Mahrukh Hussain, McDonald’s Corporation General Counsel (Central Division), recently spoke to the Muslim Bar Association of Chicago. Her comments focused on the qualities she and McDonald’s Corporation look for when hiring attorneys. Not surprisingly, such things as having the qualifications required of the position, knowing the details of information on one’s resume and asking good questions made Ms. Hussain’s list. But so too did common sense, multi-tasking and a good sense of humor.
Speaking at a Muslim Bar Association Lunch & Learn on Thursday, July 29, 2010, Ms. Hussain discussed attorney hiring for in-house counsel jobs from a general counsel’s perspective. A diverse group of attorneys and law students including large law firm partners, solo practitioners, in-house counsels, government attorneys and attorneys working in non-legal corporate positions were on hand at the host firm of Neal Gerber Eisenberg to hear Ms. Hussain’s presentation.
With ten years of experience in-house at McDonald’s Corporation, Ms. Hussain enlivened her remarks with lots of anecdotes from her time in the interviewing trenches. She spoke of common sense because, in her experience, otherwise qualified candidates failed to have enough of it.
She described a candidate who knocked himself out of contention by spending the entire interview asking about how to lateral over to the business side of McDonald's Corporation. While lateral moves are possible at McDonald's Corporation, Ms. Hussain said the near-singular focus on how one can move from the legal to the business side of the company put his commitment to the law department in doubt.
Important take away: you may not be as crafty as you think so get the job you're interviewing for first - it'll be easier to plot your path to the CEO office from the inside.
Participants at the Lunch & Learn asked questions and shared their own insights throughout the presentation. After Ms. Hussain commented on the importance of in-house counsel being able to effectively multi-task, Faiyaz Hussain, also an in-house attorney, recommended that the skill not necessarily be practiced during the interview. How so? According to Mr. Hussain an otherwise very qualified attorney repeatedly received phone calls on her cell phone during her interviews at his organization. He and his colleagues were not impressed.
Another important take away: place the cell phone on silent mode and in this case only tell and don’t show.
While some of the more egregious interviewing mistakes were funny, all of Ms. Hussain’s points were insightful. She noted that most attorneys who interview candidates are not expert interviewers and that sometimes there is very little time to review a resume before the interview. Help the interviewer, she suggested, by pointing out things that are relevant to the position. Help make the interview more conversational by engaging the interviewer in a dialogue rather than simply answering questions and listening intently.
A good sense of humor will not take the place of solid experience. It can, however, provide that little intangible that tips the scale between two otherwise qualified finalists for an attorney position. Ms. Hussain recalled an instance when a candidate who was told the decision was between him and one other individual lightly and spontaneously offered to “debate” the other candidate for the position. It happened shortly after a presidential debate during the last election and made the comment memorable and funny. He got the job.
Important disclaimer: Ms. Hussain’s comment on a sense of humor should not be taken as an invitation to tell jokes when interviewing with McDonald’s Corporation.
In addition to addressing attorney hiring, Ms. Hussain also touched on how attorneys can earn McDonald’s Corporation’s business. Ms. Hussain suggested that networking with general counsels like her is important. She encouraged attorneys to reach out to her and let her know of their expertise.
Ms. Hussain noted that McDonald’s Corporation likes to work with attorneys and law firms that performed good work for the company in the past, and that as a result, the opportunity for new firms to work with McDonald’s Corporation can be limited. That said, Ms. Hussain observed that firms and attorneys are from time to time precluded from projects due to conflicts or because they lack the capacity to take on additional work. These are some of the instances when new attorneys and law firms may be sought out.
LaDale George, a partner at Neal Gerber Eisenberg and a board member of the Muslim Bar Association of Chicago, hosted the July 29th Lunch & Learn. Several of the firm’s partners dropped into the meeting to greet the MBA members and to meet Ms. Hussain.
The attendees at the Lunch & Learn included Muslim attorneys and their non-Muslim colleagues. MBA events are open to the Illinois legal community and MBA members are strongly encouraged to promote its meetings, educational sessions and networking opportunities among their colleagues of different faiths.
The MBA’s Lunch & Learn is an occasional networking and educational series that meets approximately once every two months. The Lunch & Learn meetings are held in downtown Chicago, are free of charge and are “bring your own lunch” affairs.
To see more pictures of the July 29, 2010 Lunch & Learn please click here!