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Ask A Legal Recruiter: How To Tackle Challenging Interview Questions, Disclose Pregnancy In An Interview, And Not Get Fired On The Spot

Ask A Legal Recruiter Week 1 – Above The LawFor almost two decades, Kinney Recruiting has been a top international legal recruitment agency and home to some of the most distinguished legal recruiters in the world. With vast market experience and our trademark “no BS” approach, Kinney’s recruiters are favorites among candidates and clients in the legal industry. We are keen to share some of what we have learned with more people, so we’ve chosen some FAQs and will be publishing them with our take regularly, starting with the questions below. Beyond this, we are here if you have any questions. We are real people who show up every day and work hard to know as much about the legal industry as anyone. The fruit of our experience is, really, our stock in trade. Do you want to know more about how legal recruiting works? Do you want our take on the market? Do you have a random question of your own? Email and we will get back to you with our take!

Question: “What should I do when a job interview question leaves me stumped?”

Robert Kinney: First, remember that lawyers are not expected to know everything. The best lawyers know where to find the answer, are willing to put in the time to find it, and almost have a sixth sense about when something just doesn’t add up. Beyond that, the best way I have found to get something useful out of my memory when it’s not coughing up what I want is to try a different prompt. In other words, reframe the question. Ask some questions for clarification, throw out a few initial ideas, and ask the interviewer for thoughts. If you can get a conversation started, you’re likely to find paths that let you talk about your own problem-solving skills and arrive at a more thoughtful answer. Finally, remember that the best interviews are usually when the interviewer is doing most of the talking. People always like what they have to say. So, as long as you’re thoughtful with what you say, all you really need to do is get the person you are speaking with to take over.

Daniel Roark: Inevitably all professionals over the course of their careers will face difficult questions in interviews that leave them stumped. What do you do when you are in the hot seat and your mind goes blank? First, take a beat, draw a breath, and refrain from defaulting to a reflexive “I don’t know.” Even a bad question or a difficult one offers the opportunity for a candidate to display their analytical and problem solving acumen which is often more valuable information than the “correct answer.” Robert correctly advises that posing clarifying questions to the interviewer or reframing the question audibly can trigger either a thread of thought or prompt the interviewer (if they are generous and/or engaged) to provide more context. And then begin scaffolding an answer just as you did over the course of three years of opaque law school exams. A candidate can also request the interviewer to return to the topic later, thus permitting the candidate time to think and hopefully resulting in a more clear interrogatory when the topic is revisited. On rare occasions, our candidates have been posed with interview questions that seek a singular response – e.g, “Which rule of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure discusses Claims for Attorneys Fees?” In these legal trivia types of situations, one either knows the answer (Rule 54) or they don’t, therefore providing the tried and true, “I don’t know the answer, but I will follow-up right after the interview” is an honest placeholder. [“It’s in the 50s” would also be a fine answer. The issue usually is whether you even care.] Anyone who says they will follow up should then do that. I encourage candidates to practice articulating answers aloud prior to their interviews. Compelling interview answers require self-editing, phrase sculpting, and substance. And this is a difficult combination to achieve on the fly in a pressure-filled room. The best candidates enter the room prepared. As Winston Churchill famously said to his driver whilst waiting in his car for several quiet minutes prior to entering a pressure-filled forum where he would deliver a speech, “I’m just preparing my impromptu remarks.”

Question: “What does an associate have to do to get fired on the spot?”

Lora Kenyon: I almost never hear of this happening, and I’ve heard some crazy things that associates have done. If there is an issue with the associate not performing to the firm’s standards, the associate is typically given the opportunity to improve or is told they should start looking for another job and given a couple of months to find something else before being let go. The actions that may result in being fired on the spot are typically more egregious (like threatening or endangering co-workers or being severely impaired due to drugs or alcohol), involve ethical concerns, or endanger important client relationships.

Question: “I just found out I’m pregnant while working with a recruiter to apply at big firms. Should I tell the recruiter about the pregnancy?”

Cindy Summerfield: This is an easy one. Absolutely. It is entirely your decision whether or not you would like to disclose your pregnancy with a recruiter, but the more transparent the candidate is with us, the better the result. To be clear, we won’t ask you if you are pregnant and you do NOT have to tell us or your potential future employer whether you are pregnant. If you DO choose to disclose your pregnancy (which we would normally recommend if asked for our advice), then my advice is to get through your first round of interviews/screener and then be open with the firm/company about it. A good recruiter can help you navigate the timing of this as well as figure out whether the firm has the work/life balance and culture you are looking for once the baby arrives. We see this issue frequently and I can’t think of a scenario when it has cost the candidate in any way to be transparent.

Have a question of your own? Email and we will get back to you with our take!


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