Thursday 29 January 2015

Employment interviews: some thoughts on how to handle them ...

Here's something a little different: a guest post from Aedan of Reflect Digital.  Aedan [no surname] wrote to me a while ago and offered me a piece on job interviews. I said that I would consider one if it was of specific interest to the intellectual property community. This, with a bit of editing from me, is what has emerged. The bits in red brackets belong to me, not Aedan.  By the way, I don't know much about Reflect Digital since its website is not what you'd call informative; I suspect that it's one of those businesses that earns its humble crust through SEO activities and placing links where people would like to see them -- but I'm sure they'll tell me if I'm wrong.

What's the relevance of this topic to the SOLO IP blog? It's twofold.  First, it is always possible that readers who are discontented with their solo or small practices might be considering becoming a small cog in a larger machine again, in which case it never hurts to think a bit about the interview process (which has undoubtedly changed since many of us were last interviewed for an employment position).  Secondly, some of us are interviewers as, when increased business means a need for help, we grill a hopeful paralegal, secretary, PA or professional colleague -- and it's good to know what sort of approach to being interviewed by you they might take.

Anyway, this is Aedan's piece:
How to Impress at Interview

Interviews can be a most stressful time for anyone participating in one, whether before, during and after the interview. This is especially true when it come to an interview for a competitive job in a competitive field like Intellectual Property Law. Sudden in the space of an hour all your time in education, work experience and knowledge are scrutinised by a stranger -- and this can be scary. Here are a few suggestions to consider and keep in mind when facing an interview for an IP position.

1. Think smart 
In IP, appearances
mean a great deal ...
Interviews are an opportunity for potential employers to get a taste of your personality, work attitude and conduct. For this reason providing a professional appearance is best, so suiting up is definitely worthwhile if you’re hoping to get the job [and even if your interview takes place on a Dress Down Friday].  While attention-grabbing make-up, jewellery and extreme hairstyles are tolerated in many places, it may be worth toning them down for the occasion [and if you are trying for a firm that has airport security at reception, decide in advance what to do about your body piercings ...]. Dress appropriately to the job at hand. With IP firms being so varied these days in their image, it can be hard to decide what to wear: should you go for a suit or smart casual?  Just look at the target firm's website and see how the firm's employees (or models in artwork they have licensed for use on their websites) are dressed.

2. Research

Since the job market is competitive, especially in IP, it’s normally and obviously essential to appear keen, proactive and enthusiastic. This apparent lively interest can be enhanced by researching the firm, what they specialise in, and cases in which they’ve been involved.

Googling your prospective employer can provide you with articles about the firm, and possibly a background check on the interviewer and the job description, to ensure that you have an understanding of what is expected from you. Browsing the firm online also assists in enabling the assiduous candidate to imbibe information subconsciously that might assist in answering questions. A LinkedIn and Twitter stalk can throw up pertinent information too: if you find out who is interviewing you, it may be possible to ascertain some more personal details. If you have a shared interest, try to bring it up naturally in the interview, whether it is a sports team or a hobby [Manchester United? Scuba diving? Thai cuisine? But don't try this unless you know enough to talk sensibly about them]. This is something that can set you apart from the other candidates.

We asked Jerry Bridge-Butler (partner, Patent Attorney and Trade Mark Attorney at Baron Warren Redfern), what the most important thing he looks for in an interview is and he said 
“The most important thing I look for in a candidate is a sharp mind and a bit of a personality. I rate what someone is like more than their qualifications. Therefore, when I ask questions in an interview, I don’t really mind what the answer is, rather I want to see some confidence, intelligence and personality given in the answer. If I ask where someone sees themselves in five years’ time, I don’t mind what they say, but I do care about how they say it.”
3. Organisation

You shouldn't need to bring a CV with you these days, but it's worth printing out whatever you've sent to your prospective employer so that you can read it over before the interview and remind yourself what you've told them [and do let them know your surname].  You should also account for plenty of travel time, to avoid the stress of getting there only just in time or, worse, after your interview was supposed to begin. It is better to get there too early and nip round the corner for a coffee before than to be late.

Upon arriving at the interview, maintain a positive, enthusiastic approach, no matter who you’re speaking to, so that everyone you’re in contact with has something nice to say. Remember to be polite and friendly to the people who are not interviewing you, such as the reception staff.  Their casual comment to a partner about what a prize pig you were when you arrived may carry more influence than you imagine.

4. Shake on it

A firm handshake makes a lasting impression on potential employers.  Open the introductions with one, and -- if you're lucky -- seal the deal at the end, making sure that your grip is not too limp or on the verge of breaking their bones.

5. The interview

A confident answer will be concise: not too short but, not too long. Answer the question and provide relevant real life examples to provide an insight into your personality and what you have to offer the company, demonstrating examples of your IP knowledge and transferable skills. Mention in your answer your own personal research so they know you are passionate about the field.

Concentrate on your body language, imagine what you’d think if you saw someone slouched and playing with their hair, their eyes darting furtively round the room. Make sure your posture and body language reflect your interest in the job and your employable personality.

We also asked Jo Parry from London IP practice Waterfront Solicitors what piece of advice would she offer to someone going to an interview. She said 
“The one piece of advice I would offer to someone going for interview is to thoroughly research the company and – as far as you can – the people that are going to be interviewing you. If you’ve already considered how you’re going to fit into your new work environment and where you can add the most value, you’ve given yourself the best chance of interview success.”
6. Question time

Try and think of a question that you can ask that makes you seem interested about your future working with the career, regarding your role and any interests you may have about the job [but don't push it too far: "How long should it take me to make partnership?" certainly makes you seem interested in your future with the firm, but it may not convey quite the right shade of interest].

You should not ask about holidays or sick pay, or engage in conversations about salary until there is a job offer in place. There is plenty of time for this at a later stage -- if you get there.
So now you know!

1 comment:

  1. With regards to researching a company before interview, there's a lot of information online. For example, the website Aihit lists changes to corporate websites so if you do an internet search for Aihit and the name of the firm of interest, then click on the History of Changes link, you get a list of additions/deletions to the firm's website. You can see how stable a firm is from how many times it has changed address, how much throughput of staff there is etc.