Interviewing Effectively: A Bigger Challenge Than We Believe

I am heading to Colorado this week to present the first of many Customized Interviewer Training programs before the on-campus recruiting season begins. I have done this for more than 80 law firms over the last 27 years and I truly believe it’s one of the most valuable training programs that we offer law firms.

The reason I say this is because the majority of lawyers have not learned how to interview candidates effectively. Please know that I love working with attorneys and respect their intellects enormously, but interviewing is a very particular skill set that is not taught in law school.

One major blunder many attorney interviewers make (more often than you can imagine) is to ask questions to try and figure out what is “wrong” with the candidate. Their legal training leads them to focus on what doesn’t fit, and they often spend valuable interview time asking questions like, “Why would someone who has a successful career in finance want to be a lawyer? Or, “What are your ties to Washington, DC when you have lived in California most of your life?” These types of questions put the candidate on the defensive, and the interviewer does not actually learn useful information about the candidate.

In addition, many attorneys also spend valuable interview time asking questions about something they are curious about on the resume that is unrelated to the candidate’s ability to succeed at your firm. Examples include, “I see from your resume that you worked at X company; did you know John Smith who worked in the legal department?” or “So is X college as good as the hype? They didn’t admit me and I always wondered.”

I am not making this stuff up! I saw and heard it when I was head of legal recruiting reviewing evaluation forms and I hear it from current candidates when they debrief with me after interviewing.

Many interviewers assume that someone who has excelled at top schools will automatically be a great lawyer, so they waste their opportunity to learn how the candidate operates during the interview. But we all know that being smart in school doesn’t always mean you have the motivation, collaborative work style or client-service attitude needed to excel in Big Law.

When I conduct interview training at law firms, I teach attorneys how to ask high-mileage questions so they can get evidence on how this candidate is likely to perform in the role. Asking questions like “Are you a hard worker or team player?” will not provide that evidence. Instead, I make the case for asking behaviorally-based questions and provide them with sample questions that will help them to uncover what they need to learn to determine if the candidate has what the firm needs in their legal talent.

Are your attorneys prepared with the interview skills and behaviorally-based questions to assess the candidate and make the best hiring decisions? If not, I would be happy to discuss this training program with you.

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