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Why Didn't I Get a Call Back for the Job?

By Linda Green Pierce

I recently spoke with a lawyer candidate who had applied for an advertised in-house counsel role and got handily through a first interview with Talent Management. She was feeling comfortable and, indeed, "good" about her presentation. She felt she was an accomplished individual and particularly matched to the role's description.

And yet the phone did not ring and she did not get the coveted call back to the next interview step. I did not present her for this particular position, but she called me to ask (and vent a little): "Why didn't I get a call back for the job?"

We went over my obvious questions: Was she on time for her call appointment, was she able to speak freely and without interruption or noise to the caller, was she practiced and prepared, had she done her research on the company, did she have her high-energy voice engaged? All good; what else could it be? Did she make an off-color joke? Was she sober? At least those questions were good for a laugh from both of us before we progressed to my next level of advice.

The answer to why there was no call back is often not these obvious questions. My client-company feedback on lawyer candidates, and my own personal experiences for years of hiring people as a law firm manager, may provide the following as possible trouble spots:

Have strong, on-point narratives and be prepared for "what if?":

Self promoting yourself into the hiring company's future does not instill confidence. Real-life examples from your work experience do. You will hear questions about how you handled particular situations in interviews. In addition and in the case of in-house interviews especially, an interviewer will often propose "what if" situations and ask you how you would handle them. Some companies, as part of the initial interview process – before they see you in person – have you complete a writing project they assign.

Speak clearly on what you like about your current job:

Employers are seeking qualifications, but also passion. You should be able to convey in precise terms what it is about your current or last position that really motivated you. Do you know yourself enough to list your personal "drivers"? Be ready to do that rather than listing a bunch of negatives about the current position and why you are leaving it.

Employers know, see and feel the difference between the candidate just looking for another paycheck and someone with a passion for their available role. They are looking for someone who is excited about what they do and can transfer that energy and passion to the new company.

Be honest about matching the job description:

Candidates apply to me for positions I've posted on my website. Many times the candidate is a want-to-be for the role and does not match it – by miles. Often these are fine and qualified candidates, but the contact to me for that particular position wastes my time and theirs. And I'm not going to refer such a candidate on to my employer – who's asked me for a specific match. I'd rather work with that candidate on a much closer, authentic "it works all around" match for them.

If you are not a match for a role, at least be honest going in that you are trying to change roles. Or that you are willing to take a more junior position to learn and grow (it should be your responsibility to be able to detail the "why" you'd do that.) Employers who would hire someone on in that way are concerned that as soon as a "real job" comes along, more closely matching your skills and experiences, that you will leave them.

Don't mislead an interviewer about experiences you haven't had yet or skills not achieved. Arrive prepared with the actual number of things you've done (11 software licensing agreements; two M&As in which you were second chair and supervised three junior associates; 15 depositions, including three medical specialists).

It's probably not because of your resume:

What you prepared got you in the door. In today's marketplace the common resume mistake is length. If your resume is more than two printed pages, it's too long. I ask lawyers with less than 10 years experience to have a one-page resume. Your accomplishments should be tight bullet statements, not lengthy paragraphs. Typically for a lawyer going into a corporation (and more recently in most large law firms), the first review of your resume is not by a lawyer. The job of a Talent Manager, Recruitment Coordinator or Human Resources specialist reviewing your resume is to refine the submissions to the most likely. Your job is to get into the "yes" pile of resumes. Painful as it sounds, that first look by a non-lawyer professional at your resume is going to take about 30 seconds. Trim your resume and make every word count.

Phone interviews hide your light under a bushel:

If your first interview is a telephone interview, that is your chance to make a first impression. You'll need to have all of the pointers listed above in place. But the last piece of advice is to amp up the energy on phone interviews. Stand up and move around prior to your call. Smile when you respond to answers, as if you were in the same room with the employer. Be strongly present and positive.

Some companies use video/Skype, which gives you an opportunity for more personality impact, but brings with it a lot of other issues. Never do a video interview without prior practice. Learn how and where you need to sit and how to keep your hands still or to move them slowly. Examine the background behind you – as this is what an employer will see. You'll want them to see "attagirl" awards on your back wall, not your half-eaten sandwich on the credenza. Employers still allow for a lot of error here, but why not shine?

Bottom line: The more practiced you are, and the more you really know yourself, the more likely your phone will ring for that exhilarating call back.