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Look for the obvious – and beyond. (Adobe Images)

In my new book, Master the Interview, I discuss the importance of recognizing the questions “behind the questions.” If you want results in your job interviews, this is a crucial point.

As I mentioned in my prior post, there are the questions that your interviewer asks, and there are often other questions that he/she really wants answered:

Interviewers ask other questions – such as “what is your ideal job?” – that approximate what they want to discover about the candidate, knowing that many of these questions are poor proxies for what they really want to know yet hoping that the questions they do ask get them there.

When interviewers ask “how you overcame a setback in your professional career,” for example, they are asking for about problem-solving skills and resilience. 

As you are preparing for an interview, don’t miss the obvious points. At the same time, look behind the obvious. Instead of simply reacting quickly to a question asked – with all of your adrenalin pumping and your mind on high alert – take a mental step back (a quick one, truth be told) and allow the underlying theme of the question to sink in. Then, you will know that your answer is not only authentic, but also relevant to the job.

If you can not only answer the question asked but also address the underlying theme of the question, you set yourself up for job interview success.

Please follow up for more details at my prior post.

Anne Marie Segal is a career and leadership coach, author and resume writer for attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. Her new book, Master the Interview, is available on Amazon.com. For more information about Anne Marie’s coaching and resume writing work or to request a potential speaking engagement in the New York area, please visit www.segalcoaching.com.

 

 

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Do you know the underlying interview questions? Image Credit: Adobe Images

A smart interviewer is not chiefly concerned that you “walk him/her through your resume” or the exact answer to “what are your weaknesses?” or other questions that are commonly asked in the interview process. For many jobs, your interviewer really wants to know the following (or some version of it):

  • Can you do the job?

  • Are you a good fit?
  • Will you make my life easier?
  • Will you solve the problems I really need solved?
  • Will you make or save the company “real money?”
  • Can you extrapolate and analogize, or will you waste time and resources (mine and others) because you don’t know how to think for yourself?
  • Will you anticipate issues before they arise and figure out how to fix them?
  • Will you know how to communicate in a way that people understand (especially me) and on a timely basis?
  • Can I put you in front of my SVP, EVP, CEO, Board of Directors and/or clients, if and when the time comes?
  • Can you grow over time if/when our needs progress?
  • Will you have the resilience to charge through the inevitable setbacks that arise in any job and specifically in the environment in which we operate?
  • Are you able to manage stress (your own and others) in a positive way?
  • Will you make me regret hiring you one day?
  • Will you quit in three months?
  • Will you bail when there’s a crucial deadline?
  • Will you understand and care about what we are trying to achieve?
  • Will you get things done?
  • Can I afford you?
  • Why should I (take a risk and) hire you?

 Of course, most of the questions above are not standard interview fare in most (if not all) roles. Imagine an interviewer saying:

“I have just one question:

Will you make my life easier and by how much?
$150,000 a year easier? Sold! When can you start?”

Skilled interviewers have a dilemma, in other words. They know that if they asked the above questions directly, the answer to most of them would be an emphatic yes or no, as applicable. Easy peasy, as the phrase goes. Any job seeker could give the right answers to sail through an interview like that, so there is no point in asking. So interviewers ask other questions – such as “what is your ideal job?” – that approximate what they want to discover about the candidate, knowing that many of these questions are poor proxies for what they really want to know yet hoping that the questions they do ask get them there.

As a job candidate, the above questions (i.e., the ones a skilled interview would ask, if he/she could) are helpful to keep front of mind. Why? Because these underlying concerns, will help you recognize what you must demonstrate and address to be hired.

When interviewers ask “how you overcame a setback in your professional career,” for example, they are asking for about problem-solving skills and resilience. Any details that you give about the situation should demonstrate those two factors. At the same time, you should be careful that your answer does not demonstrate a propensity to blame others or reveal company or individual confidences, both of which are potential red flags that will peak the ears of an interviewer and damage your candidacy.

The last question from the above list is really the deciding one in any job interview: why should I hire you? I tell my interview preparation clients that every answer they give in an interview should answer this underlying question:

Why should I hire you?

If you know and can internalize that “why should I hire you?” is the underlying question behind all other interview questions, you have a huge advantage in the interview process. You won’t be tempted to go off on a tangent or give the “wrong” response, because you will always gear your answer to what the interviewer really wants to know: the benefits you can bring to the target company.

Anne Marie Segal is a career and leadership coach, writer and resume writer for attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. The above is an excerpt from her new book, Master the Interview, which is forthcoming on Amazon.com in mid-October 2016. For more information about Anne Marie’s coaching and resume writing work, please visit www.segalcoaching.com.

 

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Are you struggling to keep up with your job search? You probably know that you need to be organized and keep better track of your leads, but how do you achieve that?

How to organize your job search.

Getting organized in your job search means knowing with whom you are connecting, why and other important data points, so that you can recall them when needed. It is easy to keep 3 job targets in your head. Thirty is not so easy. You may think that you will remember information about the company, your value proposition for the role and other factors, but without this information at your fingertips, you are likely to miss something.

Essentially, you need to know and remember the “who, what, where, when, why and how’s” of your job search. If you keep track of this information, not only will it help you feel as though you are making progress on your job search, but it will allow you to keep up with the important contacts that you have made rather than losing out on opportunities because you failed to follow up.

 

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Organize your job search. Image from Adobe Images.

While it may seem like extra work to keep track of where you are applying, if it seems like too much effort to keep track of what you are doing, you are probably “doing too much” on the search front (i.e., sending out applications blindly without slowing down to think about whether the jobs to which you are applying are actually good fits for your talents, interests and skills). It is much more productive to slow down and be thoughtful about your applications than try to blanket the market with your resume.

Imagine you receive a call from the HR department of one of your target employers. She says, “Hi, it’s Sherrie at Set Your Sights High,” and you say, “Ummm….”

If you were being completely honest, you may answer:

“Hi Sherrie, can you hold on…? I think I remember you but not your company. Actually, can I call you back when I figure out where you are calling from and why I sent you an application?”

I am sure you’ll agree that’s not your best look. 

I often suggest to my clients that they arrange their job search and interview information in a chart form, such as Microsoft Excel, with the headings of each column as follows. Here are examples of how to arrange it, with the bolded information sorted by columns and the data in rows.

Spreadsheet #1 – Target Roles (examples)

  • Contact at Target – Jorge Rodriguez
  • Target Company Name – Blankman & Co.
  • Nature of Relationship – our kids play soccer together
  • What I Offer this Target – my blend of technology and people skills plus large and small company expertise; they are growing quickly; looking for new COO; want someone decisive; my leadership roles and recruiting are a plus; they like that I have some sales background and can relate to sales team
  • Date/Stage of Last Contact – email on 6/1
  • Next Steps – follow up with phone call if haven’t heard by 6/15
  • Notes – also knows my good friend Ralph and probably Sara, need to bring this up somehow

Spreadsheet #2 – Connectors (examples)

  • Name – Lana Kinderman
  • Company Name – Kinderman & Associates
  • Nature of Relationship – known since graduate school
  • Reason for Connection – will refer me to an UN jobs or others where she has contacts; said I may need to first apply, then she will forward resume to right people
  • Date/Point of Last Contact – lunch on 5/10
  • Next Steps – invite her to September networking event; finalize resume to send her
  • Notes – remind Lana I speak fluent Spanish next time I see her

For the second spreadsheet, “Connectors” are people who are well poised to connect you to possible targets, and the “Reason for Connection” relates to the type of roles with which or individuals with whom they can connect you. For example, the Reason for Connection may be that the individual knows a number of private company CEOs or has other contacts in a certain field and is willing and able to help you connect with them (i.e., has a strong network and wants to support your job search by helping you make connections). Recruiters can also go on the Connectors chart, or a separate chart, since they also have the potential to connect you with a number of roles.

If you are applying to very different sets of roles (e.g., non-profit administration roles and corporate social responsibility (CSR) positions), I would suggest using additional sets of spreadsheets, or different workbooks within Excel if you find that easier, for each leg of your job search, naming them appropriately. The more structured you can make your approach, without complicating it, the better. (And if you find Excel intimidating, tables in Word also work. The point is to use this information to serve your job search, not to be tied to a certain format.)

Some of my clients prefer to include contact information for individuals in this same chart, although I generally keep that separate, so that the spreadsheet is still printable and readable on an 8 ½ x 11 page without heavy formatting.

Click here for a sample spreadsheet.

Alternatively, you can record your job leads and next steps online, rather than through a spreadsheet. This is entirely in the best interest of the job seeker rather than an issue of best practice. I like to see everything on a few pages, neatly organized, and do not want to have to sign in and remember passwords to access my information. Others may appreciate the support of a system. Jibberjobber.com works well for many candidates, for example, and it is free (at the time of this post) for a basic account.

Once you have an interview with a target company, I suggest creating more detailed pages outlining your research and talking points, which I will discuss in more detail in a future post.

Anne Marie Segal is a career and leadership coach, writer and resume writer for attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. The above is an excerpt from her forthcoming book on job interviews. For more information about Anne Marie’s coaching practice, please visit www.segalcoaching.com.

© 2016 Anne Marie Segal. All rights reserved.

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Becoming a General Counsel (GC) or Chief Legal Officer (CLO), or making a move to a more senior GC or CLO role at a more prominent company, is not simply a matter of rising through the ranks or toiling away for years at a law firm and then deciding one day that you would like to throw in your hat for the position. Years ago, longevity in the legal field, motivation to fill the role and a projection of confidence may have been sufficient to mint a new GC or CLO, but the world has changed and the role of General Counsel has evolved along with it.

In today’s complex and competitive marketplace, successful General Counsels and Chief Legal Officers need to excel across a range of key, identifiable areas (spelled out below) and demonstrate their ability to be a key asset to their companies, helping make or break their long-term success. Often,  GCs and CLOs also run a legal staff and provide leadership and management of other attorneys, compliance professionals and/or administrative personnel. In addition, they may be members of an executive team and collaborate with cross-functional groups to give input on diverse areas such as product development and marketing.

Successful GCs need to excel and execute across a range of key, identifiable areas.

If you are currently in a GC role and want to raise your game (or emphasize your value proposition in an upcoming interview), or if you are looking to become a GC or CLO from a law firm or in-house counsel spot, here are eight core qualities you must cultivate to be successful in this key role.

Know the business inside and out.

1.  Understand the big picture of the business and industry. This point is emphasized so often that the words “big picture” begin to sound cliché, but it is nonetheless #1 on the list of attributes for a successful General Counsel.

The most effective GCs focus on the business first and understand that the legal aspects of any deal, regulatory requirement or dispute must be viewed from the lens of the business goals. (In the case of a non-profit organization, the “business” is the “mission,” and the same principals apply.) This point is especially relevant for attorneys who are aiming to switch from a law firm setting directly to a General Counsel role, as they may not have been as close to the day-to-day needs of the business while working on high-level matters such as acquisitions, litigation or other big ticket items.

To facilitate your top-down understanding, you should ask yourself questions such as:

Corporate Matters:  How does the current acquisition, joint venture, contract or other transaction create value for our company? What risks or implications does it hold, what failures are possible (and how likely are they to happen) and how does it fare in the overall cost-benefit analysis? How will we integrate what is new into what we already have, and who needs to be on board? What should we be thinking about that hasn’t yet been raised?

Compliance: What is the impact and true cost of compliance with current and proposed regulations, and how can we effectively meet our obligations or, if appropriate, obviate the need to comply?

Disputes and Litigation: What is the best approach to meet our short and long-term objectives in the case of a dispute? What unintended consequences can result from our range of possible litigation strategies and how could they affect our business? Is there a better way to get to the right answer?

Marketplace: Are there disruptions in our industry that present opportunities or threats, legal or otherwise? How should we address them and/or get ahead of the game?

Generally: How else can or should we be pro-active in any areas that could have an impact on our business or legal strategy and what economic, political, technological, industry and cultural developments should we monitor? How often? Whom shall I engage (in meetings, conversations and otherwise) in order to stay informed and make the best decisions on that front? 

And personally, you should ask yourself:

How does my role as an executive and attorney fit into the big picture? What do I bring to the table, and how can I bring more?


A key part of understanding the big picture is having a strong handle on financial matters. Understand and take ownership of P&L (even if at first it is only for a single project, or you have “derivative” or shared ownership), speak about your accomplishments in terms of the value you add (money in or costs and risks avoided) and know how to maximize the return on your company’s investment in you and your team.

2.  Demonstrate good judgment. Gain a reputation for making the right calls and connecting the dots with limited information to help your team make it to the finish line on deadline and without any snags. (Note: The best way to cultivate good judgment is by rolling up your sleeves and practicing decision-making under pressure – which may mean stepping out of your comfort zone – to gain exposure, confidence and feedback. It can only learned by doing.)

Good judgment is sometimes called a “sixth sense” or an “ability to see around corners” from business and legal perspectives. Whatever you call it, you cannot be an effective GC without it.

Talk like a business person. Not a lawyer.

3.  Don’t talk like a lawyer. Talk like a business person. Sometimes this is called “talking in English rather than legalese,” but it goes beyond that. The best GCs can prioritize and communicate the key business points and know how to signal and address potential legal issues without dragging business leaders into the fray or wasting their time on concerns that the lawyers need to work out among themselves. They also know how to gently reign in business folks who get ahead of themselves by ignoring those legal risks with which they actually should concern themselves, including business risks that are masquerading as legal risks.

One of the best ways to learn how to talk like a business person (or, more specifically, unlearn how to talk like a lawyer) is to spend time with them, hear them converse, get into their heads and internalize their concerns. In other words, the road to GC is not paved by putting your head down and doing your work. Like good judgment, you can only learn to communicate better by doing.

The road to GC is not paved by putting your head down and doing your work.

4.  Be humble. At the end of the day, the legal function is a support function. Yes, lawyers help steer the boat, but a successful GC understands that sometimes business leaders make decisions that do not follow the best advice of counsel, taking on what a “reasoned head” might decide is too much unnecessary risk. Your potential recourse in this situation, if you disagree with your business counterparts on whether your legal advice is required or simply “advisable,” is fourfold:

(a) you could move over to the business side and do a better job yourself,

(b) you could leave (if you feel consistently disrespected or are concerned about ethics or the longevity of the company or your role);

(c) you could find ways to strengthen your own and/or your team’s standing within the organization so that your advice is taken more seriously (if not always followed); or

(d) you could hold your ground (withholding legal approval) and/or escalate your concerns.

Save the fights for when they really matter, not for when they help you feel vindicated, save face or appear to know best. Having a reputation for “resistance” to business needs is not a good long-term strategy at any company, as it undermines your authority. If you feel that you are too often at loggerheads with your business folks, the best strategy may be to move on to a company that you believe has better business practices or is a better match for your own risk-tolerance levels. (Conversely, if you are at a company that loses out on opportunities because it never takes sufficient risk, in your opinion, you may also be well served by seeking a stronger fit.)

5.  Take leadership roles. Don’t wait for opportunities to present themselves; you need to create them. This means getting in front of the Board of Directors, President or CEO whenever appropriate and possible, making presentations to industry or key clients, spearheading/overseeing important projects and making yourself known as a person of vision and action within the company and outside of it. The best way to get tapped for a GC role, or increase your impact if you are already in one, is to be (and create the reputation of being) someone who effectively leads, mentors, sponsors, motivates, teaches and influences others. In short, make leadership a centerpiece in your professional mission and personal brand.

Make leadership central to your professional mission and personal brand.

6.  Cultivate your political capital. Form relationships and maintain consistent lines of communication with key people inside your company, across your industry and beyond. The greater your political capital, the more you can leverage your current role and be considered for positions with increasing responsibility. If you are a law firm partner or counsel hoping to transition in-house, increase your network of in-house players and business leaders, so that you understand their perspectives and have them in your corner when the need arises. In addition, if you have raised your political capital in the marketplace, you will present as a stronger candidate if and when the opportunity for a lateral move or promotion becomes available.

7. Learn to manage others and delegate work. There may be many GCs and CLOs who have taken on the role without knowing how to manage a group of talented professionals and assign the right tasks to the right players, but to build a successful career as a General Counsel, you will need to guard your own time while managing the performance and workload of your team (which may include outside counsel). 

8.  Have a solid and broad range of substantive legal skills. Increasing and broadening your substantive legal knowledge is only one piece of the GC equation. I address it last because while having a well-developed legal “head” and intuition is a baseline, legal knowledge alone is not sufficient to be an effective General Counsel.

The problem with many legal roles is that an attorney becomes siloed (or niched) into a particular area of practice, whether it is litigation, contracts or otherwise. To be effective, GCs need to address directly or oversee all legal needs of their company or organization. This means they may need expertise or at least a passing knowledge (to “know what they don’t know and should find out,” as the phrase goes) in commercial matters, corporate governance, employment, litigation, real estate, tax, executive compensation, compliance and risk management, in varying orders and degree.

If your goal is to raise to the level of General Counsel or (if currently a GC) become a bigger fish or swim in a bigger pond, you should conduct what I sometimes call a “gap analysis” to determine what is missing in the mix, then work on how you can deepen and round out your skills. Not only will this make you a stronger GC candidate, it will make you a better lawyer and add to your ability to provide judgment in a crisis and day-to-day.

Find and close any gaps in your substantive legal skills. 

Clearly the role of a General Counsel is dynamic and requires a broad range of talents and skills that cannot all be captured in a short summary. Instead, treat these seven points as a roadmap, and feel free to leave me a note in the comments section with your own insights. For further reading, I also suggest “So You Want to Be a General Counsel? How to Maximize Your Chances,” published in the ACC Docket and also available here.

 
Anne Marie Segal is a career and leadership coach, writer and resume writer for attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. In her practice serving lawyers, she coaches General Counsels, law firm partners, counsel and associates, as well as government, academic and non-profit attorneys. 

© 2016 Anne Marie Segal. All rights reserved.
Image: Adobe Stock.
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