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CMO Series: Q&A with Zuckerman Spaeder CMO Katie Munroe

By Aileen Hinsch posted 03-21-2023 15:38


CMO Series: Q&A with Zuckerman Spaeder CMO Katie Munroe

Best Practices to Land an Interview and Get the Job 

By Leslie Valenza, Communications Consultant and Freelance Content Writer

As legal marketers strive to meet their career development goals for 2023, interviewing for stretch roles or other job opportunities may be the next step in achieving their desired advancement. 

In this conversation, Zuckerman Spaeder Chief Marketing Officer Katie Munroe shares her insights and recommendations for positioning yourself as a top candidate before, during, and after a job interview.

Munroe began her legal marketing career 15 years ago as a marketing coordinator in Covington & Burling’s Washington, DC office, where she focused on broad departmental support and event planning. She later transitioned to multiple client development roles before becoming the firm’s assistant director of business development. In November 2020, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Munroe joined litigation boutique Zuckerman Spaeder in Washington to lead a team of marketing and business development professionals. A mentor to her colleagues and fellow legal marketers, Munroe co-chairs LMA’s Senior Leaders’ Special Interest Group and is a former president of the Capital Chapter.  

Katie, what do you think candidates can do to stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs outside their firms? Are there creative ways in which external candidates have caught your attention?

I’d encourage people to invest as much time and effort at the beginning of the application process as they would to prepare for the interview itself.

Recommendations and testimonials from others can be meaningful, but there are things you can do to set yourself apart from the competition. Matching your relevant skillsets and experience to the core competencies of a position is critical. And I have to emphasize the importance of customizing your résumé and cover letter. I cannot tell you how many applications I see that provide only basic job descriptions with limited thought into what transferrable skills they’ve developed in past roles and why their experience is relevant to this next position. 

Additionally, cover letters provide an opportunity to make a thoughtful impression to a hiring manager. I see many generic cover letters that begin with, “To whom it may concern,” and “I’d be a great fit for your organization because I’m hardworking and detail-oriented.” Not unlike law firm websites, everything starts to sound the same. 

If you say in a cover letter, “I’ve been impressed with how the firm has handled X, Y, Z, and I’m excited to learn how you’ve come to the decision to market that way,” or “this is why I’m applying for the role and how I think I could contribute to the team,” that shows the candidate has carefully considered the role rather than taking a “spray and pray” approach to their job search.

Lastly, I frequently post job descriptions on LinkedIn, and often, a potential candidate will like and comment on the posts. I see their name and photo, and their engagement starts to build a connection. When I see that person’s résumé come across my desk, I am more likely to pull their résumé from the stack and give it a look. 
Are there ways candidates can elevate their LinkedIn profiles even before applying for jobs?

LinkedIn provides flexibility to showcase who you are as a person by including details that are difficult to cover in a résumé. 

What makes you tick? What excites you? How do you identify yourself within the workplace? Such as, “I’m a bridge builder,” or “I love to brainstorm,” or “I’m a person behind the scenes who gets everything done.” 

But I’d also articulate in the Work Experience section what your responsibilities are and how you’ve helped your organization grow. Emphasize volunteer skills and extracurricular activities. 

Finally, I tend to look at what influencers, inspiring leaders, legal publications, law firms, and organizations a person follows on LinkedIn that might demonstrate who a person is, what causes they care about, and where they get their information. 

What things should candidates research about a firm or role in preparation for an interview?

Interviewing is not that different from online dating. People often look up a person online before they meet for a date. The same is true for preparing for an interview, and I expect that a candidate has at least reviewed our firm website. 

For example, if a candidate is interviewing for an event coordinator role, I’d expect that they have looked at our events page and relevant press releases, social media posts, and registration pages for those events. I don’t expect a candidate to memorize our list of events, but I’d recommend that candidates ask questions about specific events or annual programs to demonstrate that they are interested in the whys and invested in learning.

I also appreciate when people show that they’ve taken time to get to know me a bit before an interview. If someone has looked at my bio or LinkedIn profile, they might ask why I chose to focus on litigation or why I’ve chosen to volunteer for Dress for Success. We want to make sure we’re a good match for each other, and these are critical pieces of the “getting to know you” puzzle.

During an interview, what qualities do you look for in a candidate that might signal they’d be a good fit? 

There are a few key things I look for in a candidate regardless of the level or role. 

One – are they prepared? Have they researched the firm and the role? Do they have a sense of how their skills will match our needs?

Two – do they have strong listening skills? Does the person pick up on visual cues and are they listening during our conversation, or do they look like they’re just waiting to speak again? 

Three – do they have a genuine curiosity? Are they connecting the dots and asking good questions? Those things are going to come into play when they speak with a lawyer, propose new ideas, and launch new initiatives.

And four – do they bring a steady and upbeat presence? We work in high-pressure environments. Demonstrating your ability to maintain your cool and a sense of optimism can be a huge advantage. 

What else should candidates emphasize during interviews?

One of the most important things to emphasize is an attention to detail. I want to know that a person is going to read communications carefully and especially, proofread their own emails. That they’re going to double- or triple-check client materials or ensure that a work product is completed properly before it goes to a lawyer for sign-off. Finding concrete ways to demonstrate your attention to detail will resonate with a hiring manager.

It’s also important to show your ability to anticipate need. If I receive an email from a lawyer asking if we’ve received an RFP from a client, and I simply say, “No,” that’s not showing that I’m thinking about what the lawyer is seeking. 

A helpful response might be, “We haven’t received an RFP, but we’re monitoring the news that comes in and expect that a request might come in at X time. Are you interested in participating, and is there anything you’d like us to keep an eye out for in particular?” To me that kind of response preserves time and cuts to what that person is after in a way that makes them feel heard.  

Also, demonstrating how your skillsets align with the responsibilities of a role is critical. If you’re applying for a managerial role, discuss what’s happening in the news related to particular practice groups or how regulatory developments are affecting a certain industry to demonstrate that you’re tuned in and connecting those dots. 

What key questions should candidates ask hiring managers during interviews?

Show you’ve done your homework by posing targeted questions. Asking thoughtful questions about firm news or specific partners and practices, for example, demonstrates you’ve taken time to get to know a firm and can connect the dots between those developments and how a firm chooses to market itself. 

As we’ve discussed, an interview is like dating and it’s a two-way street. Asking certain questions will help you assess whether you’d be able to work with the hiring manager. Ask about the interviewer’s communication preferences to get a sense of your compatibility. 

Does the manager meet with her team regularly? Does she want to receive frequent email updates, or does she prefer in-person meetings on Fridays? How does she prefer to give and receive feedback? 

Also, a person’s LinkedIn profile may signal targeted questions to uncover information that you can’t get from a bio. For example, if you see the hiring manager has been at a firm for many years, ask what kept her there. Her answer may reveal what she values about her workplace.

These kinds of questions will uncover whether an opportunity is not only going to be a good intellectual fit, but also a personality fit. 

Is there a particularly memorable response you’ve received that surprised you?

Yes! I remember one interview that wasn’t going particularly well, and I asked the candidate why they wanted the job. The person responded with a one-word answer, “Money.” 

I had to laugh because while a career in legal marketing has the potential to be lucrative, that wasn’t exactly the kind of response I wanted to hear. I want to know why a candidate feels the job is a good fit, why they are excited to take on certain responsibilities, or why they want to work for my firm in particular. 

But I have to say, their deadpan delivery was very funny.

What do you think legal marketers can do to effectively position themselves for stretch roles, whether they’re looking to move up a level or transfer to a different role within their marketing department?

I love this question because I had the benefit of working at the same firm for 13 years in a variety of capacities. First, make sure you’ve mastered your current domain before you seek out other projects. Once your house is tidy, express interest in dedicating your extra bandwidth to assist in other areas. Or if you’re looking to take on more responsibility within your own lane, make that known to your supervisor and volunteer to take on work so people can begin to see you as operating at a higher level. 

While I was at the specialist level, I offered to pitch in by taking on a few small practice areas that were left unattended after a couple of team members left the firm. I built my little cadre of practice groups and became engrained in those teams until I developed enough experience to advocate for my own promotion to manager.

Before we wrap up, are there any lessons you’ve learned from interviewing for jobs that you’d like to share? 

I’ve learned what a difference it can make to send a “thank you” email after an interview. I’m surprised by how few email “thank you” emails I get. Not only is it an opportunity to express gratitude to the interviewer for taking time to meet and consider you for a role, but it’s also an opportunity for candidates to further demonstrate how they’ve given thought to what they’ve learned about a firm, position, and supervisor in that interview, and what they can bring to the table. 

Most importantly, writing is such a key skill no matter the role. A follow-up letter provides an opportunity to showcase your writing (and proofing) skills. 

After I had gone through one interview process, I agonized and labored over my “thank you” note and, after sending it, I received feedback that it was the best follow-up letter the interviewer had received, and their offer letter soon followed. I honestly think I may not have been the most equipped for the job but that the note sealed the deal for me.