Characteristics of Exceptional Interviewers

Deans and directors of law school career services and lawyers who have interviewed with a variety of employers tell us that the following are attributes of excellent interviewers:

  • They are well prepared and have read the candidates’ resumes.
  • They demonstrate real interest in learning more about the candidates.
  • They have a sense of humor.
  • They ask insightful questions, some planned in advance.
  • They have energy and enthusiasm.
  • They treat the candidates with respect.
  • They conduct interviews as if they were conversations (rather than depositions!).
  • They are relaxed.
  • They are well informed about the firm beyond their own practice areas.

Interviewers can make or break the recruitment process. Use care in selecting your interviewers. One to three people should interview the candidate in the initial phase.
A combination of partners and associates is usually most effective. Someone from the practice area in which the lawyer would be working is often a good choice.

If you decide that more than one person will conduct each interview at the same time, no more than two interviewers at the most are best. Otherwise, the candidate may feel intimidated, and the interview may be perceived as a “trial by fire” instead of an interview. Should you decide to use a “panel interview” approach, make sure the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. It is also advisable to let any candidates know ahead of time that you are using a panel interview so that they can prepare for this approach.

If you participate in on-campus recruiting or other law school–sponsored interview programs, you might select interviewers with a connection to that particular school. This can be a wonderful way to show interest in students from that law school, and it allows the interviewers to draw an immediate connection with the students being interviewed. However, do not select someone based on his or her alma mater alone. A poor interviewer is a poor representative of your firm, no matter where he or she attended law school!

Recently, we heard a story about a partner who insisted that he interview at his alma mater each year. The individuals responsible for the recruitment process began to recognize a pattern of students from this particular school rarely accepting the firm’s offer of callback interviews. Finally, a representative of the firm called the director of the school’s career services office. After some investigating, the director learned that the partner had actually been a very poor interviewer, treating each candidate as if he or she was an adversary being cross-examined. Needless to say, most candidates were completely turned off by the interviews with him and therefore became turned off to the firm.

Typical interviewer missteps include the following:

  • The interviewer does not prepare ahead of time, including not reviewing the individual’s application materials.
  • The interviewer does not mute the telephone, cell phone, computer, or anything else that may interrupt the flow of the interview.
  • The interviewer prejudges the candidate based on something on his or her resume and does not give the individual a real chance in the interview process.
  • The interviewer is not focused on the candidate, only the opportunity to talk about himself or herself.

Hire the Best Talent 
This post was adapted from the Law Practice Division’s publication Recruiting Lawyers: How to Hire the Best Talent, Second Edition. In this book, authors Marcia Pennington Shannon and Susan Manch share effective and practical strategies that you can incorporate immediately into your recruitment procedures.

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