My friends who are lawyers tell me that there are still a small minority of their colleagues who see an interview as an opportunity to put a candidate on the spot - a form of cross examination if you will to test the voracity of a candidate’s CV and intellectual prowess. This logic stems from the accepted wisdom that practising law is stressful and therefore candidates looking to advance themselves must somehow be able to prove their resilience in an interview situation.
As the roles to be recruited to become more elevated, the interview process also becomes more involved with one on one interviews sometimes being supplemented or replaced by panel interviews with three or more interviewers sitting around the table at the same time.
However, the science of recruitment tells you that candidates perform better in a relaxed environment where they can think properly about the answers they want to give to relevant questions. The more one can create a positive ambience and at least try to reduce the overt pressures associated with interviews, the greater the chance you have of allowing a candidate to demonstrate their suitability for a role.
Those of you who are familiar with recruitment will be painfully aware that interviews are poor predictors of future performance anyway. At best, they will give you up to a 70% chance of making an informed correlation. At worst, an unstructured interview is about as reliable as tossing a coin. More worryingly still, a poorly conducted interview exposes employers to reputational damage and, in extreme situations, even potential litigation. Understanding the basics about equal opportunities and knowing how to frame non-discriminatory questions may seem peripheral to some but time and time again I am made aware of lawyers unwittingly asking questions that could easily be misinterpreted. Even a small amount of training and awareness can help ensure that lawyers don’t themselves fall foul of the law.
Creating a relaxed environment for an interview does not mean that the content of the interview should simply be an informal free for all. On the contrary, we should be carefully thinking about and structuring the areas we want to discuss in advance and making sure that they are appropriate and relevant to the responsibilities of the role itself. The interview should not be a hierarchical interaction but instead one where an interested candidate is able to find out more about the position/firm itself and is then given the opportunity to show how they might be able to suit the requirements of the position. The lawyers I know don’t just want to work for senior colleagues who are subject matter experts, they want to work for decent human beings who you would want to invest a chunk of your working life with.
The point of recruitment is really to identify individuals with the skillsets, knowledge and values who we would want to bring in to “our world” – in short, it is a connection point. Lawyers who are interviewing other lawyers are therefore the ambassadors for their world and they need to convince others that it is a world that they would want to be in. As a specialist legal recruitment firm, we represent clients who are often juggling multiple interview processes and can end up with more than one offer. As with anyone, the lawyers we work with are understandably concerned about their own happiness as well as their career paths. Invariably, when they feel they have had a positive connection with a fellow professional in another firm, the pull factor has already been established and this can even override pure financial considerations. Meaningful connections are best achieved through a structured conversation in a one to one interview, even if more than one face to face interaction is required to validate an outcome.
All too often, lawyers are expected to step in and interview candidates as if this activity is a normal part of their routine working lives. If a firm is expecting their lawyers to make sensible and informed decisions whilst acting as strong brand ambassadors, then the firm too should be prepared to invest in basic interview skills training for them. Knowing how to structure an interview and deal with someone in an engaging, professional way is far from easy and requires thought. In a tight employment market where there is still a shortage of good candidates for many roles, the interview process is an opportunity to market the firm as much as it is for a candidate to promote their suitability.
Whilst I am sure that the vast majority of lawyers who interview candidates do a very professional job and are acutely aware of the role an interview plays, it is a collective responsibility for all of us working in the legal sector to ensure that those minority instances of bad practice are isolated and addressed.
If you have been made aware of how best to conduct yourself in an interview and what areas you should avoid, your chances of connecting with the right candidates and boosting the reputation of your firm will rise immeasurably.
Chris Lipscomb is a Director at Blue Pencil Legal and the former HR Director of Al Tamimi, the largest regional law firm in the Middle East. Aside from advising clients on suitable candidates for their opportunities, Blue Pencil provides interview skills training and coaching/development for lawyers in the UK and globally.