An Inside Look at the Student Hiring Decision

Next week, Toronto firms will interview and hire for 2010 – 2011 articling positions. Last fall I wrote a post called “Interview Tips for Summer Students.” This time I thought it would be helpful to give an inside look at the hiring process by describing the steps we at Hicks Morley (a management-side human resources and advocacy firm) go through in selecting the candidates to whom we extend an offer.

What follows is a description of the firm’s process with some commentary on how I’ve worked though it in the past five years or so as a member of our student hiring team.

  1. Hiring team. We use a very collaborative team approach, and typically rely on about eight lawyers to conduct interviews and engage in decision-making. We aim for at least 50% associate participation on the team and a representation from a range of practice types. Everyone on the team has an equal voice.
  2. Paper review. All members of the team get a binder of 50+ candidate cover letters, resumes, transcripts and attachments the Friday before Monday interviews. I read every package, but probably only spend 10 minutes on each. I use a highlighter and create a note by using two “+/-” columns. I may not touch the positives column in the interview, but will certainly use the negative column to develop probing questions on the fly. The more I like someone’s presentation, the more I probe at the negatives.
  3. Morning briefing. We meet each morning of interviews and share our thoughts, both on things in candidates’ packages that we have found to be impressive and our on our concerns. If we do flag concerns, we’ll sometimes assign a concern to one member of the team to resolve though questioning. Our aim is to ensure that students get a chance to address our true concerns without getting bombarded by probing questions on the one weakness in an otherwise great package.
  4. The interview proper. Hicks Morley could be unique in that we use a group interview. If possible, and by rotating interviewers between three concurrent interviews, all members of the interview team will have a chance to meet all candidates. Team members are all very free to ask questions, and are expected to have different questions based on their practice type and its unique kind of work. Neither me nor my colleagues take notes, but specific answers (and even their phrasing) can touch a chord and do get re-stated in our debrief sessions. We fully enjoy ourselves in interviews, but are always evaluating.
  5. The tour. We offer candidates a firm tour. This is to let them observe people in their working environment more than to display our physical facility. If we can grab a lawyer in an office and make an introduction, we will. We make a point of leaving candidates with our current students so they can ask questions they might not be comfortable asking members of the hiring team. The tour is not part of the formal evaluation.
  6. The second interview. We’re prepared to make a hiring decision after a single interview and don’t offer second interviews as a matter of course. We will, however, invite an interesting candidate back for another visit, particularly if we meet the candidate near the start of our interview schedule. Our objective is to keep candidates of interest fresh in our minds and keep us fresh their minds. We put a number of lawyers who are not on the team “on hold” to help out with a second interview so the discussion stays fresh.
  7. Cocktail parties and dinners. We’ve considered cocktail parties and dinners as a sales tactic, but have continued to hold off for the time being. Our reasoning: the cocktail party or or dinner is hard on candidates and (frankly) hard on hiring team members. We also view these events as shifting the focus of the hiring process away from factors that are most relevant to our decision.
  8. Reference checking. We do, but not by routine. When we do check references, it’s usually to help in ranking two close candidates.
  9. The ranking. We try to keep a running list of candidates in order of ranking. We have quick feedback sessions throughout the interview days and more intensive feedback sessions in the evening. Every team member is required to give an opinion on the ranking at each feedback session. We then debate the relative merits of candidates. We often reach consensus, but resolve irreconcilable differences based on majority rule. Nobody has a veto.

That’s the process at Hicks. It’s not necessarily representative of what happens at other Toronto firms nor am I claiming it to be best practice. These general steps have, however, helped us make some very difficult decisions as long as I’ve been involved with our student hiring team and will likely guide our way next week. I hope my description of them helps students interviewing next week understand a little more about our and other decision-makers’ perspectives.

I wish all students who are interviewing the best of luck. You can’t escape the fact that you’re being evaluated, but if you prepare well and believe in yourself you’ll be able to enjoy the process!

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