Career Audit

Asked (Sort Of) And Answered

Sometimes, a Question About Golf Is Really a Probe of Business Skills

Posted Sep 12, 2004 12:03 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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What did you do right after law school? Why? What sports do you en­joy? Do you golf?

The questions might seem straightforward. But, in a job interview, the interviewer is often asking something else. And that same interviewer is likely looking to elicit information other than the candidate’s backpacking trip through the Andes or how he or she would play a par-four dogleg left.

For example, asking about life after law school might actually be an attempt to find out if a nonlegal job resulted from failing the bar the first time around, says Kathy Mor­ris, director of the ABA’s Ca­reer Resource Center in Chicago.

And questions about sports, especially golf, might really be an attempt to wheedle out of the applicant whether he or she is a member of the country club crowd, and thus acquainted with businesspeople likely to refer legal work, says Gary A. Munneke, a law professor at Pace University in White Plains, N.Y., who has written about finding work as a lawyer.

“If they’re asking questions about how much you liked certain courses in law school, they may be really asking about whether you’re somebody who’s sort of excited and upbeat about their work—or sort of a downer,” Munneke adds, even though the “question doesn’t say that at all.”

Of course, there are questions that may be objectionable, or even illegal—such as inquiries about a wom­an’s plans to have children. Yet, experts say, a lawyer is judged by his or her ability to deal with tough questions.

So, says Morris, “Be able to respond, without being defensive, about both the question asked and the question indicated.”

Munneke says he advises law students and young lawyers to make a list of the 10 questions they are most worried about being asked at a job interview. Then prepare and practice appropriate answers.

And, he says, it’s less important what the candidate says than to “have something that you’ve decided upon, so that it doesn’t throw you” when an interviewer asks, say, why you didn’t get into a top 10 law school.

“Regardless of what you’re asked, you should take it as an opportunity to say what you want to say,” he says. Perhaps, “You don’t have that particular thing they’re looking for. But you have something.” Job candidates “need to know clearly what they’re communicating about themselves, and they should be looking for every opportunity to tell that story,” he adds.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

That doesn’t mean lying. Nor does it mean offering information that reflects poorly.

“You’re not going to volunteer, ‘Oh, I failed the bar,’ ” says Morris. “You focus on what you have been doing, contributing to a family business, following through on law-related skills. Only if they really ask the direct question, ‘Did you take the bar and what was the result?’ do you identify the whole truth,” she adds. “And even then, I’d say ... there were reasons why, without making excuses.”

“You’re never dishonest in an interview. But an interview is not an autobiography. You don’t have to give them your life history,” says Hindi Greenberg, an attorney and career counselor based in Nevada City, Calif. “There are things that aren’t talked about, and one of them is you don’t confess to sins unless you’re asked point-blank about them.”

Carol A. Vecchio, a Seattle career counselor who works with lawyers, says applicants handle interview questions more easily once they know what they really want to do with their careers.

Vecchio says interviewers know it when they see it: applicants who are excited about their career plans with the energy to make it happen. People with that kind of vision will get hired. “It doesn’t matter what they’ve done in the past, what they’ve been fired from in the past,” she says.

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