the interview stage and

receiving applications from highly qualified

cards right. First, you need to walk into this

they need to be given early on. This is not

individuals, and if a law firm thinks you will

interview and convince the firm that you really

an article about interviewing. I can tell you,

never take an offer from them, they are not

want to work there. Whether it is because you

though, that when a law firm believes they are

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your first choice, you will have a better chance

• It makes you look loyal to your current

the best light. One way to approach this is to

of getting an offer with the firm.

employer. By stating that you are interviewing

state that you only are applying to places with

with only one employer, it makes it seem as

openings, and these are the only firms you

How You Justify Why You Are Interviewing

if you are not doing an “all out” search to find

are aware of with openings. In this way, the

With Other Firms Will Have A Direct Bearing

new positions. You are only interested in this

firm will believe that you are applying to these

On Whether Or Not The Employer Hires You

one interview because the firm matches what

other firms and their firm simply in response

you are seeking so closely.

to what you know. You may have applied to

There are several scenarios that you could

more prestigious firms and have not heard

be in when asked this question, and each

• It makes the firm confident you will take

back or were rejected, but you do not need to

one merits a separate response. If you have

their offer. By having only one interview, the

make the firm aware of it.

prepared for the interview properly, you will

firm can give itself more assurances that an

do very well when asked where else you are

offer will most likely be taken.

interviewing. The potential scenarios are: (a)

The most important thing you can do in this situation is to make it clear to the firm

you are not interviewing with any other em-

• The firm is confident it will not lose out to

that you are qualified to work for them. For

ployers, (b) you are interviewing entirely with

a competitor. If you inform the firm that you

example, if you are interviewing with less

less prestigious firms, (c) you are interviewing

have only one interview, the firm will have the

prestigious firms that pay far less, then tell

with a mix of firms, corporations and other

assurance that they will not “lose face” if you

the more prestigious firm that money is not

types of employers, (d) you are interviewing

take an offer from one of their competitors.

a concern for you. Here, you can tell the firm

with a mix of more prestigious and less pres-

you are most concerned with finding the “right

tigious firms, and (e) you are only interviewing

You are interviewing entirely with less presti-

fit” and that the less prestigious firms have

with more prestigious firms. Given the impor-

gious employers

a lot of attributes that might not be immedi-

tance of each of these hypothetical situations, they will all be discussed separately.

ately apparent. In this instance, you have cast There are some potential positives to this

yourself as someone who is more concerned

admission. The positives are:

with practicing law in the right environment

You are not interviewing with any other employers If you are not interviewing with any other em-

than someone who is concerned with making • The law firm could think that you will take

as much money as possible. This sort of char-

their offer if they are the most prestigious op-

acterization can only help you.

tion of the firms you are interviewing with. There are many ways to get creative with this

ployers, then you should tell the firm so. If you are in law school and this is occurring,

• If the firm is more prestigious than the one

response. In sum, the most important thing

the firm should be under the impression that

you are currently at, the employer will think

you can do in a situation where all of your

you are just starting the interview process.

that you are trying to “move up.” It is almost

interviews are with less prestigious firms is to

Employers do not want to feel as if you do not

axiomatic in American culture that we respect

make the firm aware that (1) you are very in-

have any options.

individuals who are trying to move up and

terested in them, (2) seeking to move up, and

improve their lot in life.

(3) most concerned about finding a good fit.

If you are interviewing laterally, it is perfectly acceptable to tell the employer that you are

Though there can be positives, an interviewer

You are interviewing with a mix of differ-

not interviewing with any other employers. In

faced with an attorney who is considering

ent classes of employers such as law firms,

this situation, the rationale for having only one

firms that are beneath the interviewer’s firm

government offices and corporations

interview should be that (1) you are not inter-

is likely to have negative thoughts about it

ested in a new job for the sake of a new job,

without a proper explanation. Here, the inter-

It can also be a potential problem for you if

and (2) the only reason you are speaking with

viewer will certainly think to himself: “Can’t

you are interviewing with different classes

this firm is because they are a perfect fit for

this attorney get an interview with better

of legal employers because of how law

your interests. The firm needs to think you are

firms? Is there something wrong with them

firms view themselves in relation to other

a perfect match for them. There are several

that we are missing?”

industries. Most law firms have a billable

additional reasons firms like to hear you are interviewing only with them:

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hour requirement, have a division between In this situation, you need to be very careful

partners and associates, encourage you to

and come up with a way to put the situation in

develop business and so forth. While I have

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written extensively on this topic before, the

phrase the fact that you are not interviewing

need to project that you are leaving your cur-

point is that law firms are unique institutions

exclusively with law firms, this point needs

rent employer because you are trying to get

that have great respect for their own way of

to be made. Law firms want to hire winners.

upward momentum.

practicing law and look down on those who do

The fact that you are interviewing with dif-

not practice law under their methodology. For

ferent kinds of legal employers leaves a lot

By upward momentum, I mean that your de-

example, many law firm attorneys consider

of potential doubt in the law firms’ mind as

sire is to be better at your job, get more busi-

government attorneys to be lazy bureaucrats

to whether or not you are not committed to

ness, get better work and so forth. In sum,

and look upon going in-house as a way to es-

practicing law in a law firm. Make them think

you should always try and portray yourself and

cape the pressure of law firm life. While these

the alternatives you are exploring to this are

your job search as follows:

generalizations are not necessarily true, law

just as demanding.

firms do believe that individuals that do not want to practice inside a law firm are not cut

You are interviewing with a mix of more pres-

out for law firm life. Accordingly, telling a law

tigious and less prestigious firms

firm you are interviewing with the government or an in-house employer is not necessarily in

This situation is the most normal for attorneys

your best interest.

interviewing with law firms. Most attorneys that are interviewing are speaking with more

How you address this question is up to you.

prestigious and less prestigious firms. Here,

You must tell people where you are interview-

your case does not need to be as compelling

ing. If you are asked what other law firms you

about why you are interviewing with the firms

are interviewing with, then tell them what

you are, but the employer still must be left

other law firms. You need to be honest with

with the impression that they are your first

employers and not doing so is not only ethi-

choice. In addition, the employer must have a

cally wrong but will come back to haunt you.

basis for understanding why you are inter-

While your decision to join your current employer was a good one, you have continued a path of “growth” that you have been on 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 is “hands down” the best of the bunch in terms of the other employers you are speaking with because of X, Y and Z...

viewing with more than one firm. If you were in charge of determining who you

If you are interviewing with an employer that is not a law firm and are asked about this, you

Assuming that you have done your job of

were going to hire, which candidate would you

are going to need to let the employer know

giving the employer the impression that they

want to hire: (1) someone without compelling

why you are going out on these interviews.

are your first choice., the employer should

reasons for being interested in your firm, (2)

There can be many potential explanations.

also understand why you are speaking with

or someone who needs the environment your

Perhaps a friend asked you to interview with

so many different sorts of law firms. Here,

firm offers to grow? I am sure you can see the

an in-house employer or you are interested in

the employer needs to be aware of why you

logic of this.

environmental law and interviewing with the

are doing such a broad search, which usually

environmental branch of the United States

means they want to know why something is

It is a fundamental human characteristic that

Department of Justice so you can get more

seriously wrong with your current employ-

we want to feel good about ourselves. Finding

experience doing environmental trials. What-

ment situation.

someone who needs an organization like ours

ever the explanation you give for these other

to thrive and letting them work with such an

interviews, it is essential that you let the firm

This is a delicate topic. In all interviews, you

organization is something that makes hiring

know that (1) a law firm is your first choice

never want to leave the employer with the

authorities feel good about themselves. You

and (2) the other employer represents an op-

impression that you harbor any sort of ill will

need to give employers compelling reasons

portunity for you to get significant experience

towards your current employer. Employers

for hiring you. Moreover, proclaiming “upward

and “move up” in terms of your skill level.

typically do not like attorneys who say bad

mobility” as a long-held career goal makes

things about those they work for because

you sound like a winner.

In any law firm interview you go on, one of the

they believe that they could one day be on the

You are interviewing entirely with more pres-

most important things you can do for yourself

opposite side of this. This simply makes you

tigious firms

is to leave the firm with the impression that

look bad. What you need to do in the interview,

your actions in seeking to leave your cur-

though, is convince the employer that your

Given what has been said above, this section

rent employer are motivated to “move up”

current employment situation is preventing

should not require a great deal of analysis.

and become a better attorney. However you

you from reaching your full potential. You

Here, you want to make the law firm believe

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CAREER COUNSELOR'S CORNER

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. Conclusions 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 that firm is your first choice.

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Should You Talk About Other Interviews in Your Interview?