The Questions I Ask – And Why I Ask Them

The Questions I Ask – And Why I Ask Them

So, you set up a phone call with me, you’re a law firm associate and I’m the external recruiter. I either contacted you or you actively applied to a position I am working on. We have thirty minutes. Here is what will happen – I begin each call with a brief introduction, outline an agenda, and then I want you to dive right in.

I want to preface by saying that this is not the type of interview you would expect with the employer. My goal is to understand the person beyond the bullet points on your resume. I want to know who you are, professionally and personally. I want to learn more about you, to understand your experience, and to get enough information to accurately represent you to our client(s). Long story short, I am on your team. Remember, we are your “in” – we have the ear of the hiring manager and you get to avoid the black hole of some automated online applicant system.

Tell me why…

Why are you taking the time to speak with me? Tell me why you may consider something new. Is your work/life balance off-kilter due to law firm hours? Are you trying to explore a promotional path that is more than just partner track? Do you want to have a bigger impact on the business? Don’t worry, I’ve heard it all before. It’s even ok to tell me that you never refuse a recruiter’s call and you’re just curious. I will happily share the whole backstory with you too! Your motivation helps me understand why you are ready for a move and why you are a great candidate for our client. Most of our candidates are passive – they are not looking whatsoever. However, something about my email or call enticed them enough to engage in a conversation. I want to know what that something is.


Over 80% of the roles we filled within the last 12 months required relocation. If the role requires relocation, I want to know who and what would be involved to make it happen. Paraphrasing John Donne, “No (wo)man is an island.” Most likely, there is a family to think about, a home to sell, or a significant other who will be left crying at the airport. Relocation affects your whole life, so I want to know what your spouse will do if you move the family halfway across the country. Will they be ok with a relocation, will they be able to find work easily, and so on. I also want to know about your children. A three-year-old won’t complain much, but a 13-year-old will. Are you ready for some slammed doors? Finally, do you have to sell a house? Thankfully, in most places it’s a sellers’ market, but I will want to know how hard it will be for you to sell a home or break a lease. Lastly, let me know if you have a connection with the potential location. Getting closer to home or leaving a concrete jungle are always big motivators in our process. Someone moving home, to a support system, is always a huge positive in our clients’ eyes.


This is a tough question. With “Can’t Ask” laws, I must be careful in figuring out how to ask you about your salary history. I understand the why behind these laws. Heck, I support the feminist reasoning behind it. However, I still need to know in what salary neighborhood you reside. If you make $300K, and this role starts off at half that, I need to know why you would even consider this opportunity, and how it can be realistic. One common issue we run into is the inflated compensation of Big Law. For example, I’ll speak with a seventh-year associate from a top tier big city firm. They are making some ungodly amount of money, but they are interested in taking a significant pay cut to go in house. Here is where I ask “why?” Is the tradeoff between compensation and work/life balance worth it? It is a benefits value? Are law school debts paid off, so now you’re free to move on? Your answer tells me how serious you are and if expectations are realistic.

Current compensation, including benefits and bonus potential, help us understand what you are leaving behind and how serious you are in continuing this conversation. Even in considering the perfect opportunity, money still talks. I need to know what criteria need to be met, especially financially, for you to advance this call from curiosity to a sincere discussion.  At the end of the day, I want to make sure we can get the most for you, within reason. To be completely transparent, with the way we are paid, more for you means more for us!

Everything else…

This is the point where we start discussing the bullet points on your resume. I want to know what you have done and learn about the impact you’ve made! Tell me how your practice breaks down, what have you been active on, and your role on each matter. Its important for me to understand what you have done and be able to describe it accurately. One thing I have noticed in my role is that the most effective communicators are those who can clearly explain their work to me, as it gives me an idea how this person can communicate to internal business clients. I will take notice and will communicate to the client what I think of the candidate’s communication skills. I have taken hours to learn about the areas and industries you practice in – and I find it all very interesting.

So, when can we talk?


Posted by Michelle Metzger, Recruiter for the Energy Team.

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