Why Getting a Position With a Law Firm is Often a Crapshoot Because of the Uncertainty of the Interview Process | BCGSearch.com

Why Getting a Position With a Law Firm is Often a Crapshoot Because of the Uncertainty of the Interview Process


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The interviewing process is punctuated by uncertainty. Indeed, uncertainty is perhaps its defining feature for everyone involved.
Why Getting a Position With a Law Firm is Often a Crapshoot Because of the Uncertainty of the Interview Process
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

On many antiquarian maps, there is a simple, chilling statement scrawled at the edge of the known world: "Here be monsters." This is the mapmaker's rather dramatic way of saying, "No one is quite sure what lies here, but it is almost certainly bad." But a hedge of this sort is not nearly as evocative, nor as indicative of human nature, as a miniature pictorial of ravening mythological beasts. From a psychological perspective, this three word warning symbolizes how humans have dealt with uncertainty from time immemorial: with a keen sense of dread. And returning from a law firm interview that was difficult to read can fill you with a similar sense of foreboding. With no quick feedback, this can rapidly deteriorate into worry, followed by full-blown panic, and finally, despair. Meanwhile, your recruiter could be negotiating a lavish salary package for you with the firm. Who knew?

The interviewing process is punctuated by uncertainty. Indeed, uncertainty is perhaps its defining feature for everyone involved. Let's take one example. Particularly in the early stages of a recruiting cycle, interviewers often present a 'poker face' to everyone. Needless to say, this is unsettling -- especially for their spouses -- and even more so when you contrast it to the sometimes fawning (by comparison) courtship process that you may have encountered in law school. The normal cues that accompany friendly human interaction, such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expression are either intentionally obscured or altogether absent, as if you were meeting someone who missed the audition for Invasion of the Body Snatchers by several decades. Why is this?

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To overcome the tendency to feed into the mythic nature of the interview, and to get a realistic grasp of the hiring process, the first thing that you need to do is try to understand the law firm's position, however hard that may be. Try to get perspective. In the case of poker-faced partners, it is likely that they will be meeting with a number of candidates. Many will be unsuitable, for a variety of reasons. Others may be ideal, but uninterested in the firm. So the partners (and sometimes associates), realizing that a preliminary meeting is only that, choose not to 'invest' in the meeting to a great degree. It would simply be too frustrating to do so. Furthermore, no one likes to reject someone they truly like - it is too emotionally taxing - so they erect walls designed to limit any kind of rapport (at least initially). I have seen candidates walk out of a screening interview like this utterly mystified. The next day, they get a callback. I have also seen candidates blow the screening interview because they misunderstood that the frosty reception was not something they were supposed to try to overcome. Through a variety of antics, some taking place literally in front of the elevator doors, they try to 'break through' and light up their interviewer's interest. This is almost guaranteed to backfire. The lesson is: don't panic, and try to make peace with uncertainty, because that is where true confidence and competence lie.

If confident candidates often react in the same way to unwelcome news -- or no news at all -- by keeping their cool and taking things in stride, candidates who have a phobia of uncertainty react in a variety of self-destructive ways. They may pester the hiring partner with phone calls, faxes, or emails (beyond the obligatory thank you note), which is a bad thing to do. Or they start harassing their recruiter for feedback, which is really doing the same thing at one remove. Although ideally the recruiter will have the sense not to start harassing the hiring partner in turn, or other members of the hiring committee, there is a danger that they will. This is definitely a case of less is more. Put yourself in your recruiter's shoes - in all likelihood, he wants you to get the job as badly as you do. The recruiter who does not care about finding a job for her candidates is a rare breed - and a non-existent one at BCG Attorney Search.

Furthermore, when a firm is still soliciting feedback from different interviewers, and possibly meeting with other candidates, they may not show their hand to the recruiter, no matter how close the relationship is. They may simply not know enough yet to take a position. If it is a definite 'no,' they will usually say so. But there are others who are maybes, and this is where the wait and the lack of information can get very frustrating very quickly. What to do?

First of all, keep a firm grasp of reality. If the firm wants to make you an offer, it will. If you've met with the firm, there is very little chance that you have slipped between the cracks - and if you did, they probably were not intent on hiring you. Much of the worry that accompanies the interview process is generated by an unhealthy focus on the self. It's essential to strive to be your best -well-prepared, well-presented, punctual, and so forth. But even then, your ability to control other people and their reactions to you is limited. There are extraneous factors that you simply can't control - perhaps the firm has just lost a major client and won't be hiring anyone -- and it is unhelpful to focus on them. This heightened focus on the self is often what leads you to imagine the worst. To imagine monsters where a simple question mark would do.

In fact, depending on current market conditions and your practice area, recruiting is almost always a time-consuming process for everyone involved. It is also heavily subject to Murphy's law, as anyone who has been involved in it can attest. At any stage in the process, things can go wrong, sometimes in bizarre ways. The horror stories that you hear from your friends are shared by the firms themselves, only in reverse. The gal that everyone loved turns out to be a grifter who never went law school. The guy you just hired was caught in flagrante delicto with the hiring partner. And so on.
So, what to do? First, understand that even the most ideal interview process will have its moments of uncertainty. Second, do not use that uncertainty to construct elaborate, macabre fantasies that are the stuff of nightmares. Third, realize that no matter how much you want the job, this is partly a numbers game for you, too, and you must not despair. Work with your recruiter, be at your best, and use that feeling of uncertainty to give yourself a little extra juice to climb the next mountain, which is getting that ideal job you want with what Hemingway defined as courage - grace under pressure. And finally, most important of all: stay positive and keep focused on what you want - getting the job - not what you fear. The great explorers, after all, had those primordial fears too, but they were able to overcome them.

Or else those maps would have never been finished.

Learn why attorneys usually fail law firm phone-screening interviews in this article:

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About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. He is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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