Not sure if this post was good timing, or just par for the course in today’s economic climate for our industry, but when I logged on, I saw the link to the White & Case layoff announcement. For anyone who is out there interviewing, please feel free to add me to your list of resources. – Heather

Last week on Twitter I casually threw out that when I was job interviewing last year one of my favorite questions to ask was: “So, how do you get your work? Through RFPs or referrals from current clients?” When one of the senior partners at the lunch replied, “What’s an RFP,” I knew I had found the right job for me.

I received several responses to that comment, and ended up composing an e-mail to a colleague who is interviewing. I’ve cleaned it up a bit and have posted it below for your enjoyment.

I would like us to continue the conversation. If you have a great question you like to ask when interviewing, share it to the comments section.

Be Prepared.
Law firm interviewing is hard. I found the two best “interview” books for me were The First 90 Days and 48 Rule of Power. Both books focused me on controlling the conversation and messaging. In my earlier career, I really appreciated Knock ‘em Dead and Talking 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work.

Do Your Due Diligence
Google the firms. Read the blogs. Quiz industry insiders who know not only the legal marketing departments at these firms, but the attorneys, firm culture and history. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions if you find something.

Don’t Ignore the Red Flags
I have paid the price for ignoring red flags, either because I wanted or needed the job. I now try and “read between the lines” and look for the non-verbal clues. Are they just telling me what I want to hear? Or are they sincere? I interviewed at a “family friendly” firm that wanted me to spend way too much time on the road. I also listen for inconsistencies between the partners, the staff and what I know to be true about the firm.

Are they rude? Keep me waiting? Is the staff haggard and angry? Are the offices run down and dirty? If multiple offices, is there a noticeable difference in the quality? What type of equipment, software do they have? What versions? Are they cheap? Or are they wasting money left and right?

Business Questions
I want to know “where do you get your business?” RFPs? Referrals? I like to be “confrontational” so I come right out and ask about where their partner dysfunctions are, and how they expect me to deal with those issues and who is going to back me up.

Does the compensation system encourage or discourage partner cross selling? What are they doing about unproductive partners? What are the annual billable requirements? What the actual averages? Are attorneys credited for marketing hours? Are they used?

Department Issues
I want to know about the staff turnover. What is the tenure of their past CMOs? What about the other executive/c-level professionals? If you’re not the CMO candidate, then I’d want to know about the department turnover (ask the HR officer or a partner this question). This could be reflective of the CMOs management style.

I want to know where they expect me to focus my energies. Are they expecting me to do too much with too small a staff? Does the staff work too much overtime? If so, is it due to poor management, or the inability to say no to partner requests?

Manage Expectations
What’s on the table that hasn’t gotten done? I want to manage their expectations of what can realistically get done, and how much time and money it will take. What are their key initiatives, especially in this economy? Are they online to meet PPEP this year? Has their budget increased or decreased in the past three years? I’m looking for if the budget is going down while the revenue and PPEP are going up.

Can I clean house with vendors? Staff?

How do they measure success? Based on what I have learned in the interview, I would explain how I would measure my success. In general: Did I accomplish what I said I would accomplish? In the time frame I said I would do it? And did I manage my budget?

Speaking of budgets, how much of the budget is eaten up with vanity projects? Tables of ten that no one attends? Tickets? Who makes these decisions?

I am not the sales person, the lawyer is. I can prep them for the sale, but they have to close the deal. Do they agree, or are they expecting me to go out and find the business? I know many CMOs who do this, but I don’t.

Are they over the top with Chambers and other directories? What about the league tables? Who is managing that process? I don’t do Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers or any Who’s Who.

I want to know where the former person screwed up, or what they loved about him or her. Am I going to be able to fill their shoes?

Who do I report to? I don’t report to administration. I get a window office, on a floor with the good lawyers. Will they support my “continuing education”? Attendance or participation in LMA?

Final Thoughts
Be Honest.
After my last AmLaw 100 firm I decided I wasn’t going back there. As I was taking my time looking for the right fit, I found myself extremely honest, and expressed my opinions freely, in my interviews. Some firms appreciated it. Some firms didn’t.

Make a List. I made a list of what I wanted, didn’t want, and what I could compromise on in a job. I then lived by it. I wanted to work at a boutique. I didn’t want marketing to be an afterthought or a necessary evil for the firm. While I don’t mind traveling, I didn’t want to travel “regularly” as part of my job. I could care less about downtown v. Century City.

I have to be honest and say that this was the hardest part of job hunting. There were times I found myself going down an interview path and had to stop the process. I enjoyed the firm, but they weren’t really what I was looking for, according to my list.

I’m sure I could make more money working for an AmLaw 100 or 200 firm, but I really love where I’m at. I find that I add value to my firm, and that I serve as a trusted advisor. I might not have the biggest budget, and we’re not splashy with technology, but I find my rewards every day.