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Ask the Experts: Interview 101 with Carrie Daniels, National Senior HR at Dentons Canada

By Glenn McAleer

Carrie, what are some important points for this article to discuss?

I think it’s important that students understand the broader process for interviewing – there’s a lot more than just showing up and answering questions. I want to talk about being prepared for an interview through research and taking the time to choose where you’re interviewing.

What led you to your career at Dentons?

Many people have varied careers, not just at Dentons but in the work world today. On average most people have 6 careers in their lifetime. I started at the University of Calgary where I completed a degree in communications, moved on to do a Master of Public Administration at the university of Victoria, and have spent a lot of my career so far working in both federal and provincial governments in Ottawa and Victoria, respectively. I eventually moved on to an HR portfolio where I found my true calling. I went on to earn my career coaching certification. Dentons had an opportunity that really aligned with my career path and my values, and I was lucky enough to land this position as the National Senior Manager of Talent Acquisitions for Dentons Canada.

What kinds of jobs do you hire for primarily?

While Dentons is the largest law firm in the world by the numbers of people we have in offices, law firms do not run on lawyers, associates, and students alone. There’s a lot of other positions that make a law firm happen, and the business of law is just as important as the law itself. My area of specialty is in business services. That includes human resources, I.T., and finance positions. There are some legal positions such as in-house counsel positions that we recruit for, legal assistants, paralegals, and a whole plethora of different positions that keep law firms running.

What do you look for in a candidate?

Even before applying for a job, I think it’s important that candidates look at the qualifications. While it is an employee’s choice market right now, it’s important to understand what you’re applying for. I want to see a match between a resume and the responsibilities listed on a job posting. A lot of candidates will bypass what the job is about. They will see the title, look at the qualifications, and do a bit of a matching game, but they might miss the heart of what that position is all about. If you’re a candidate out there it’s a great idea to talk about why a job aligns with your expertise and where you’re going along your career path. You’ll find those tips and hints in the day-in-the-life bullets on a job profile.

Do you have any go-to interview questions or tips for candidates?

I am fortunate that I am in a Human Resources role, and I have been in a lot of interviews. Many people start by asking a candidate to talk about themselves, and that can be difficult for the candidate. It can be tough to give a succinct answer while really selling oneself, but I think it’s a real opportunity to warm up the room. Don’t overlook that opportunity to really talk about your interests, passions, and hobbies, and why the role that you’re currently interviewing for spoke to you besides the fact that you’re qualified to do it.

Another thing that the best interview candidates do is come prepared with the best examples of the work they’ve done. When you’re nervous and you’re trying to get the best information out to people who don’t know you, it’s nice to have a roadmap in your mind of how you want to share your best work examples. I couch with the STAR formula roadmap (situation, task, actions, and results). And where candidates do their best job is when they’re able to handle all four parts of that formula.

The situation is a broad statement of where an example came from – what were you doing at the time. Were you a university student working for the student paper? That would be your entry situation example.

Then you want to talk about the task – the specific task you were asked to do. To improve your answer, provide the actions. The “s” is important – more than one thing you’ve done to really let your example task live and breathe. Try to be robust when explaining your actions. It adds flavour to your example.

Finally, be specific with your results. Instead of saying “the job was done” bring some quantitative descriptors that prove the task had important implications. If you can quantify how the work you did made an impact, that takes your example in an interview from something basic and broad to something concrete. Something the panel can walk away with knowing you made a difference based on the example you provided.

How has the covid-19 pandemic affected your work and the hiring process generally?

Most of our interviews are being held online in business services. Technology has been embraced by many organizations, Zoom is a standard tool and that’s important for your readers to know. Interviewing by technology is very different from interviewing in a room full of people. When I coach candidates, I tell them to practice their online presence – are you looking at the camera, or is your head down? It’s a lot harder to create that connection and engagement online. Take the time to see how you appear on camera and listen to feedback if others are helping you.

In your mind, what are the elements of a strong cover letter?

What’s really exciting about a cover letter is that story again. Telling more than just why you’re qualified, why that position spoke to you. In my case, I chose to apply for the role I did because of the experience of helping people find the place where they were meant to be and the joy of connecting with a career that has meaning to the individual. That meaning to them gives meaning to me and that’s why this role meant so much, and that’s what I talked about in my cover letter. If you can share something that creates something more than a two-dimensional person on a page, that is something that helps you become more present in the mind of the recruiter, someone who sees you as a candidate of choice for their organization.

Ultimately, when there is a large volume of applications, it does come down to whether you have the qualifications. It doesn’t hurt to touch on what those qualifications are and explain them in further detail in the resume.

For example, in your first paragraph you would introduce yourself. The second paragraph you can expand on that – how this role ties to your journey and your career. In the third paragraph, you might want to connect two examples of the work being done at the organization and the type of work that you have done, and at the end, always thank someone for reading your cover letter and going on to read your resume.

We still appreciate a cover letter, but there are some organizations that are moving to the direct apply, the easy apply on LinkedIn. In that case, you want to make sure you really have an interesting statement on your resume up front, why you’re connecting with that goal. Some people will include their career objective by simply stating the title of the role you’re applying for. That’s not a career objective, that’s just listing the title. If you don’t have the opportunity to submit a cover letter, once again, tell your story, include why this position means something to you.

What are some of the core values that Dentons has?

It’s about the people. That resonates both from the Human resources perspective but also through the culture. Like every organization, we have gone through a challenging time during this pandemic. People stay because they value the work and they value the culture. Dentons is very committed to knowing you as an individual. We are very excited about our inclusion and diversity work that continues to grow. We’re consistently nominated as a top employer for youth in Canada. This year, Dentons Canada was recognized as an Alberta Top Employer. We continue to work on ensuring that those at Dentons feel valued for what they do.

Earlier you mentioned that most people will experience 6 career paths in their working lives. What helps Dentons retain talent in the modern workforce?

Having an international presence and resources that stretch beyond the Canadian borders opens lots of opportunities, in law and beyond. It enables one to learn about different lines of work without having to own it right away. You can test out or observe what you are interested in. In a boutique organization, you may not have the opportunity to see a variety of opportunities. I had a conversation recently with a man whose job at Dentons didn’t exist two years ago. He was able to pivot because Dentons is a large organization that has opportunities that may not exist elsewhere. That, along with a culture that cares about its employees, is why people stay or so often return. There’s something about this organization that people return to because they value how they have been valued.

For more information on career opportunities with Dentons in Canada please visit:

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