General Counsel Interview: How To Prepare

Preparing for your general counsel interview complete with sample interview questions

As more and more startups appear and large companies transition along with the evolving times, taking time to prepare for your General Counsel interview is key. There is a continued need for excellent in-house legal counsel and acing the interview will get you in the door. If you’re in the process of applying or have secured an interview for a General Counsel position there are some things you might want to keep in mind while preparing to take on all the responsibilities and decisions of an out-of-firm job.

Overpreparation is the only preparation. Interviewers are looking for outstanding General Counsel candidates that can demonstrate excellent legal and business judgment, are leaders and have great interpersonal communication skills, have experience managing and effectively advising on complex issues, and who have broad legal subject expertise.

Take lots of notes before, during, and after your interview. Be ready to answer any question the interviewer might fire at you. (Check out sample interview questions below). From being able to effectively communicate your management style and leadership skills to aligning your stories to the CEO’s mission and overall business objectives are key to securing that offer. Keep reading to find out some of the main things to consider while crafting your responses to the main interview questions, which we also have a post on here.

Prepare to Establish Credability in your General Counsel Interview

When doing prep for a General Counsel interview don’t rely on head knowledge alone to carry you through. Remember, the interviewer and everyone you meet in this company is a person just like you and wants to be wooed by your personality and excellence of skill. Consider how you can add value to the company. What problems can you solve? How will you solve those problems while continuing to be a people person that others can trust for advice?  Write out how you can showcase your technical skills and jot down some valuations for certain risks the company can take or should consider for future growth. Giving the interviewer numbers for things and responses that demonstrate your interpersonal communication skills can be impressive. Think through some business scenarios and write out how you will respond.

If there’s a subject area where you are unfamiliar, be upfront about it, but also demonstrate that you are willing to jump in and learn more about that subject area. This is also a good moment to explain how in addition to your leadership skills, you are a team player and will be able to find resolutions to an issue no matter what.

Prepare to Present a Clear Vision in your General Counsel Interview

Prep for your General Counsel interview by mapping out a clear vision. Go into the interview making it clear that you’ve done your research on the company and have your stories ready. Read a lot about the company beforehand. Study their financial statements, public filings, read their annual report, watch their latest webcast, and scour their marketing materials. Know and be able to express what interested you in the role, how you see yourself succeeding at that company, and what motivates you about having an in-house legal role. Provide succinct answers, theorize your responses, and advise based on levels of risk. Ask the interviewer to tell you any additional information that can provide more insight into what type of things they are looking for outside of anything you can find online or in the job description. Genuinely listen to what the interviewer has to say and respond in kind. 

Pro Tip: Get clear on your dealbreakers just in case you need to pivot during the interview. Writing these things out will allow for you to recall them during the interview. If working with a recruiter discuss your dealbreakers with them and make a plan for what may or may not be in your vision for this next role.

Prepare to Draw in the Interviewers

Prep for your General Counsel interview by making a list of questions you want to be answered and then ask them. This shows that you are truly engaged in the company and what the interviewer has to say about what they are really looking for. Preparing questions ahead of time will show that you are professional and prepared to respond.

 Interviewing is a fact finding mission…not an interrogation!

Hannah Morgan, Career Sherpa

With an in-house General Counsel position you will be managing mainly people and resources, so show that you can be a good leader by listening and assessing. Many times you will be meeting with more than one person at various levels of the company’s corporate hierarchy. Knowing how you can help grow the company, keep legal costs down, and solve issues quickly and cheaply will be an asset as you move through the interview process. Doing so will also help you and the interviewer decide if you are a ‘cultural fit’ for the company as well.

Dissecting a Real Job Description to prepare answers

The job description is the road map for the opportunity. The hiring team is (or should be!) assessing their candidate pool based on the requirements in the JD. I was just on ZipRecruiter and found an assistant general counsel opportunity with Nu Skin. I went through the requirements and underlined the content that I thought was important to the role (simple term: OPP/opportunity pain point).

You want to look at each line and consider that they could turn it into a behavioral-based interview question. For example, the third line of bullet point #1 states that the role will involve coordinating the use of outside legal counsel.

Excerpt from job Description found on Zip Recruiter for NuSkin position

💡 Knowing this, it’s highly likely that a question will come up in the interview about managing outside counsel. What would *𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐩𝐚𝐧𝐲 𝐜𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐚𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐭* with regards to outside legal counsel?

– Cost savings?

– Diversity/representation?

– When does it make sense to work with outside legal counsel?

If these are OPPs for this specific requirement, consider the questions that could come from this:

– Tell me about a time that you helped control costs or reduced outside counsel spending? How did you do it and what was the impact on the business?

–  Was there a diversity value at your past employer? If so, did you make an impact on this? Have you ever used a job description to help you ace an interview?

Get Professionally Personal

Prep your closing argument for your General Counsel interview. You want to close out your interview like you are making the sale of a lifetime because you indeed are selling yourself for this role! Be confident. You secured this interview because they were interested in talking to you! This is where your notes come in handy. If truly engaged you should be able to recall a few things that the interviewer had to say that excited you about the position. In your assessment, if you still believe you are the best candidate for the role be sure to ask the interviewer about the next steps and when to follow up. Also, make sure to get contact information if necessary.

Sample General Counsel interview questions

  1. Walk me through your work history.
  2. What are the top three factors you attribute to your success?
  3. Where do you want to be in 5 years? How will this role help you get there?
  4. What is the most important advice you’ve recently given your CEO?
  5. What is the most challenging ethical dilemma you’ve faced and how did you resolve it?
  6. Tell us about an experience in which you had a limited amount of time to make a mission critical or politically sensitive decision with significant organizational impact.
  7. Tell us about a time when you made a bad decision. What was the impact of the decision? What did you do to correct or mitigate the impact of the bad decision?
  8. What is your definition of diversity and inclusion— and why is it important to have a good understanding of this in your role?
  9.  Was there a diversity value at your past employer? If so, did you make an impact on this?
  10. One of the challenging aspects of this role is that our company has multi-sites in different locations/states/countries/etc. How do you build relationships with the business units?
  11. Tell us about a situation where you developed trust and respect with others throughout the organization
  12. How do you prioritize your workload when you have competing deadlines?
  13. What do you do when you do not know an answer?
  14. What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
  15. What is the latest book you’ve read?
  16. Give an example of a time that you streamlined a review or compliance process. What did you do to make your office more efficient?
  17. Give an example of a time that you gave direct feedback and pushback to your CEO. What was the result?

You’ve got this! I am rooting for you!

Sarah Johnston

Sarah Johnston is a former corporate recruiter and industry “insider” who got tired of seeing talented high-achievers get passed over for opportunities because they did not have the right marketing documents or know how to position themselves in interviews. She has relocated multiple times across the country as a “trailing spouse” and has had to execute job searches in completely cold markets. She has been named a LinkedIn Top Voice in the career space, HR Weekly’s Top 100 Most Influential People in HR, named the owner of the “best resume writing firm for experienced executives” by Balance Careers and a “top follow” by JobScan in 2019 and 2020.

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