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Separate Yourself from the Pack: 6 Tools for Building a Strong Interview

By Nikki MacCallum

Below is a copy of a featured article that was highlighted in Issue 1 of ACEDS NY Metro Quarterly Newsletter in November 2019.

There is more top talent in today’s eDiscovery market than ever before. As a result, acing an interview is even more pivotal in order to separate yourself from the pack. In 2006, if you had a JD and/or some semblance of technical background you could likely find a job in eDiscovery fairly easily. Now in 2019, the industry has matured and is no longer in its infancy. Everyone has access to different training grounds, organizations like Association of Certified eDiscovery Specialists (ACEDS) are building a cross-functional community of e-discovery specialists for the exchange of ideas, guidance, training and best practices. Even law schools have started incorporating eDiscovery education into their curriculum. Just being a technically savvy lawyer or picking up skills in eDiscovery, Cyber Security or Information Governance will no longer distinguish you from your competition. Even for niche roles, the talent pool is strong. Accordingly, it’s become more critical than ever to hit a home run on your interview.

As a career development specialist in eDiscovery for the past fifteen years, I’ve watched interview trends evolve dramatically. Having coached both interviewers as well interviewees, I’ve seen underqualified candidates employ tactics during interviews that landed them the job and also witnessed extremely seasoned professionals with a proven track record of success make missteps on the interview that have cost them the job. This article will address best practices in interviewing and hopefully, leave you with six tips to implement on your next interview regardless of where you’re at in your career.

  1. Research whom you’re meeting with ahead of time. This is particularly important in a niche space like eDiscovery. Often times there will be a mutual connection between you and your prospective employer which can always be leveraged. Even if there is a negative connotation around that connection, common ground brings humans together. Researching someone’s background also allows you to uncover other types of common ground such as interests, place you grew up, education, etc. Any information you can use to amplify common ground is going to make someone develop more of an investment in your success. Displaying knowledge about someone’s background is also an opportunity for you to show that you’ve done your due diligence. And as cliché as it is, flattery will get you everywhere. Whenever a candidate I’m interviewing mentions something to me about my background that I hadn’t volunteered, my mentality automatically shifts to wanting them to succeed.
  2. Dress to impress. Wear a suit even if you’re interviewing at a McDonald’s (no offense to McDonald’s). There’s a school of thought that if you’re interviewing for a technology company that has a more casual work environment, then it is appropriate to dress business casual to showcase that you understand the work culture. I completely disagree. Not once have I ever heard a company say “we’re going to pass on this person because they wore a suit.” I have absolutely heard of individuals not getting a job because they were underdressed. Why run the risk? Unless the company specifically says “do not wear a suit to the interview” you should always wear a suit. And if you feel uncomfortable showing up overdressed you can make a joke about it. When it comes to attire, always play it safe.
  3. Listen to the questions you’re being asked and answer with concise and relevant information. My number one pet peeve in terms of interviewing is when I ask a candidate a question, and they respond with an answer that is completely unrelated to the question being asked. It is critical to listen to what is being asked of you. One of the reasons this is so important is because listening is a transferable skill. Your ability to listen during an interview informs your ability to listen to clients and understand their pain points. Sometimes when people get nervous, there is a natural tendency to ramble and provide excess information. When it comes to answering questions on an interview, less is more. Answer the question that is being asked of you. Nothing more, nothing less. Often times when I ask a question, I’m evaluating how the person answers not what they answer.
  4. How you frame your information is critical. If a company is hiring that means there’s a need and ultimately your main objective on an interview is to demonstrate to a company how you can add value. In order to do so, it is imperative that you understand their pain points. I swear by entrepreneur Avinash Kaushik who led the charge at Google with the storytelling methodology, “Care, do, impact.” Whenever you’re providing information on an interview you should ask yourself three questions. Why should the person I’m talking to care about what I’m saying? What action items am I going to do to address the issue and what is the impact of those actions going to be?
  5. Be honest about what you don’t know. When interviewing for a position it’s extremely rare that you’d be a total subject matter expert on every facet of the role. That said, you’re likely interviewing with individuals who are. For this reason, be honest about your background. If you don’t have experience working with the back end of Relativity, for example, and you’re interviewing with a Certified Relativity Master, don’t try to fake your way through that. The approach that I’ve seen to be most effective is when a candidate is upfront about what they don’t know, lists some skills that are relevant and then provides examples of either a transferable skillset, or demonstrates how they’ve ramped up and learned a parallel skill in the past.
  6. The questions you ask your potential employer are often a litmus test. When interviewing candidates, it’s extremely easy to tell how well someone understands the role at hand by the questions they ask during the interview. It is excellent to have questions prepared ahead of time, but I also encourage folks to ask questions that genuinely come up during the interview process. This showcases your ability to listen and be flexible. If you are going to stick to questions prepared ahead of time, make sure they’re smart, and unique to the role and/or company at hand. There’s a set of questions I refer to as “stock questions” which are questions that are vague, unoriginal, and can be asked about any job that exists. Examples of stock questions are: “How many employees does your company have?” or “where are your offices located?” If you have a burning desire to know the answer to one of those questions, at least frame it in a way that displays the reason you’re asking. For example: “I know that you recently merged with X company and I’m wondering how many employees you have now?” or “I saw on your website that your headquarters are in X, I just wanted to confirm that your other offices are in XYZ?” When people ask stock questions, I assume they did not do their due diligence and are simply following the golden rule of asking questions at an interview because you’re supposed to. That isn’t going to cut it in today’s climate. Employers want to see intellectual curiosity.

Researching your interviewers ahead of time, dressing to impress, listening, being strategic about framing information, being honest about what you don’t know, and asking thoughtful questions are the six tactics I’ve found to be the most significant in laying the foundation for a strong interview. If you can master these six tips, you are setting yourself up for success and are on track to separating yourself from the pack!

Nikki MacCallum

Nikki MacCallum brings over thirteen years of experience in the executive search space with a focus on litigation technology and eDiscovery. She’s spoken on panels and at conferences nation-wide (ABC News, Women in eDiscovery, LegalTech, CALSM, ARIAS) and was recently the key note speaker for a global Career Panel Workshop at American Express. Nikki is also a resident speaker at New York City’s Coalition for the Homeless where she privately mentors underprivileged women looking to re-enter the workforce.

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