When it comes to getting hired—or getting ahead—there’s more to it than stellar credentials and on-point experience. Those in a decision-making position must like you and feel comfortable with you. They must envision you as “one of us.” This is where intangibles come into play.
- Seek out similarities
Potential employers are most comfortable with candidates like themselves in terms of education, background, and personality. A firm’s website and Martindale-Hubbell listing reveal which schools show up most often in the lawyers’ bios and what other aspects of their backgrounds, such as judicial clerkships, military service, or community involvement, its lawyers have in common. If possible, make your initial contact with someone with a bio similar to yours. And, in the interview, emphasize your commonalities.
- Adapt to the culture
You also must fit with an employer’s style and culture and be someone with whom they believe their clients will feel comfortable. Likewise, you want to make sure you join an organization that aligns with your personal goals, values, and style. Check the firm’s website for hints as to how the firm sees itself and how it wants to portray itself to the public. If possible, talk to recruiters and friends or classmates who worked or interviewed there.
If those sources aren’t available (and even if they are), your observations during the interviewing process are paramount. Note whether first names are used, whether there’s banter in the halls, and so forth. Keep your eyes and ears open and match your degree of formality and your energy level to that of your interviewers, within the parameters of your own personal style. Ask yourself not only whether you think you are a good match for the firm's culture, but also whether it is a good match for your personality.
- Look the part
An investment in the right clothes can make a huge difference to your career. The trend is toward business casual, but you should learn the policies of your targeted firm. Observe the nuances of how these policies are interpreted by those who matter in the organization. What is the norm in the department you would join? What is the immediate supervisor wearing? How about the partners in that group? And what is the mode of dress of the powers in the firm? Despite the dress code of your prospective employer, we recommend business attire for interviews but, once hired, emulate the movers and shakers in firm. You needn’t develop a cookie-cutter mentality; rather, you should express your individuality within reason and with good taste and judgment.
- Join the team
In an interview, you must demonstrate how you would be part of the team pulling for the firm’s success. Discuss how you acted like an owner in your current or previous firms. Many, but not all, firms allow, and even encourage, associates to bring in business. If your current firm allows it, did you seek this opportunity out? Show, to the extent you can, that you learned the business aspects of your organization (its billing, collections, staffing, partnership structure, and so forth). Mention, if applicable, any committees or leadership roles you took on and what you did to facilitate the smooth functioning of your firm.
In short, be the kind of person that the powers-that-be want to invite into their ranks.