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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

June 6, 2016
Question

I’m a GC seeking to move to a non-GC role. What do I say in an interview to convince employers that (1) I really don’t want to be GC, (2) I won’t be bored; and (3) I won’t be a flight risk?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

Professionals who seek to transition to roles that some may view as a lower step on the corporate ladder, can raise questions, skepticism and negative assumptions among employers in the search process. So the endeavor requires an effective story and convincing message to put employers at ease about their concerns. In an interview setting, the topic of your shift will inevitably arise – which will be a critical juncture and moment of truth for your candidacy. So your message needs to be on target and strike the right tone. Below are a few sample messages to serve as a guide:

Employer:

“Jeff, I see that for the last several years you’ve been the GC at Company X. Why are you interested in this position? Why wouldn’t you want another GC position?

Candidate:

“Yes, I’ve been GC at Company X for three years. It’s been a terrific experience, but the role requires more focus on management and legal process, which I have not found as inspiring or enjoyable for my practice. I spent the beginning of my career working closely with the Products and Sales teams at Company A and B and I have always loved being in the trenches and pushing the business forward. My true expertise is drafting and negotiating tech and commercial agreements and I’ve decided to solely pursue roles that would allow me to focus on that practice. That’s why this position is so appealing. It offers hands on responsibility with a focus on transactions.”

Employer:

“You’ve done so much in your current role as a GC, won’t you get bored focusing on just corporate securities and governance?”

Candidate:

“No, I definitely won’t get bored focusing on this practice. I’m a corporate securities attorney by training and my current practice…which requires a little of this and a little of that isn’t where I want to stretch my expertise. I spent six years as a corporate securities focus before moving in house as a corporate specialist. At the time, I thought that becoming a GC was the standard goal for an in house lawyer. When I assumed that role in my current company, it was a bit different than I had expected or hoped and my practice changed significantly. My current goal is to return to a corporate specialty and this role seems like the ideal fit.”

Employer:

“How do I know that you won’t leave the company when the next attractive GC position comes along?”

Candidate:

“I’ve spent ____ years in a GC role and have deep visibility into how the role aligns with my career goals. When I started having doubts, I stayed for a longer period of time to determine whether a new perspective or approach could make a difference. What I learned is that my temperament is better suited in a targeted support role rather than leading a department. The market is active and there are various GC opportunities to consider, so if this were the path that I truly wanted, I would apply for these roles now. But I am not. Instead, I’m exploring roles such as this where I can have challenging and interesting work and a great culture, but without the responsibility of running a department.”

The interview is the make-or-break event for a candidacy. So a candidate needs to be über prepared for anything that may come his/her way during the conversation. This includes the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of everything about You. As a GC seeking to move in an unexpected direction, finding the right words to convince an employer that your desires and drivers are genuine will not be easy. But it can be done – no matter how high the hurdle. So prepare your message and deliver it from the heart and you’ll convince even your biggest skeptic that hiring You is the best bet they’ll make.

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