Friday, June 8, 2018

Interviewing (Delayed Post)

Over the past few years, I have explored a number of non-law firm employment opportunities. I'm writing a brief summary of the three most interesting (to me) opportunities below.

A quick note regarding my focus during my job search:*

One of the most important lessons I learned from spending time in-house via secondment was that when you're accustomed to a role as a revenue generator it's difficult to adjust to being perceived or pigeonholed as a cost center. This perception may translate into scarcity of resources or support (e.g., no administrative or IT support). It may also translate into less satisfactory compensation arrangements or more limited opportunities for advancement. With this in mind, I focused on in-house opportunities with organizations that placed M&A at the core of their respective business strategies, where I hoped my prior experience and future contributions would be valued. Time will tell whether my instincts were right.
  • Publicly traded, household name, in-house M&A counsel for Bay Area company. Process included a phone screen with HR; video interview with more than five members of the in-house team, including the GC, the one other attorney in the M&A vertical, and a handful of attorneys in other specialties; and an in person interview. The types of questions asked were no different than those I have experienced in a law firm callback interview.  I was invited to an in person interview, but they wanted me to travel for the interview the same week that I was scheduled to have time-sensitive surgery that could not be rescheduled. They were not understanding when I asked if we could push the travel back a week. What I liked: the company has a reputation for treating employees well; AGC was an attorney I had worked with at my original firm, where he had been a partner and had a reputation for being brilliant, fair and fun to work with; and large, well established department offered opportunity to learn about process and management, which would be a useful stepping stone towards taking a first lawyer position with a startup in the long run. What I didn't like: according to the existing M&A attorney in the department, he was working just as many hours as I was working in my firm for far less compensation; the company might be acquisitive now, but that strategy could change at any time and there were so many other specialists in the department it was unclear whether there would be job security; and salary was a six figure pay-cut and Bay Area living expenses would be a shock to the system.
  • Publicly traded, household name, in-house M&A counsel for Swiss company.  Process included a tremendous number of phone interviews; a video interview at the nearest office of one of the company's subsidiaries (in my case, this was a 7 hour, round trip drive); and an in person interview. I was invited to travel to Switzerland for the interview (this position was based in Switzerland), but they then asked me to complete another phone screen with an executive outside the M&A vertical before setting up the travel for the in person interview. At that point, the interview process felt disorganized and the HR point of contact didn't seem to understand the path forward. I declined to schedule the final phone interview for two reasons. First, I wasn't too excited to sign up for an expat gig with a company whose HR function seemed disorganized. I know from my experience as an expat in Tokyo that a competent HR function is critical to a positive experience working abroad.  Second, a family member was critically ill at the time with what we thought was a terminal illness (later found out the illness was a drug toxicity issue) and the time did not seem ripe to leave the US.  What I liked: serial acquirer with M&A at the core of the company's business strategy; more than three in-house M&A attorneys; and location--I was smitten with the idea of living in Switzerland.  What I didn't like: disorganized HR function; Swiss tax laws, and cost of living in Switzerland. Guys, I have serious regrets about not pursuing this position further (there's some wanderlust left in me yet).
  • Investment counsel for government agency.  Process included a phone screen with senior in-house attorneys and more than four hours of callback interviews. I've interviewed with this agency twice. The first go around, the governor of the State of Texas announced a hiring freeze the day after my callback.  Nearly a year later, they were ready to hire. I applied again (as this job had been constantly on my mind in the interim), completed the interview process a second time, and received an offer. What I liked: interesting work that would make use of my current skill set, but also require building out skills in a new practice area; investment is at the core of this agency's work; collegiality; predictable work schedule with reasonable hours; fantastic location (I could walk to work); no pay cut vis-a-vis my firm salary (after taking my significant commuting costs into account); and defined benefit plan.  What I didn't like: maternity leave is completely unpaid.
*  Throughout the process, I found myself clinging to the idea of staying in a resource-rich law firm environment. However, (1) the last year took an undeniable toll on my health (still in denial over the lab results I received after my annual exam), (2) I seem to have reached the end of my shelf life as a law firm associate after seven and a half years (i.e., I find myself bored of having the same argument with opposing counsel deal after deal, I'm out of patience for cancelling vacations and working through the night on a regular basis, and I'm at a point where I can't hide these feelings anymore), and (3) I can't tolerate my current commute any longer (in April, I billed 225+ hrs and spent 45+ hours commuting, and was a shell of a human by month-end).  

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