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Interviewing - How to Manage the Fear of Over-Promising and Under-Delivering

In 12 years of recruiting, I have prepped hundreds of candidates for interviews. One of the most common problems I coach candidates to overcome is their fear of over-promising and under-delivering. Whether it is a partner with a seven-figure book of portable business or a 2nd year associate, most attorneys share that fear. And, of course, it’s legitimate. No one wants to start a new job where they can’t meet expectations. That scenario does not set an attorney up for long-term success.  The unfortunate consequence of this fear is that candidates over compensate in the other direction by downplaying or discounting their experience. In so doing, they greatly diminish their chances of landing an offer.

So, how do you strike the right balance? It’s pretty simple actually- stick to the facts. Let your experience speak for itself. As you are preparing for your interview, think through your experience in quantitative terms. For example, if you are a litigator, you might think about how many depositions you’ve taken and the type- party, fact or expert, how many dispositive motions you’ve drafted and the percentage of your practice in State versus Federal Court. The next step is to avoid using limiting or qualifying language when you are describing your experience. If your interviewer asks you how many depositions you’ve taken and the number is 6. Say that. When I do mock interviews with candidates, the response is sometimes “only 6” or “just 6”. The fact is, while 6 depositions may not seem like a lot to you, it may be 5 more than the next person interviewing, or just fine for what the firm is seeking.  

As an exception to this advice, and following the example above, if you haven’t taken any depositions, don’t just say 0.  Instead, think about other related experience which you have and describe that. For instance, talk about your experience preparing deposition outlines for a partner and sitting in on the deposition to hear how your questions played out. Finally, if you don’t have any actual or related experience with a particular task, use that as 1) an opportunity to discuss your interest in doing that type of work (only if that’s true), and 2) one of the reasons why you might be looking to leave your current firm.

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