Advice for Interviewing In-House

For lawyers, taking their career path in-house is a big decision.  Nimble recently hosted a forum on "Building the Modern General Counsel" with panelists Jason Sussman, General Counsel for The Lubrizol Company, Ed Blakemore, Assistant General Counsel for Rockwell Automation and Sunny Nixon, Chief Administrative Officer and Senior Counsel at The Unify Project.  They were facilitated by Nimble's own Jeff Barlow.  Here's some of the great advice they offered. 


Focus Your Search

Target Specific Organizations.  Going in-house is a big decision.  Take time to reflect on what kind of organization you want to join.  Consider your preferences on the following factors:  industry, degree of regulation, private/public/non-profit, number of employees, global reach and office location.  You should have an opinion on at least SOME of these factors as they will impact your day-to-day experiences working in-house. 

Once you have a sense of your preferences, make a list of companies that best fit your criteria.  Then start paying attention to what is going on with these companies - follow them on social media, sign up for career/job posting emails, look for articles by their employees, etc.   

Narrow Down the Type of Work.  Not all legal departments are created equal.  For the companies you're considering, learn what kind of work the in-house team does/does not do.  Some teams will have specialists, some will have more generalists, and use of outside counsel will vary greatly.  Make sure the structure of the department aligns with the kind of work you really want to do.

Fit Goes Both Ways

Look For Cultural Fit.  Organizational cultures vary greatly.  Be clear about the the kind of environment you thrive in.   Ask a lot of questions about the culture and leadership style during the interview process and don't take the answers at face value.  Ask for examples and really dig deep.  

Think of Interviewing Like Dating (...sort of).  Don't forget that interviewing is a two-way street:  you are evaluating the organization as much as they are evaluating you.  If you take a job,  chances are you'll spend more time with your new colleagues than you will with your family.  So don't be afraid to ask questions and don't hesitate to pass on an opportunity that is not a good fit for you.  

Be Prepared to Interview

Know the company.  Before a phone or in-person interview, it is critical to spend time researching the company.  Thanks to the internet, this does not have to be difficult or overly time consuming: 

  • Internet research - Use information on company websites, GlassDoor and LinkedIn to gather all the information you can.
  • Tap into your network - Reach out to people in your network who have worked with or for the company.  Learn everything you can about what it is like to actually work there.
  • Listen to earnings calls and read annual reports - If it is a public company, there is a wealth of information available.  Take advantage.

This step is so important.  First and foremost, it will tell you if the organization is one you want to join. Second, it will show the interviewers that you're serious about the opportunity.

Know the interview team.  If you get to interview in-person, ask for a list of names and titles of the people you'll be meeting.   Take the time to learn about their backgrounds and how long they've been with the organization.  Consider developing questions specific to each person.  Doing this will help you feel more comfortable in the interview and will help you have more meaningful conversations with the team.

Know Yourself.  It is impossible to know EXACTLY what you'll be asked in an interview.  That said, you should walk in with a clear picture of how you create value in the specific role you're interviewing for.  Think back over your career history and select a few accomplishments that stand out in your mind and write out a story outline:  what was the situation, how did you approach it,  what was the outcome, what did you learn, how have you applied it.  If you have 3-5 really good examples, it's likely you'll have a chance to share them.  

You should also be really honest and clear about how you learn and develop.  Since no one is perfect, we're all working on something.  Be honest about what you're trying to improve.  Be able to articulate how you're working on it.  

Stand Out

In-house jobs are scarce and competitive.  If you want to land one, you need to really stand out as a candidate.  The following is advice from each of our panelists on how to stand out in a crowd of candidates:   

  • Jason:  Offer training. Many legal departments are looking for ways to keep their teams educated on the changing legal environment.  Be active on social media.  do outstanding work for your clients.
  • Ed: Use your network - at least 35% of GC roles are never even posted.  Many organizations have an employee referral program.  If you know someone at the company, ask them to refer you for an opening.  This can be a great way for your resume to get noticed.  
  • Sunny: Find the trade groups for an industry you're targeting and go to their meetings.  Maintain good relationships with outside counsel—they often know companies who are looking ahead of postings.

At Nimble, we're so grateful to the panelists for taking the time to share their perspective.  There's no substitute for this kind of real-world advice.  We're also grateful to our forum sponsors - your support lets up create great learning experiences!