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The General Counsel Interview – Tips to Get to the Finish Line


The agony of defeat is tough for anyone to swallow, especially for the top lawyers we work with who are driven to win. Not making it past the first round of interviews in a general counsel search is frustrating. Coming in second place and not reaching the finish line is even more painful. Your life has been on hold for months; your vacation days have evaporated; and now you must inform your family and confidants that you were not the chosen one. You might ask yourself if it was all worth it, and the answer is, simply, YES! Having spoken to thousands of general counsels, no one has ever expressed regret over the path it took to achieve the top leadership position in their law department and there are thousands more striving to take on the challenge.

During a search, my relationship with each candidate grows stronger every day. Informing the second-place candidates who do not receive an offer is never enjoyable; everyone seeks constructive criticism. Because I am committed to being candid throughout, I do share what went wrong or if a tactical error occurred, but rarely is there anything to be said. CEOs today expect their GC to be a strategic business partner, ethical compass, safe guardian, crisis manager, and consultant to the board. If the CEO lacks confidence in a candidate’s ability in any of these areas, a match is highly unlikely. The same goes for establishing rapport. Chemistry is key.

Interview Tips for General Counsel

In light of the above, consider the following as you prepare for your next interview:

Anything you say about your past can be used against your candidacy — Your past must reflect superior judgement, your trusted relationships, leadership skills, how you aided in the development of others, and commitment to diversity. Be sure you’re saying the right thing.

Solid interpersonal communication is critical — You must demonstrate gravitas, persuasiveness, assertiveness, and exhibit good listening. You can only imagine how many candidates have literally talked themselves out of contention.

Uncover the objectives of the executive team and be convincing of your abilities to help achieve success — Ask questions to understand the CEO’s mission, business objectives, and the perfect cultural fit. Your ability to respond to key points makes a significant difference. The interviewers must see you as a trusted partner who can serve as member of the senior leadership team.

Finally, get a little personal — Describe what motivates you, what factors lead to your success, your personal network, your family, maybe even your hobbies. Yes, you’re a highly credentialed general counsel candidate, but there’s always more to a person than what’s on a resume.

If you’re feeling like you’re always coming in second, there is a silver lining! We continually see candidates who fall short in one search and excel in another. As much as you may have felt like you were the perfect candidate, if the chemistry wasn’t there for the CEO, it wouldn’t have been a good fit for you either. Learn from the past and rest assured that the perfect opportunity is undoubtedly right around the corner.

Contact BarkerGilmore for General Counsel Coaching

BarkerGilmore provides coaching and mentoring services for lawyers looking to advance their careers as a general counsel. Our consultants are leaders in their industry and possess the skills and insights to help you develop as a leader. Learn more about our coaching solutions, or reach out to our team today.

John Gilmore is co-founder and Managing Partner at BarkerGilmore. With three decades of experience in executive search, he has managed the successful placement of General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officers, and helped those leaders build their law departments and compliance organizations.  

Topics: Legal Talent   |   Recruiting   |   Interview   |   Recruiting General Counsel   |   General Counsel


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