During the program Intelligent Interviewing: Telling Your Story, Selling Yourself at the New York City Bar Association on October 14, 2009, panelists Lori Freudenberger, a career and legal recruitment consultant and former prosecutor, and Maureen M. Reid, principal of Maureen M. Reid, LLC, shared advice on how job hunters can tell their stories most effectively during interviews. The first installment, “Being Your Best Advocate During an Interview: Part One,” focused on how to determine what story you want to tell an employer and how to tell that story during an interview. Once you’ve told your story and shown that you possess the necessary technical skills for a job, there is still work to be done. Ms. Reid and Ms. Freudenberger also shared some of the “soft skills” that job hunters should cultivate and utilize, and highlighted unique roadblocks that certain types of job applicants may face.
Mind your manners. Ms. Reid reminded the audience that you are being interviewed from the moment you walk into the building where your interview will take place. Therefore, it is not advisable to be rude to the support staff and to then turn on the Mr. Congeniality persona when you meet the interviewers. News travels and they will find out. As Ms. Reid pointed out, “say good morning, good afternoon, and thank you.”
Many employers often take interviewees to lunch, dinner or on other social outings. Although the congenial and more relaxed atmosphere may tempt you to let your guard down, just say no. Don’t do it, please don’t do it. As Ms. Reid said, “They’re not your friends until they’re your friends.” You are not among friends. So, even if you are a foul mouthed, rude lush who eats with his hands, you should reserve such behavior for Saturday night out with your friends or dinner with the family. Remember that you are constantly being judged, assessed and critiqued and you need to be on your best behavior at all times.
You need to pass the “3 AM pizza test.” Ms. Reid recalled a hiring partner who once told her that candidates needed to pass the “3 AM pizza test.” He explained that if he was in the office at three in the morning eating pizza and working on a case rather than at home with his wife and kids, he needed to like the person with whom he was working. People want to work with people they like. Therefore, being a nice, friendly and interesting person (or a good actor) is important. Smile, be friendly, and be mindful of your body language so that an interviewer feels comfortable with you.
Check your ego at the door. More experienced attorneys who are job hunting may face the possibility of reporting to individuals who are significantly younger or less experienced than they are. In short, get over it or move on. Both panelists discouraged trying to convince the interviewer to reclassify the job as a more senior position. As stated by Ms. Reid, “the employer has already decided its budget for a particular job and already knows what it’s looking for.” Ms. Freudenberger emphasized that you do not want to appear antagonistic, and that it’s important to be humble and appear non-threatening if you are more experienced or older than your prospective supervisor.
You can overcome the Overqualified Candidate Syndrome. Experienced attorneys often face rejection or skepticism from employers who view them as too experienced. Many employers assume that the experienced attorney will get bored with the job or leave when the market gets better. Both panelists agreed that the best approach is to face these issues head on and talk about them with the interviewer. If an interviewer raises these concerns, candidates should reiterate their interest in the position and why they’re interested (besides needing a job), specify that they want to work for that particular firm or organization, and that they can do the job well, efficiently and with less supervision. Again, job hunters need to use their experience to their advantage and redirect the conversation to how they can help an employer achieve its goals or solve its problems.
Money matters, but paid bills matter more. Many employers often ask candidates for their salary history and salary requirements. Ms. Reid and Ms. Freudenberger warned job hunters not to lie about their salary history, and cited instances in which job offers were revoked, even after the person showed up for work, because the candidate lied about their salary history. Although many people intentionally fail to list salary history and requirements because they don’t want to be automatically disqualified, Ms. Freudenberger discourages this “because it shows that you’re not following directions.” In order to allay your fears that an employer will reject you because your salary history or requirement is too high, both panelists recommended that candidates research the average salaries in particular job titles. Websites like http://www.nalp.org have numerous salary surveys. Candidates can also write “salary negotiable” when giving salary requirements.
If asked during an interview what your salary requirements are, the panelists said it’s perfectly fine to say “I want to be paid competitively within the marketplace for the work I’m doing.” However, many attorneys will face the possibility of making less money in a new position than they did in their old position. Compressed salaries is one of the side effects of our current economy and job hunters may have to accept a lower salary if they really want a particular job. If you’d have to take a pay cut in a new position, the panelists advised interviewees to say something like, “I may have made X amount in the past, but I understand that today’s economy has changed things.” However, both panelists agreed that it’s important not to short-change yourself and to research what others are getting paid for the same job.
Both panelists agreed that you should not discuss salary until after an employer extends a job offer or brings it up. If there’s a possibility that the offering salary will be lower than what you made at a previous position, you should impress upon the interviewer that you don’t want the issue of salary to be a deciding factor or end discussions about your candidacy. Be willing to negotiate. Both panelists agreed that it is advisable to let an interviewer know that you ’d like to continue the discussion after you’ve had a chance to weigh your options.
Stay tuned for “Being Your Best Advocate During an Interview: Part Three.”