Thank you for the positive response to last month’s column, the first in a new format featuring advice straight from leading general counsel. Our GC experts this month: Kristin Coleman of Brunswick, Jerome Okarma of Johnson Controls and Thomas Sabatino of Walgreens.
I asked our experts, “When hiring for your department, what are the two most important personal character traits you seek in a candidate?”
Tom, who received the prestigious Transformative Leadership Award from InsideCounsel for mentoring women towards senior level positions, offers “integrity” and “passion” as his cornerstone characteristics. To get hired at Walgreens, you must have “innate integrity,” which Tom defines as “a strong ethical compass and the courage to stand up for doing what is right.”
Jerry has hired many successful attorneys during a 20+ year career with Johnson Controls (GC since 2004), and he emphasizes two themes when interviewing, “the ability to work as part of a team and a track record of facing challenges and finding ways to successfully deal with them.” To fit culturally at Johnson Controls, “It’s important that the candidate be a we not an I person so they can contribute to the success of the organization, because so much more can be accomplished by groups of folks.”
Kristin rejoined Brunswick in 2009 to take the GC helm and, in my opinion, she has quickly shown the kind of judgment and demeanor that will place her among the nation’s leading GCs for years to come. Her key “markers for success” at Brunswick include “an ability to communicate well and to provide sound judgment in a relatable way.” Noting that attorneys are indeed service providers, she likes to ask candidates about early nonlegal employment. “I always like to ask about the very first job—it’s a plus to me if the candidate started off scooping ice cream or delivering newspapers!”
With an abundance of qualified attorneys “on paper” for most openings, offers go to those individuals who are able to demonstrate these key “off paper” traits. And that can be challenging or even uncomfortable. Let’s go back to Tom’s answer of “integrity” and “passion,” echoed by all of our experts. With integrity, for example, I encourage you to share a situation you faced, perhaps quite personal, and relay a difficult action or unselfish choice that you had the courage to make. When it comes to passion, understand that GCs (and their hiring support system) usually have excellent “bs” radar detection skills. And they hate cheesy or over-the-top interview approaches. So you must be more elegant in demonstrating passion, like introducing a specific example of when you voluntarily went well beyond the proverbial call of duty. A great example is one that required you to learn a new skill or sacrifice a comfort. While work-related stories showing character traits are great, don’t be afraid to veer into the personal. At the end of the day, GCs hire people, not resumes.