International Municipal Lawyers Association - Local Government Blog


Posted By: Warren Kraft, Assistant City Attorney/HR Director, West Bend, Wisconsin

As municipal attorneys, we tend to be generalists with perhaps one or two areas of the law where we try to specialize.  Some liken us to our family doctor, who is trained to diagnose and refer when needed.  Oftentimes, we find ourselves in interesting situations if only because we need to be the quick study we told our interviewers that we pride ourselves on.

Take, for example, interviewing the prospective municipal employee.  Gifted as we may be in the deposition and trial setting, our skill to ask questions may sometimes take a back seat because the interview setting is designed for different purposes.  [Consider this passage: “Is the job interview The Moment of Truth? Nah. The Land of Bunk is more like it. Never have more stupid questions been answered with the same repetitive drivel as in the job interview.” From “The New Interview”, Ask the Headhunter, by Nick A. Corcodilos. ] Presumably, when advising the personnel director and the interview team, the municipal attorney can provided guidance about the legality of certain questions and data gathering.  If one googles “Do’s and Don’ts” & “Interview Questions,” one receives nearly 300 relevant “hits,” more or less from the prospective employee perspective.

The Student Employment Center of Mott Community College lists 20 Do’s and nine Don’ts. []  There is a small link to appropriate dress on the same page.  Based on one recent interviewee’s appearance, this instructive piece could have addressed this item.  Though the candidate wore a sport coat, the faded pink Ralph Loren shirt was untucked and also revealed a grey T-shirt with a navy blue neck band.  The receptionist staff wondered if the candidate could find a better pair of jeans which even featured a tear in the back.  Perhaps the candidate’s student placement service can feature this link on its university website for future reference. []

In that same interview, the candidate’s reaction to successfully answering a technical question required stifling immediate reaction.  A fist-pump accompanied an exclamation, “Alright, I nailed it!”  As the candidate sat down again, the interviewers heard, “I am so pumped. I don’t care how the rest of the interview goes.”  The interview continued, if only because there was a set list of questions asked of each candidate.  Most of us would safely assume the fist pump and exclamations of self-satisfaction wait until the candidate is out of earshot, if not completely out of the building.

However, there is one interview question that might give municipal attorneys pause, not just because some may find themselves seeking new venues, but perhaps because it can provide a reflective opportunity as to the attorney’s value to the organization and to its customers.  “What is your greatest weakness?”

In a recent article in “Managing Your Careers” [©2009 Dow Jones & Company],  JoAnn S. Lublin said that it is a question designed to make a monkey out of the candidate.   She wrote, “A careful game plan could help you cope with the shortcoming query in a way that highlights your fit for a desired position. … Career specialists suggest you take stock of your weaknesses, focusing on job-related ones that won’t impede your ability to perform your duties.”

In the day-to-day activities, municipal lawyers can become targets for all sorts of barbs tossed their way.  A critic may say that it is the attorney’s sole job to say “no” as if it was an anti-drug use campaign.  Another critic might proffer that the municipal lawyer’s primary purpose is to find the loopholes, a chink in the armor.  Regardless of issue, the criticism attempts to showcase a weakness in performance, skill, ability or talent that challenges the practitioner more than an interview question.  The challenge ought to bring the practitioner back to the reason for seeking the particular position during the interview process.

Corcodilos further writes, “Your worth is what makes an employer want to hire you. Your worth is determined by the value you offer the employer. That means you have to take the initiative in your job hunt. An employer cannot extract value from you — you must offer it. You can only offer value if you know what is valuable to the employer. …”

The family doctor offers a value that keeps the patient coming back.  So does the municipal attorney, one of the many reasons for continuing to practice in this legal field.

Maybe that is worth a fist pump!

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This blog is made possible by the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA), but may include guest bloggers (who are attorneys with experience in local government matters) who might or might not work for IMLA. Their views (and those expressed on this site) do not necessarily express the views of IMLA.







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