If done right, an interview will provide an opportunity for both the employer and the candidate to learn more about each other. Therefore, questions asked by the candidate are just as important as those asked by the employer. Besides eliciting information you need to determine whether this is the right career move given your goals, good questions demonstrate interest and enthusiasm, and can increase your chances of landing the job.
First, you must ask yourself a few questions. Just as an employer must define the position to be filled and determine the qualifications of an ideal candidate, as a job-seeker, you must know what you want. Money alone should not be the determining factor in a career move. The $64,000 question is whether this job will further your career and be a step towards reaching your long-term goals. While money is something to consider, in the long run, it is more important to match interests, priorities, and values. Consider where you want to be in the long run, what kind of practice and people you prefer, what kind of training you need, whether you are more comfortable in a large or small firm, and what sort of culture, management structure and style best suit you. Once you know what you want, it is easier to frame questions to elicit the information you need to make the best decision.
Second, do your homework. Interviewers frown on questions which easily could be answered by looking at the firm's website. If you are working with a recruiter, or know someone who previously or currently works for the employer, you can get more inside information before an interview. Asking informed questions demonstrates your sincere interest in the firm, and your thoroughness and resourcefulness-all qualities valued by employers.
So, you know what you want and you've done your homework. What kinds of questions should you ask? The following is a selection of possible questions:
What kind of responsibility will I have? What is the progression of associates towards partnership? What are the criteria for advancement? How much direct client contact can I expect to have? How soon will I get trial/deal-making experience? Are associates assigned to particular partners or teams? How is work assigned? How are matters staffed? How many attorneys on a case/transaction? How is the firm organized? If a branch office, what is the relationship with other offices? What kind of training is available? (Formal and informal.) What are the firm's expectations regarding business development? What kind of support is there for business development efforts? How are associates supervised and evaluated? What are some of the firm's clients, big trials or transactions? Which of the firm's practice areas are expanding? Contracting? What new practice areas is the firm moving into? What has been the firm's growth history? Turn-over? Long-term stability? How are laterals integrated into the firm? What are the firm's expansion plans? Does the firm wish to open new offices? Where? Why? What is the firm's policy on bar association, pro bono, and community activities? What firms do you see as competitors? How is this firm different? How would you describe the personality of this firm? Why did you choose this firm?
Also, ask yourself, when you walk down the halls, are you comfortable in those surroundings, and with how the lawyers there treat you, each other, and support staff? You will be spending quite a bit of time with these people and you need to feel comfortable with them.
There are questions you should NOT ask. Do not ask about compensation, benefits, and hours on the initial interview. Those are immediate turn-offs, and are best left to negotiations once an offer is extended. Even if you are an associate, you should care how the partnership profits are divided because it indicates the qualities that the firm values. While it is not appropriate to ask about financial particulars, once you have an offer, you may ask what criteria are considered when dividing partnership profits-seniority, hours, business generation, etc. There are profit division schemes that encourage cooperation, while others foster internal competition. Never ask an interviewer what he or she earns at any stage of the interviewing process.
A good time to address questions about the quality of life and diversity issues would be on a second or third interview. Ideally, once an offer is extended, you can ask to meet with other attorneys at your level for a frank discussion regarding life at the firm before making your decision. If you have particular concerns regarding diversity issues, request a meeting with gay, women, or minority attorneys from the firm.
Remember: a successful interview is a two-way street. After you've answered all the interviewers' other questions, the most important answer is "Yes", when asked if you have any questions for them. By being prepared with intelligent questions, you can obtain the information you need to make an informed career decision while demonstrating to the employer that you are the best candidate for the job.