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How to Ace the Interview

By Fred Carl III, Trademark Examining Attorney, United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Alexandria, Virginia, USA

Most people freely admit their dislike for job interviewing. Fortunately, job interviewing amounts to only a very small amount of time in any career. Unfortunately, the job interview is the threshold to any job. Without some ability to be interviewed well, a candidate cannot cross that threshold. Even the best trademark professionals must therefore have a minimum of job interviewing skills.

After getting the job, any candidate can point to the reasons why the interview was a success. The mystery is determining what works and what does not work before and during the interview. Candidates may be relieved to find out that this may be as much a mystery to those conducting the interviews as to the job candidates. To help solve the mystery, several trademark professionals with significant experience conducting job interviews, offer their perspective on what they look for during the interview.

A “good fit” seems to be the primary criterion on which job interviewers base their hiring decisions. What makes an applicant a good fit for any particular job, however, seems to be as big a mystery to the people conducting the interview as to those being interviewed.

Show Enthusiasm and Be Yourself

Trademark recruiter Judy Simon of Sage Legal Search admits that “fit” is the intangible that everyone wants. She has a guideline for determining whether there is a “fit” based on what is discussed during the interview. “If you are not beyond discussing the substantive aspects of the job for at least 50 percent of the interview, it may not be a good fit,” she advised.

Judy also emphasized that a candidate is looking for a place where the candidate can work happily. After all, the “fit” must also be good for the candidate. The 50 percent guideline can be used to gauge how well both the interviewer and the candidate communicate with and feel about each other. According to Judy, the only way to do this is to speak honestly.

Judy’s advice to candidates is, “show enthusiasm and be yourself.”

Others seem to agree that credentials are not always what interest people during the interview. “The best person (I interviewed recently) was very open, genuine and believable. Those things sometimes sell better than your credentials,” said Jay Hines, partner at Baker & Hostetler in Washington D.C. He acknowledged that “you don’t know what you are getting until after they work for you. You must determine how they are going to perform based on the feeling you get from the way they conduct themselves. This can be as important as what they put on their resume.”

Jay’s advice to candidates is, “have your story and be confident about yourself.”

Listen Carefully

Microsoft Corporation in Redmond Washington recently hired Fran Jagla as its senior attorney. Only after landing the job did Fran learn about the “Microsoft Competencies” used in the interview process. A spokesperson for Microsoft explained what those competencies are:

“We use a set of specific core competencies and skills to evaluate candidates, such as Drive for Results, Communication Skills, Teamwork and Passion for Technology. We have specific behavioral-type questions. How candidates answer these questions give us a strong indication of whether or not they have the core competencies needed to be successful at the specific job, and at Microsoft as a whole.”

The existence of these core competencies is not necessarily kept a secret from applicants before or during the interview, but specific competency documentation is not shared with candidates ahead of time.

Advice to the candidate in a structured interview is, “listen carefully. The nature of the questions may provide hints as to what the employer is looking for.”

Do Enough to Know You Like It

Knowledge of the job can also make a big difference in the interview. “When people understand the job and demonstrate that they want this particular job, this makes the applicant much more desirable,” said a hiring attorney with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This experienced interviewer acknowledged that often people seeking employment with the government are more interested in a “government job” than working as a Trademark Examining Attorney. Knowing the job and wanting it specifically can make a big difference in this case because the Trademark Office sees countless people who are looking to work for the government, and only a rare few who want to practice trademark law specifically.

Judy Simon echoes this for entry-level and young associate-level candidates. “You need to have done enough to know you like it. Let them know this during the interview,” she said.

Judy’s advice to candidates between 1 and 3 years of experience is “show enthusiasm and interest.”

Don't Allow Little Things to Rattle You

Linda Heban, Vice President and Chief Trademark Counsel of H-D Michigan, Inc., was recently impressed by a candidate who showed poise when the weather caused a setback. Moments before the interview, this candidate was caught in a sudden downpour of rain. She was unable to do anything about her wet clothes. So, she acknowledged her imperfect appearance, and then proceeded with the rest of the interview without embarrassment. She did not allow her wet clothes to wreck her performance.

Linda’s advice to candidates is, “don’t allow little things to rattle you.”

Risk Tolerance is Important

For candidates looking specifically for a job in-house, “risk tolerance is important,” according to Judy Simon. However, she admits that an applicant’s risk tolerance may not be as inflexible as the risk tolerance of the company. Perhaps communicating the ability to be flexible and meet the standards of the company rather than imposing one’s own expectations is the winning strategy when discussing risk tolerance.

Avoid Mistakes

There are also those mistakes a job applicant does not want to make. One of our sources met a person who produced a BLACKBERRY and responded to an email in the middle of the interview. This cost the applicant the job, and while it might seem like a warning that does not need to be communicated, cell phones and other portable communication devices should be turned off during the interview.

Another mistake to avoid in the interview is to be the first to discuss compensation. The company or firm doing the interviewing should always be allowed to broach this subject. If asked about current salary, an applicant can include bonuses and other benefits in the salary calculation. One job applicant we heard about computed salary, bonus and benefits that included the value of the subsidized meals in the company cafeteria. While this might seem excessive, the applicant got the job. This may be a result of the fact that salary is often one of the last things discussed in job negotiations. By the time salary is discussed, both parties may be dedicated to closing the deal.

The job interview should be a learning experience for the applicant. Not every job is right for every applicant. While it often seems like the job marketplace is the boss’ market, the job candidate should keep in mind that just as important as it is for them to like you, it is important that you like them.