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The Corner Office: Your Favorite Question

The Corner Office: Your Favorite Question

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In The Corner Office we invite Managing Partners at law firms across the region to share information about their unique roles. The question this time around: What is your favorite question when interviewing a job applicant, and why?

Erwin Hanslik, Managing Partner, Taylor Wessing Prague

When interviewing a job applicant, I don’t try to find out whether the person is a good lawyer. An hour or so is definitely not long enough for such a task. Anyway, they will have a probationary period of three months, which should be fine. But what I always do try to determine is whether the respective person would fit into our team. I therefore avoid speaking about legal issues. I don’t want to hear that it has been the applicant’s dream since childhood to work for Taylor Wessing (besides the fact that Taylor Wessing didn’t exist at the time of the applicant’s childhood) or to fight for justice and peace on earth. This is boring. I love to talk about things that very often have no direct link to work. I therefore always ask about their hobbies.

Personally, I’m always happy if the applicant likes sports, in particular running (because I run myself and try to motivate the whole office to do so). But any other hobby is fine as well. And while talking about such things, you really get a chance to get to know this person and to find out whether she or he would fit into the team. And simply that – to keep a good atmosphere in the team – is in my opinion one of the most important tasks for us managing partners. 

Mykola Stetsenko, Managing Partner, Avellum

My favorite question to a lawyer at a job interview is about due diligence. I ask the applicant to imagine that he is advising a potential purchaser of a factory in Ukraine, performing legal due diligence. I then ask him to describe what legal areas (sides of business) the applicant would cover in his due diligence report. While this question seems simple, many fail to name such simple things as real estate or contracts. For me this question is important, because it shows how the applicant thinks, his background knowledge, general understanding of business, and how law is relevant to every side of any business. 

Uros Ilic, Managing Partner, ODI Law Firm

Our recruiting process has several steps, like interviews and short tasks, but in the end what matters most is the candidates’ work experience and the sense of them fitting into the team. Skills may be developed and improved, but how one fits into a team does not. Therefore, as the Managing Partner I also have to focus on the psychological aspects of recruitment. Hence, every interview is different and the questions depend on what level of position we are recruiting for. I personally prefer casual interviews since they tend to take away some pressure from the candidates. I always ask them to tell me about themselves and then move to the business-related questions like what they know about ODI, and what would the (three) most important attributes they would bring to ODI be. For me it is imperative to see that the candidates did not just apply for a job, but rather for the right job. Answers to such questions usually bring me the right co-workers.” 

David Plch, Partner, White & Case Prague

All right, you asked for one question – but my favorite question is a “two-in-one.”  For indeed, I have made it my habit to always ask these two questions in tandem: “What made you pick the law as the field of your graduate education?”  This tells me so much about their motivation. The variety of possible answers is greater than one would think! Some are in it for the prestige or for the earning potential, others want to help improve the legal environment from the inside, some have a thirst for knowledge, yet others look for creative and intellectual challenge. But then, I also want to ask: “What were the contenders? What other fields of study did you consider before you settled on the law? Again, this straightforward question can yield lots of information about what makes the candidate tick, what drives and attracts him or her. Brilliant lawyers may be equally brilliant, but they are otherwise a diverse crowd – and someone who would have become a business major has a different personality from a would-be historian, or a computer scientist.  I want to work with strong personalities, and make sure to create the conditions for them to shine.

Willibald Plesser, Senior Partner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Austria

My one favorite question at the beginning of a job interview is: “Why are you sitting here?” There are a lot of different ways to answer that question and every answer tells something about the candidate. Does he or she follow a pragmatic approach by just saying “because I was invited,” or is the answer more creative by revealing something about the specific motivation the candidate has about working at Freshfields? At the first moment some people are confused about this rather unusual question. Here as well, their reaction tells a lot about their behavior in unexpected situations which is important for their work as a lawyer always having to deal with different issues, clients and colleagues. 

Gabriella Ormai, Managing Partner, CMS Budapest

One of my favorite question is definitely, “Do you play football?”. Of course, we also hire people without any football skills, but CMS Budapest has an excellent reputation within CMS football circles (once in a year CMS offices get together for a football championship – this year, in Amsterdam, 800 players took part, representing 32 different CMS offices), and we are always looking forward to people who are not only outstanding lawyers but who can also help us maintain our leading position in the CMS League. 

Serhan Kocakli, Partner, Kolcuoglu Demirkan Kocakli

During our job interviews we refrain from asking the candidate cliché questions. We always tell them we are discussing a potential collaboration with a new colleague. This deliberately created “friendly interview” scheme always provides sincere answers about the candidate’s personality, which we need the most as the rest of the facts (schools, experience, level of English) can be weighed easily. My personal favorite question is: “Why did you leave that other job?” It tells a lot about the candidate, even if his/her answer is “I do not want to talk about it,” “unsatisfactory compensation and benefits,” “working environment,” “my senior lawyer,” and so on. 

Nikola Jankovic, Senior Partner, JPM | Jankovic Popovic Mitic

“Could you please tell me about one occasion where you had to you use your knowledge and skills to analyze and solve a difficult situation?” I think this question gives a job applicant a solid opportunity to demonstrate personal and professional qualities, which are both equally important in the legal environment. The open-ended question gives a job applicant the opportunity to shine. A good response to the question would certainly not be a rigid, cliché answer. Rather, it would be an honest explanation how she/he evaluated a situation, acted upon it, and ultimately came to resolve it. Personal integrity, honesty, situational awareness, rational reasoning, and problem-solving skills are all much valued and sought-after qualities in a potential colleague who is aspiring to join us. 

Karl Paadam, Managing Partner, PwC Legal Central & Eastern Europe

If I had to choose one single favorite question - I like to ask the candidates about the role models in their life, someone they admire or look up to, and explain the reasons why. Generally, the attributes they describe as admirable give a good hint about their own values and attitudes, providing a good introduction to further exploration of their own successes, lessons, and aspirations. Also, I often ask the candidate to explain to me in a very limited time (e.g. less than 2 minutes) something they are passionate about and know really well. This gives me an understanding about their ability to convey their message in a convincing and comprehensible way. I also believe that being passionate about something in life is a trait that predicts success in other areas as well. 

Vefa Resat Moral, Managing Partner, Moral Law Office

We all know that dealing with people is actually harder than dealing with the business. Human resources – especially recruitment – is one of toughest duties of a managing partner, since you have to carefully measure a personality within a short amount of time. In our people-oriented management system Moral’s priority expectation from the candidate is to comply with the family environment in the firm as a perfect team member. Then the academic background and professional experiences follow. In this regard, we ask the candidates where they see themselves in the next five or ten years to measure their passion towards Moral. We are aware that this question is not a polygraph and sometimes candidates cannot be sincere due to the pressure they feel to be accepted. However, as experienced professionals we can catch some tips hidden in the sentences as to whether we can invest long term – or at least mid-term – on the candidate, or if the candidate has a future or not at Moral. 

Miklos Orban, Partner, Orban & Perlaki Law Firm

“What differentiates you from the masses?” (In Hungarian it sounds a bit different, it has a special flavor– “Hogyan illeszkedsz ki a tomegbol?” – but I haven’t found the right English translation yet). The reason: brains are like muscles – you can hire them by the hour. The only thing that is not for sale is character. Good law firms, like all good companies, are built on and by individuals with character. We live in a mass society which preaches that every individual is unique, but what you can see is just the opposite: people follow trends, fashionable lifestyles, and ideas like orders. It is always refreshing to meet somebody with a character. The rest can be learned and taught. 

Kinga Hetenyi, Managing Partner, Schoenherr Budapest

One of my favorite questions is about a professional issue that the applicant solved in a specifically creative manner. This is the question to which very few candidates can give me a good answer. Some of them are totally surprised by the question and have a black-out and just start to stutter, some of them ask back what kind of issues I would like to hear about, in order to win some time. To be honest, this is a tough question if you are not prepared for it, and also if your general attitude is to solve problems in a creative way. Once you get an answer, it can be really funny and creative. One of the candidates, for example, told me how he manages to pay parking fines in a way which makes them tax deductible. 

Andras Szecskay, Chief Partner, Szecskay Law Firm

Partner Judit Budai would ask the following two questions: (1) “Would you and can you climb rocks?” and (2) “Can you make a sunny side up?” My question is much less sophisticated: “What have you read in the past 12 months and who are your favorite writers?”

This Article was originally published in Issue 4.9 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.