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Associates Interviewing Associates: Common Hazards

Associates’ voices matter in hiring decisions—at some firms more than others, but at all firms, at least a bit. I recently had a candidate quite far into the hiring process whose chances were unilaterally sunk by one associate because she didn’t like an answer he gave to a question about SEC investigations—which was totally unrelated to any work he had ever done (he was an IP associate). Another time, an associate I was working with was dinged by an associate at the firm because he didn’t like her “casual vibe.” It can be quite nebulous and unnerving!

While everyone prepares carefully to meet with firm partners, the preparation to meet with fellow associates sometimes gets short shrift, and that’s a mistake. Here are a few things to keep in mind when meeting with associates:

  1. Don’t let age influence your behavior. They may be younger than you are, or otherwise less senior, but they know more about the firm you’re interviewing at than you do. The absolute worst thing a more senior associate can do in an interview with someone who is more junior is to be condescending. Do not take this as an opportunity to turn the interview paradigm on its head and grill the more junior person. Do not give them the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head. This can be especially challenging where you’re, say, a 2010 and the associate is a 2018. But go in there prepared to impress, and to demonstrate your value. It’s still an interview.
  2. Don’t be too casual. I’ve had associates swear in interviews with other associates. I’ve had an associate go to a firm with a printout of the Chambers Associate page and ask what was true and what wasn’t. I’ve heard these tales while cringing into my phone. These associates are employees in good standing at a firm where you’re seeking a job. They are not peers yet; they are not your buddies. Keep it formal and professional. Remember: they are going to evaluate you.
  3. Stay positive about your current firm. There’s a tendency with other associates to share war stories about your current firm – resist this urge. Not only does it suggest that you may be a complainer, but nobody wants someone joining their firm like a rat jumping from a ship. They want you to join because where they are is great, not because where you are is terrible. If there’s a time for war stories, it’s months down the line over a beer as colleagues, not in an interview room.
  4. Do your homework. Again, everyone does this for partners, so do not drop the ball simply because it’s an associate. You may find you have powerful commonalities – you both did Teach for America; you both are from Oakland; you went to the same tiny liberal arts college. These are the connections that can make an interview great, so make sure you find them! It would be a huge missed opportunity otherwise.

Interviewing can be nerve-wracking. The best thing you can do is treat everyone on your slate as the knowledgeable insider, regardless of class year, and prepare for every meeting with the same meticulous energy. 

 

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