Why critical performance traits can’t be measured from an interview alone.

As I head to Chicago to present a Lateral Partner Interview Training program to a major client’s Firm leadership and then continue straight to Dallas to train Partners at a commercial real estate company on how to launch an on-campus interview initiative, I have to acknowledge that there are critical performance traits that are very hard to measure in an interview.

Having interviewed over 10,000 candidates and conducted interview training for 57 law firms, I know that asking behaviorally based interview questions provides much better “evidence” of future performance than asking what I call “opinion” questions such as:  “Are you a hard worker?” I also know that how a candidate behaves during the hiring process gives us good indicators of how they will behave when hired. For example, are their thank you notes error-free? Do they respond promptly to scheduling emails? Do they do their homework before interviews?

But there are some traits critical for top performance that I can’t fully uncover from an interview: How quickly do they process information? Can they execute and get things done efficiently?

The reason it is so hard to uncover these critical performance areas is because most candidates don’t have clear self-awareness as to how they actually perform.

So what is the answer? I say the candidate should perform as part of the interview process, not just talk about how they perform. For example, we have a “new grad” written assessment where we ask new grads a few questions on how they would handle situations, such as planning an event. We also have them draft an email to a Partner and edit a document. In addition to seeing how they perform in terms of detail orientation, writing skills and business judgment, we also get a view into how quickly (or not) they process all this information and execute.  The average candidate takes 30-40 minutes to complete this assessment.  One candidate last week took 90 minutes to complete it and, based on his responses, did not read two questions correctly. Although he did exceptionally well in school and on his interview, based on this performance element, we will not be introducing him to our clients.

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