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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

June 22, 2018

In a job interview, what is the best way to learn about an organization’s titles and their hierarchy?

Julie Q. Brush

In my previous articles about titles, I discuss their evolution, importance and current relevance in today’s legal profession. Given their significance within an organization and the different levels of compensation, responsibility, deference, power and access etc. tied to titles, it is important to know their value and place within each company when interviewing for a new position. This insight will give you context as to where the role you have applied for fits in the organization. It will also shed light on where you will sit in the legal department pecking order and the potential for growth.

So what’s the best way to gather this information? And what’s the best way to ask for it without sounding too hung up on titles?

The best way to gather information on titles is to ask for it during your interview process. And it’s ok to ask. Interviews are a two way street: Both parties are trying to impress, “sell” themselves, gather information and get to know each other. It’s usually not an equitable give and take – as the employer tends to be in a greater power position and will spend more time learning, assessing and judging. But it is a forum for the candidate to assess an opportunity and have key questions answered as well.

The ideal time to raise the issue is not at the very beginning of an interview process, but deeper into your discussions. Your goal as a candidate in the beginning is to impress…and shine. To engage about the opportunity, your background, your value. And to start building relationship equity with the people in the organization. Once you have established this connection, the dynamic will be more conducive for asking slightly more probing questions about the organization. The individuals who will likely have the most detailed information on this topic are the HR executives and the hiring manager.

So how do you ask for this information effectively?

The best approach is to be specific and inquire graciously. Below are some sample questions you can either proactively ask or respond when asked, “Do you have any questions?”:

  • “I understand that titles today can operate differently from company to company. At Company X, we have seven title levels in the legal department. Can you tell me a little bit about the different titles and levels in the legal department at Company Z?”
  • “I’d love to educate myself a little more about the organization of the legal department. Can you provide me with some information on the reporting structure and the different titles the lawyers have?”
  • “In my current role my title is Senior Corporate Counsel and I report directly to the GC. Can you give me a sense of where the Director title fits in to the legal department infrastructure and what the other titles exist?”
  • “It would be great to get a breakdown of the number of lawyers in the legal department and their titles.”
  • “Companies internally can vary on how they designate titles. Can you give me a sense of what the title structure is at Company Z?”
  • “It’d be great to know a bit more about the different titles in your company and the legal department. It seems like titles are so different from company to company.”

While titles have evolved in the professional world, their importance within organizations remains significant. Knowing what these designations mean for each employer is valuable information as you assess whether an opportunity is right for you. The best way to get smart is in the interview itself – in the right time, in the right way. So don’t be shy – Go ahead…and ask.

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