Here at the Institute we frequently mentor a new Certified Legal Nurse Consultant who is about to go on their first attorney interview. As an example, one CLNC® consultant emailed us, “I have an appointment next Tuesday with one of the most prominent medical malpractice firms in the state. It’s with their lead attorney and he wants to speak with me about a case but he hasn’t actually given it to me yet. I have a few questions regarding this interview and I have to admit I am very nervous.”
I love mentoring Vickie Milazzo Institute’s graduates and students. In addition to encouraging them to apply the interview strategies they learned in the CLNC® Certification Program, I offer them what I think is the most important advice – RELAX and throw out your script once you know it inside and out.
In 28 years of working my legal nurse consulting business, whether I’ve interviewed with attorneys or done TV, radio and print interviews, I’ve always gotten my best results when I’m most relaxed. I learned the hard way there is no room for tension in SUCCESS. I often relate one of my own formative experiences to new legal nurse consultants to help them avoid a BIG mistake I made.
Years ago I was scheduled for an exciting interview with Laura Sydell for National Public Radio’s (NPR) All Things Considered program. When I first learned about it, I was ecstatic! It was to be my first national radio show. I’d done only one local radio program and one local TV program and here I was in the big time! Soon I began to worry and then to prepare. I figured I’d only get one chance to be on NPR and I wanted to have every base covered. I thought out questions, typed out and revised my revised talking points, practiced and rehearsed until I thought I was ready.
Of all days for an interview, it was the rainiest day we’d had in months. A cold front dropped temps and rain across the city. I took Tom and Evie Baron-Hernandez, one of our Customer Service supervisors with me for support. After a wet, slow drive to University of Houston which houses our local NPR affiliate station KUHF, we sat outside the Melhem building – editing my speaking points yet again. Finally, the rain seemed to be getting heavier so we pulled out our umbrellas and readied for our dash from the parking lot. My new umbrella was covered in hearts of all colors. As I pulled it out and snapped it open I commented, “How can you have a bad day when you have a polka dot umbrella?” I didn’t get an answer but Evie told me later, “I was so nervous I couldn’t believe you were talking about your umbrella! And it wasn’t polka dots. It was hearts! Why weren’t you concentrating?” She didn’t realize I was venting my own nervousness and wasn’t at all relaxed. I was placing myself deeper and deeper into a state of tension.
We sat in the lobby, relentlessly practicing and editing my perfect script – my speaking points. (These were the same points we’d edited just 2 hours before at the office and then again in the car.) Little did I know Laura would see through them in a minute. I entered the sound-proof radio studio through a door that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an airlock on the space station. A large microphone was suspended in front of me looking like a spider on a web of anti-vibration cables. Even though I was very prepared, I was also tense, and more than slightly off my guard. I was told to sit in a chair by a technician who told me not to move my hands (I might thump the microphone), or get more than four inches from the microphone for sound quality purposes. I’m Italian. Asking me not to move around or gesture with my hands while I talk is like gagging me.
The disembodied voice of Laura Sydell suddenly came out of a speaker near the ceiling like the voice of the great Oz. Rather than talk about something safe or impersonal like the subjects I had prepared (legal nurse consulting and entrepreneurship), it turned out that she actually wanted to talk about me. I was acting like I’m a subject I know nothing about, so after a few routine questions, she suddenly asked me, “Are you reading notes? Do you have notes?” “Yes.” I answered, holding onto those notes like a life-preserver from the Titanic.
“Put them away and relax. We’re just two people talking.” Yeah, I thought, just talking over 1,500 miles of high-speed Internet cable in a dark room with an air-tight door. I put my notes away, but still within arm’s reach, tensing up even more. Despite knowing the information in my notes and about myself inside and out, I did just okay. I never hit it out of the park because I never relaxed into the interview. I let the disembodied voice coming over the big speaker in the dark room get in my head. I allowed myself to fall back on my legal nurse consulting deposition rules. Answer only the questions. Usually yes or no is good enough. Don’t elaborate. When I was asked if I had a family, I answered “yes.” I didn’t say “Yes, I have a wonderful, supportive husband and many best friends.” She even asked me if I had any trips or vacations planned and I answered “yes.” She asked me to where and I said “New Zealand and Fiji.” Not, “I’m taking a bicycle trip across New Zealand and then going to Fiji to scuba dive with hammerhead sharks” or anything exciting and fun. Just “New Zealand and Fiji.” I think I sounded like Eeyore from the Winnie the Pooh cartoons.
When it was over, I can still remember the lack of enthusiasm in Laura’s voice when I asked her when she thought the interview would air. To her credit she didn’t say “not during my lifetime” or “never” but hedged and told me she’d have to judge after it had been edited. How much editing of “yes” and “no” would be required I wondered. I walked out of the studio with nothing left but a wet drive home and all the thoughts I hadn’t said. In retrospect, I blew it. The interview was never aired that I’ve heard of and frankly I’m glad.
I thought back to all those radio programs where I’d listened to Laura have conversations that sounded like two best friends chatting over a cup of healthy green tea and I realized my interview sounded more like I was being questioned on CSI for first degree murder (murder of my own chances of getting on NPR).
At 4:00pm on the following Friday, I learned I had a 2:00pm interview on Monday with a reporter for the Texas Bar Journal. At 11:00am on Monday, I finally learned the questions the reporter would ask. Luckily, through the power of the Internet, I was able to not only look her up, but also learn she was reporting on attorney-entrepreneurs. I could see a list of her latest stories and get a feeling for her voice and style. I still wasn’t sure what she wanted from me, but I knew a lot about her. It narrowed down where she was likely to go – more about me than the nursing shortage, healthcare or the malpractice crisis.
I picked myself up and prepared for another interview. I knew I had to do better and to let go of the previous day’s disappointment. And sure enough, by letting go of that disappointment, I had a tremendous interview. I was totally relaxed, in the zone. I was animated and waxed eloquent throughout. I used my wireless telephone headset and could move around the room with the bullet points that I wanted to cover and be Italian and wave my hands to my heart’s content.
It was the kind of interview you dream of; it went so well. The reporter kept saying, “Oh, this is good.” “Oh, this is interesting.” The only thing that had changed from the NPR interview was that I was completely relaxed. I was the same person with the same knowledge and experience, just more of “me” than I was the day before. That’s why I hit it out of the park.
Later, I got a second chance to do it right for NPR when they asked me to write an essay for This I Believe, another feature of NPR’s national news program All Things Considered. This time I nailed it so perfectly because I did for that essay what I’ve been telling Certified Legal Nurse Consultants to do with attorneys for years – relax. By then I had a number of national radio and TV interviews behind me and had seen behind the wizard’s throne. Dark studios and spider-like microphones no longer intimidated me.
I walked into that same radio studio with a different attitude. I stepped through the airlock and embraced that hanging microphone. After speaking with their recording engineer I stood in front of the mic and gave a terrific reading. You can still hear it to this day if you want. I was relaxed, I talked about my childhood and how those experiences shaped my attitude towards life. I hit it out of the park because this time, I was relaxed (no there were no drinks involved although Tom and Evie came along and offered to stop on the way to loosen me up). I didn’t need it, I was ready.
My advice for every CLNC® consultant about to interview with or just meet an attorney or someone who knows an attorney is to just relax and be yourself. I know it’s easier said than done (like having a photographer tell you to smile for the 477th time).
Most of all, remember that it’s just a conversation between two people – your life won’t depend upon the outcome. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed the attorney will be and the more successful the interview.
The CLNC® consultant I mentioned above emailed the Institute after the interview to share that she walked out with a case and a retainer from one of the most prestigious law firms in her state with 12 attorneys who handle medical malpractice cases. Her fabulous reward for going in relaxed.
Relax into your next interview to guarantee you walk out the door with a new attorney-client and a new case.
Success Is Inside!
P.S. Comment and share how you relax your way to success as a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant.