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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

November 18, 2019

I am an in house lawyer with no direct reports. How do I address this deficiency when interviewing for a job that requires management experience?

Julie Q. Brush

For the candidate applying for a role requiring “management experience”, his/her lack of it can create insecurity and bring to light a lack of knowledge on how to effectively address the deficiency in an interview setting. So how does a candidate handle this issue?

1. Take Inventory
As part of your interview preparation, take inventory of any out-of-the-box management experience you may have. Are there professionals who you manage indirectly? Do you manage support staff? Have you managed others on internal/external projects? If “yes”, then crystalize the details: Whom did you manage in each scenario? What was the context? What skills were effective? Being aware of this information upfront will arm you with insights and examples come game time.

2. Do Not Verbalize The Experience You Lack
When discussing the issue, refrain from verbalizing the experience you lack. Example: “I‘ve never directly managed people, but…” By saying these words…out loud, you put an exclamation point on the end of an employer’s concern. Instead, make your point in a more positive way by articulating how your skillset and current experience will make you a successful manager in this new role.

3. Demonstrate Your Understanding Of What It Takes To Be A Successful Manager
Half the battle in convincing an employer that you are up to the management task is persuading them that you understand what it takes to be a successful manager: your philosophy, the skills, the temperament etc. Demonstrating your insight will go a long way to satisfying a potential objection.

4. Provide Examples To Support Your Relevant Management Skills
Showcasing your understanding is the first part. Providing real world examples that are the foundation for this understanding…is the second. Whether it’s your de facto management experience, managing support staff, lawyers on big projects or your overall leadership ability, draw on your interview prep and provide the examples you need to make your case.

Below are a few sample messages:

“In my role, I am responsible for all aspects of oversight for two attorneys. While they do not officially report to me, I serve in a de facto management capacity for which the legal department relies on my expertise. I review their work product; counsel them in client negotiations, train on new matters and manage their workload. Through this experience, I’ve developed essential management skills and my two mentees have flourished. I look forward to managing more people in my next role.”

“I currently have a paralegal reporting to me, whom I’ve managed for two years. My philosophy as a manager is to be hands-on, but empowering. And given the importance of her role in our department, it’s critical that she is effective as well fulfilled in her work. So we work collaboratively, keep an open line of communication and meet once a week to discuss her workload. I also empower her to make decisions, but am always available for guidance. My approach has been successful and she is thriving.”

“ In my experience, when people are happy and feel supported and challenged, they do their best work. Being a good manager is about facilitating this type of environment by providing guidance, being engaged as well as supporting success and professional development. In my current role, I’ve developed these skills through mentoring junior lawyers and support staff as well as managing large projects that required a large team. So the responsibility comes naturally to me and is a strength I’d bring to this role.”

When applying for a job, a deficiency in any skillset should not be intimidating…but rather motivate you leverage your other experience and show how these skills are interconnected. In the end, some employers will stick to the hard requirement, while others will be open and want to hear more. So make your case with conviction…and you’ll increase the probability of the best possible outcome for you.

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