SG: We all know interviews are important for law firms to gauge how well a candidate is a fit for their firm. But on the flip side, do we ever get feedback from candidates that a law firm hasn’t necessarily presented its best self in an interview setting?
PP: I think the first most important thing to bear in mind is that usually by the time you get to the interview stage, you know enough about the firm to figure out whether on paper they would be a good fit for you, whether that would be culturally, in terms of size or location, etc. What is important in the interview itself is that when you do meet your potential employer you make sure that you gel and on occasion, one out of four times, we will get the feedback that someone went in for an interview and didn’t necessarily feel that they gelled with the law firm.
Now there are a couple of things that could be said about that. One is that sometimes people just don’t get on and you know that happens, and you should be in a place where you get on with your colleagues and so that’s important. But there could also be a possibility of a law firm coming across as a little bit strong and potentially putting off a job seeker who under other circumstances would be the perfect fit. It’s about being mindful of how those interviews could come across and how they are, after all, a stressful experience.
SG: Why do you think this is an issue for firms in the current market?
PP: I think the most important thing is that we are in a candidate-driven market. We are in a market where the majority of solicitors, according to our research, are actually inactive or passive, meaning that only about 10 to 15% of solicitors at any given time will be actively looking for a job. Now, when people are passive, you will find that they’re fairly content where they are, so it would take something particularly special to get them to move. Under those circumstances, firms need to be extra cautious about how they come across because they need to be able to take the process slowly and warm the candidate up so they feel that they’re ready for a move. Those circumstances will be completely different to when someone is actively looking for a new role
SG: What do you think are some common mistakes that law firms tend to make in interviews?
PP: Very often there’s still this traditional view that it’s a one-way street situation whereby you come into the interview, the law firm asks you 5 to 10 questions around your CV, you leave the interview, you get the feedback and it’s a simple yes or no. Things have changed because we’re in the current market that we’re in where it’s more candidate-driven and solicitors, particularly those at the medium to senior level are in high demand, interviews need to be seen as a two-way conversation, and I think that’s probably the biggest mistake that firms make. They don’t allow it to be a two-way conversation whereby the candidates can also ask questions not just at the end of the interview but also throughout, you know, just to make sure that they’re getting all the answers that they need, so by the time they leave they interview, they know that they are making an educated decision.
So that’s mistake number one and I think the second mistake is about being too formal too soon. I’m a strong believer that if you’re going to be interviewing someone, the best first step to take is to have an informal chat with them. That way you can figure out if they are a good fit, whether you guys gel, and if you don’t, perhaps it won’t be a good fit. and that way you don’t have to go ahead and do another hour-long interview. Whereas, some firms try and introduce strict, traditional, very formal interviews from day one, and that doesn’t necessarily serve the purpose it should.
SG: What do you think of some important questions that law firms should ask candidates in an interview?
PP: If we’re looking at it from the perspective of a law firm, we should probably be asking about the things that will help with profitability I suppose as well as cultural values. So, the three things that I would be asking in terms of profitability would be, you know, what are your billings or what business development do you do? This can be quite a vast topic to cover, so I think things like what sort of work do you generate, do you have any referrals or what sort of relationships have you built with others in the market? And then the third question you could be asking is probably something to do with mentoring juniors and providing work to juniors, particularly if you’re a senior solicitor. So those are the three things law firms should be asking just to get a feel for whether they’re going to be good and, effectively, whether the fee income that they’re going to be bringing will be sufficient to justify the hire.
The second thing is the cultural fit, and this is a little bit more difficult because every firm will be looking for something different. But I think the three things you could be asking are one is just for them to tell you a little bit more about what they do in their spare time, just to get a feel for who they are as a person because we apparently spend about 90,000 hours with our colleagues!
So it’s important to ask them what they do outside of work. And second thing you could ask them is about how they dealt with difficult situations in the past just to see what their approach is to conflict and how they tend to resolve it. And I think one thing that, can sound a little bit cheeky, but I think it’s important to ask what they would change about your firm, because that shows whether they’ve been proactive, done the research on you as a business and see if they have any good ideas that they can bring to the table and also, having sort of a third person perspective on things like that is very useful.
SG: Have we ever had candidates say that they’ve not had the most positive experience in an interview setting?
PP: Unfortunately, we have and, in this candidate-driven market, it’s particularly important for law firms to be mindful of this. The feedback we’ve had is that firms have asked questions that solicitors didn’t necessarily feel comfortable with. So the areas I would stay, stay clear from would be, you know, sort of future family planning, questions about their background, even questions about a lawyer’s non-traditional route into specifically family law, as those things can be sensitive topics to talk about.
As an interviewer, I think it’s important to ask yourself, do I need to know the answer to these questions and if so, why? So, I think those are probably the two things to take a step back on, ask yourself this question, and then see if it’s worth asking that question in the first place because the possible consequences of asking the wrong questions can mean that in this current market, you won’t necessarily be getting that talent.
SG: What are the questions that we suggest to our candidates that they ask law firms in an interview setting, and therefore what questions would you recommend law firms are prepared to answer?
PP: I love this question because as I said before, it’s all about an interview being a two-way conversation and I think I cannot stress enough how important that is. It doesn’t even matter if you’re one PQE or if you’re a paralegal, because you’ve got to make sure that it’s right for you and the law firm needs to make sure that you’re the right hire. So, from the candidate’s point of view, if you are going in for an interview, the things you want to know about (as the recruiters will tell you a little bit more about the culture, the interview process and what the firm’s like) but what you need to see for yourself are what are the targets and what expectations there’ll be around the target? You’ll also want to understand progression. Is there a clear progression structure? How often are promotions? What does it take to be promoted? Doesn’t matter whether it’s from a paralegal to a training contract or whether it’s from a senior associate or partner. If progression, and for most people it is, is important to you, you’ve got to be asking those questions so you have clarity.
The next one is about money. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend bringing money up, but what I would ask is about appraisals. Appraisals also include salary reviews, they tend to happen annually but ask and make sure that you know when those will be happening because they will be important for your development and progression. And the last thing I would ask the interviewer is what their favourite thing is about working there. Because if someone asked me this, I would quite comfortably say that the flexibility at Realm is amazing, but someone else can share something different. So make sure you ask people that are interviewing you what it is that they like the most about the place.