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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

June 7, 2016

I am an in house lawyer with no direct reports. How do I address this issue 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 doubt – 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 to Build Your Case

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? Do you or have you managed outside counsel? What about other professional areas of your life outside your job? Is there anyone you manage in this context? If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, then crystalize the details: Whom did you manage in each scenario? What was the context? What skills were effective? How has this experience made you a better professional and employee? 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 and solidify the objection. Instead, make your point in a more positive way by articulating your management philosophy and how your skill set and current experience will enhance your managerial success in this new role.

3. Articulate 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 and approach 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 examples to serve as guides when discussing this issue in an interview:

“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 of 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 and write their reviews. Through this experience, I’ve developed essential management skills and my two mentees have flourished. I look forward to bringing my experience 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 very 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.”

So what if you have no management experience whatsoever in any context – professional or otherwise? If you truly cannot identify any area of your life where you have managed someone or something, there’s no need to throw in the towel. Simply discuss your philosophy of good management, how you would approach the task at hand and articulate the experience you do have that has enabled you to develop the skills to be an effective manager.

When applying for a job, a deficiency in any skill set should not be intimidating or demoralizing…but rather motivate you to leverage your other experience and demonstrate 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. You’ll never know which one you’ll encounter…so give it your best shot and make your case. And you may just generate the confidence you need to secure your new role as the Boss.

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