Like it or not, your first foray into the in-house counsel interviewing process might be via a phone screen, either with an internal or external recruiter, and then a “screener” conversation with a member of the hiring manager’s team.

These phone screens may seem like relatively low-stress, comparatively “easy” interviews to deal with, but after performing dozens of these kinds of interviews at my former employer, I will tell you that unless you prepare properly, you could be putting your chances of moving on to the next round in jeopardy.

I’ve also been a prospective candidate who’s had to go through phone screens, so I’ve also got some thoughts on the entire process from both sides of the headset, dealing with both external recruiters and when you speak with somebody from your prospective employer.

External Recruiters

Tip No. 1: Just listen!

I’m not saying be dishonest here, but always hear the external recruiter out. They look at you and see dollar signs; you should similarly treat this relationship as transactional at the outset. Even if you aren’t necessarily interested in the role or its geographic location at first blush, it never hurts to listen. At a minimum you will learn valuable intelligence about the job market and what your skills and experience are worth out there.

Tip No. 2: Sell yourself!

This is not the time to be modest. Recruiters want to take you and sell you to their clients – give them every chance to do that to the best of their ability by putting your best foot forward. You always know more, and are more qualified than, you think. Don’t sell yourself short by not emphasizing all of your skills and your background. As an old colleague used to say, you are a luxury good, not a Canal Street knock-off! Act accordingly.

Internal Recruiters

Tip No. 3: Be a professional

In my experience there is almost nothing you can do at this stage that won’t move you along to the next round other than being grossly unprofessional when you speak with your prospective employer’s internal recruiter. Be prepared to talk about your CV, treat the recruiter with respect and humility, and you’ll be fine. Just don’t take this step in the process for granted.

Screener with the Hiring Team

Tip No. 4: DO NOT RAMBLE!

This is so important that I’m writing it in all caps (something I absolutely hate doing). But it’s beyond critical and what will sink your candidacy if you don’t take it seriously.

Be direct! Answer each question! Do not go off on random tangents.

I think it’s very difficult to build a rapport with a phone screener the way you might be able when you’re sitting across the interview table in person. You want to leave the phone screener feeling like they just got off the line with a straight shooter who is confident in his or her abilities and genuinely excited about the role and organization. Be that straight shooter!

As a phone screener I would typically only not advance a candidate to the next round of interviewing if they didn’t follow this simple rule. If you’ve been talking for five straight minutes, you are probably rambling! Talk to yourself in the shower or in the car or while you’re taking a walk at lunch. Practice being clear and concise about your background, your career path, what you’re currently working on, and why you think this employer is such a great fit for you. This is NOT the time to be making up your own questions and answering them instead!

Tip No. 5: Use a hands-free device in a private room with no distractions.

This is a very simple tip, but one that some people seem to forget.  Don’t take the call in your car, or in a coffee shop, or any other location that isn’t private and quiet. This sets the tone for the phone screen. You don’t want to be punch line at happy hour that night because your dog or baby or smoke alarm battery started making noise in the background. By taking the call in a quiet, serious place, you demonstrate from the outset that you are serious about the role and the employer.

Bonus tip! Questions you should be ready to answer during the phone screen:

  • Why do you want to make the transition from law firm to in-house practice?
  • Tell me about your experience handling [litigation/corporate/etc.] types of matters at your current employer.
  • Why are you interested in working for our company?
  • Why are you interested in working in this city/geographic location? (if position would require relocation)
  • Tell me about a time that you took on responsibility outside of your base job description.
  • Have you ever had to make a decision quickly without getting your boss’s approval? If not, how would you handle that situation?

Have you had any experiences – positive or negative – with a phone interview, either during your job search or as the phone screener? What do you think of our list of questions?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below!