Job Interviews: The Good and The Bad II

Following our previous foray in to the world of interviewing-- "Academic Interviews--the Good and the Bad"--we turn now to interviews that take place outside of academia. Grant Reed and Cindy Bouchez both work for the Washington, D.C.-based patent law firm, Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein, and Fox (SKGF). Based upon their experiences interviewing for positions in patent law, Reed and Bouchez presented two interview scenarios--a "good" one and a "bad" one--to the audience of students, postdocs, and faculty, who were invited to an interviewing skills workshop hosted by Next Wave.

Grant Reed holds a Ph.D. in pharmacology and toxicology from Indiana University and a J.D. from the George Washington University National Law Center. He is currently an associate in the biotechnology practice group at SKGF, where he practices patent litigation and prosecutes U.S. and foreign patent applications.

Cindy Bouchez received her Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Georgetown University and is a J.D. candidate at Georgetown University Law Center. She is a student associate in the biotechnology/chemical group of SKGF, where she is involved in litigation and assists with writing and prosecuting patent applications.

"That was very over the top and very exaggerated," explains Reed. As unwise as some of his responses may have been in the second mock interview, Reed reveals that he's actually been asked "half those questions" while interviewing real candidates. They really do ask questions like What do you do all day? or What's this job like? he reveals.

"It just slays me that people walk into my office and have not prepared, have not checked our Web site, have not checked the Next Wave Web site--or any other place that talks about alternative careers," he remarks in astonishment. There's a certain amount of investigative work you can do before the interview--don't wait until you're face-to-face before asking fundamental questions, the two patent experts suggest. "The interviewer is very busy, they're making time to talk to you and many don't want to talk with someone who isn't prepared; it makes them feel like you're wasting their time, and they're not going to think very highly of you after you leave." The What do you do all day? question, "would be a very appropriate question to ask in an informational interview, but not at your job interview," adds Bouchez.

Salary is often a big bone of contention. Is it right to bring up your salary expectations during the interview? "It's usually during lunch that money's talked about," reveals Reed, who goes on to say that "usually we're the ones to bring it up." Reed's advice is to "find out what the market's paying" but then balance those salaries with your skills and experiences.

It's not a good idea to talk about your weaknesses, either, believes Bouchez--which is why she hesitated when asked the question in the first scenario. "An interview is not a brutally honest, frank thing," she says. "You're sort of painting yourself in the best possible light." Never relate something that is a "real, genuine, actual weakness," Bouchez advises. It's better to say, "Do you have a specific question?" or "Is there something you would like to know?" "Just throw it back in their court, because you really don't want to be so false that you're disingenuous," she says.

An audience member concurred and related his own experience, which could be very helpful to prospective job candidates: "I picked a weakness that I had that I corrected," he says. "Not only does that show you're willing to improve yourself, but it shows you're willing to answer tough questions under pressure."

If you would like further information about interviewing techniques, from any member of our interviewing panel, or if you'd like to find out if Next Wave is planning similar events in your area, please e-mail Next Wave and let us know.


Reed is the interviewer, Bouchez is the candidate ...

REED: Hello Cindy.


R: I guess I'd like to begin by asking you why you're interested in changing careers, why you're interested in leaving research science and moving into law?

B: Well, I like science very much, but I appreciate the opportunities that law presents and opportunities in intellectual property law, and I understand there's a great deal of writing involved and a great deal of communication of science, and all of that really appeals to me.

R: Well that sounds good, but you know, given that you've never ever done this kind of work before, is there any way you can predict how likely you are to succeed in it?

B: I'm sure that I will succeed. I have been able to hone the skills that are important for this job; I've improved my writing skills through courses and also my verbal communication skills; and my experience in science has helped me with giving presentations and seminars.

R: Looking at your resume, it looks like a very nice resume. Can you think of any weaknesses you might want to tell me about?

B: Well I do think I am qualified for this position. ... Are there any specific concerns that you wanted to address?

R: Well, our biggest concern is that we need to employ people who feel comfortable speaking with clients. For example, we'd have you talk on the phone with a client or business people with the client's company. We want to be very careful that you're presenting us in a good light and that you're going to present yourself in a good light.

B: I understand completely that if I was talking to a client on the phone, then I would be representing the firm, and I would act in a professional fashion. So I don't perceive that as a problem.

R: So, if you have any questions for me, feel free to ask any time. ...

B: Well, now that you mention it, what kind of training do you provide?

R: Well, we think that training is very important, and we go about providing it by involving our more senior people as mentors. As time goes by, you would be exposed to more and more of these people, and within a year or two, you end up working with everyone. We work as a team. Everyone works together so that we're not isolated from each other. Now, I'd like to know a little bit about your previous employment. For example, what do you think of your boss of your previous job?

B: I liked my boss very much, she guided me through the postdoc process and I admired her for a number of reasons: She was very dedicated to her job and she was hardworking. ...

R: Is there anything about your boss that you could not emulate in your own career?... Because no-one's perfect.

B: Sitting here right now, I can't think of anything, and if I do, I'll let you know.

R: Sometimes we're under a lot of pressure. We just have to deal with it and can't make mistakes and we can't let things slide, we just have to do the same job we do when we're not under pressure. Do you think you'll have difficulty doing that?

B: No, I don't think I'll have a problem dealing with pressure. As you know graduate school prepares you for working with a lot of pressure, working under tight deadlines. I recall one situation where my professor was going to a Gordon Conference and she was very interested in finishing up experiments, and so I worked as hard as I could and pretty much did what I needed to, and I met the deadline.

R: I admit that one thing job applicants always wonder about is how much they're going to be paid. Do you have any specifics about what you'd like your salary to be?

B: Well, I understand that the salary for a starting position ranges anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000, but I would expect at least $60K, given my extensive experience as a writer, my people skills, and my abilities as a presenter.

R: Well do you have any questions for me?

B: What kind of emphasis do you put on ethical skills?

R: Well, every firm is different, but we place a great deal of value on ethical skills. We're hard-pressed to find people, because we need to find people who not only have good technical training, but also people who can write well and who are articulate. People who can basically deal with clients and their needs. ...

B: OK. Well, what kind of emphasis do you place on legal skills?

R: Well you're entry level, so it would be unreasonable to expect that you have any legal skills at all ... and frankly I don't think it's any secret that anybody can be a lawyer ... but not everybody can be a scientist!

B: And lastly, how are employees' suggestions handled?

R: Well as I said, we have a very collegial, team-oriented atmosphere at this firm, and so concerns of our associates are very important. In fact, every quarter the partners and associates sit down and have lunch together and talk about administrative issues, and then we turn over the meeting to the associates to bring up their concerns. We think we get better by working as a team. So here, input from our employees is very valuable.

B: Well, thank you very much.


Bouchez is the interviewer, Reed is the candidate ...

BOUCHEZ: OK, Mr. Reed, I know you've come from an academic background and I'd like to know why you're interested in changing careers.

REED: Oh ... I don't know ... getting tired of working labs ... half my experiments don't work. ...

B: That's very interesting. Why did you choose this particular career path?

R: Well, I guess you can make a lot of money!

B: OK. Well, given that you have never really done this kind of work before, how do you expect to succeed?

R: Well ... you know, I've watched "Ally McBeal," and those people don't seem to be that bright to me, so I figured if they can do it, I can do it.

B: Well, looking at your resume, what kind of weaknesses do you think you have?

R: I think I'm an alright guy. ... You know, I went to grad school. ...

B: Well would your current boss describe you as the kind of person that goes the extra mile?

R: I doubt it. I doubt it. In fact we don't get along very well, my boss and I ... I mean he's probably an OK scientist but not a great manager of people. In fact I wouldn't even talk to him if I were you, because you're not going to get a good story from him. ...

B: Well, I would be interested in knowing a few things about your past employment, such as your ability to work under pressure.

R: I can work under pressure. You know there's been times when I've had deadlines to meet--to get papers drafted. ... Really, if I had my druthers, I'd rather work by myself. I'd rather not be working with other people. I'd rather work by myself so that I can focus. ...

B: OK. What skills do you feel that you bring to this job that other candidates don't bring?

R: Well, I haven't thought much about that. ... Like I said, I went to graduate school. Y'know, I write pretty well. I've done a lot of public speaking, I figure lawyers you know, have to do that sort of thing.

B: OK. Well, tell me about your salary expectations.

R: I hadn't thought much about that, but I'm really just going to try and get as much as I can. You know, if you guys don't pay me what I want, I'll just go somewhere else. ...

B: Well, I think that's about all the questions I have for you. Do you have any questions for me?

R: Yeah, I was wondering. ... Just what do you do all day long? What's your work like?

B: Well that's a very broad question, because each day, as you might imagine, is different. We speak with clients, inventors, we do a lot of research--both legal and technical research. A better way to think about it is the skills that we bring every day, rather than what we do every day.

R: That was my question, I guess that's all.

B: OK.

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