The Two-Way Interview

BY ADINA LEVINE

It’s not clear who’s trying harder. Sometimes it’s the nervous student, dressed in a suit and prepared with a resume, writing sample, and references – not to mention the critical transcript – who has spent hours researching the firm, preparing the critical answers, rehearsing how to smile and shake hands.

But sometimes, it’s also the firm.

Though OCI Week is a time for students to try to present themselves as best as possible to secure a job, it is a test week for the firms as well. The firms want to prove their flexibility, their commitment to pro bono, and, above all, highlight their differences – in a way that would make students choose one firm over another.

“Because we’re looking for the best candidates, a large part of the interview is selling ourselves since the legal field is so competitive,” commented Laurie Goldschein, Legal Recruiting Manager at Goodwin Procter. “Everyone wants a lot of Harvard associates in their class. So you’re starting off on a good foot.”

Other firms focus more on recruiting during the on-campus interview, and more on marketing during the call-back interview.

“I’m technically not supposed to be trying to sell the firm,” said Sandra Edelman, interviewer for Dorsey and Whitney. “My goal is to find out about the person, and the firm will sell itself during the call-back. But I never let the sales opportunity go by.”

The twenty-minute interview is a critical screening process for the firms, with Ropes & Gray estimating that about 50% of on-campus interviews receive a callback, Goodwin Procter approximating about 30%, and Bingham McCutchen stating that only about 25% of their interviews result in a callback.

“We rule out a lot of people [at this stage in the process],” said Dorsey’s Edelman. “If the person has no confidence in the way they present themselves, I can sometimes rule them out in five minutes. I know that’s not something students like to hear.”

Howard Adler, Hiring Partner at Fried Frank, has a different view, finding that it takes the full twenty minutes to evaluate students.

“This is an important cut,” commented Adler. “I try for twenty minutes to develop a connection, to engage in a conversation or dialogue rather than an interview, because it certainly helps the student and lawyer get to know each other much better.”

The criteria for “ruling out” a particular student are often related to the performance of the individual student, rather than to a comparison with the other candidates. Each student is evaluated individually, with employers often deciding right after the interview rather than at the end of the day.

“We don’t have any quotas,” asserted Adler. “If we think someone’s good, we’ll take them. That’s a mistake we can always make: to have too many summer associates because there were too many good candidates.”

Nevertheless, it seems better to interview at the beginning of the day, before employers get tired of hearing the same stock answers to their questions.

“My advice to students is to carry the weight of the interview,” commented Edelman.

In a similar vein, the employers prefer to be in the initial round of interviewing for the students, preferring Week One of OCI to Week Three. The firm’s schedule is determined by a rotation that will allow a firm which is in Week Three this year to be in Week One next year, and Week Two the following year.

“The only possible advantage to being in Week Three is that you get the students who really want to come to you,” said Katherine Thatcher, Legal Recruiting Coordinator at Ropes & Gray. “But you also lose the chance to sell the firm to those students who are not sure where they want to go.”

So what do the employers look for in the relatively short time span of twenty minutes in order to distinguish the good candidates? The overwhelming consensus seems to be two major criteria: confidence and enthusiasm.

“I see if a student can talk about something on their resume with enthusiasm,” Adler stated. “I’m looking generally for enthusiasm: Do people like law school -not just because they want to be a lawyer, but because they like what they’re doing.”

“I look for passion, enthusiasm, and articulate presentation,” asserted Edelman. “I focus on objective things they’ve done, such as how they got a job, because that shows initiative. The question is: Can you imagine this person in the firm?”

Some firms place an emphasis on the transcript while other firms place more of an emphasis on the student’s overall demeanor at the interview.

“I like to see that someone has done well in something, that the student got an A in something,” commented Edelman, stating that the weight she accords the transcript often “varies.”

“Unfortunately, transcripts do play a large part in the interview,” said Goldschein. “When you get a pile of resumes, all of which are impressive, you need something to differentiate them. But grades are not everything, personality also goes a long way.”

“You look for the whole package – not just grades,” Adler said. “We are in the service industry, and you need to communicate to clients. The firm looks at the more intangible qualities of a candidate. Law is about people. It’s a social profession.”

Even if there is a seeming consensus on which positive qualities a student can exhibit – confidence, enthusiasm, intelligence – the employers each have their own unique way of interviewing that could vary even within a firm.

“Everyone has their own interview style,” said Adler. “I’m telling you Howard Adler’s interview style, not even Fried Frank’s.”

Comments