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How to Win the Summer Associate Recruiting Race

Aug. 11, 2022, 8:00 AM

No network has made a TV series about it yet, but the annual law school recruiting on-campus interviewing season feels like it could rival any high-stakes reality show. This year’s season is now officially underway, and law firms are busy meeting with thousands of law students to select their next class of summer associates.

The season moves incredibly quickly, with on-campus interviews, callbacks and offers all happening within just a few weeks. And once offers are made, students have between 14 and 21 days to respond, with firms throwing in lunches, on-site meet ups, and networking opportunities up to the last minute to get to the finish line with the team they want in place.

News of a shifting economy has not slowed the frantic pace of interviewing. Many firms, including Dechert, remain bullish. We are looking to the future and will recruit an even larger class this year.

As with any competition, the time spent on preparation is often more important than what happens on race day. Here are some key things to keep in mind.

Interviewer Tips

Take time to prepare for the interview. Spending even five minutes to look at the law student’s resumé and prepare personalized questions can be enough to spark a valuable connection. Define the core characteristics of what you are looking for, and ask behavioral questions that will help test for them.

For example, if you think grit is a key quality that associates need to possess, you might say, “Describe a long-term project you worked on and tell me how you stayed engaged,” or “tell me about a goal that you set in the past, how you went about it and your success (or failure) in reaching it.”

Let the interviewee do most of the talking. In a recent interviewer training session led by Eva Wisnik at Dechert, she suggested the 80/20 rule. The more a candidate speaks, the more you will get to know about them, and the interviewer only speaking about 20% of the time will help make this possible.

Pay close attention to the candidate’s questions. In what are they most interested? Are they asking questions that they could easily find the answers to on your website? Did they do their research? Stay present and engage active listening skills.

Don’t focus on the question you’ll ask next. Simply listen and learn. This may spark a follow-up question, or you can always go back to the list of questions you prepared.

Be aware of your tone and timing. Whether or not you think a candidate is right for the role, every interaction matters. Word spreads quickly at schools if a student has a poor interview experience and it reflects on the entire firm.

Remember the saying “People may not remember what you said, but they’ll certainly remember how you made them feel.” That’s not to say you cannot ask about something like a gap on a resumé, but don’t lead with that question, and be mindful of how you ask it.

And, finally, make sure to take notes immediately after each interview. This process is a whirlwind, and you don’t want to forget people.

For Students

Do your research. Spend time on the firm’s website and look at what current associates have to say in published surveys. While it may feel like a sea of undifferentiated firms, there are significant differences that you will find to help narrow down your options.

Engage in some self-reflection. What is most important to you? If you already know exactly what kind of law you want to practice, you may be able to narrow your choices based on practice group expertise.

If you are not sure—and most students do not know yet—think about what else is important. Do you place a high value on culture, well-being programs or pro bono opportunities? You should feel empowered to ask a question like, “How would you describe the culture at the firm, and are there any examples you can give me of how the firm supports this culture?”

Think about your future environment. Do you relate to the people you’re meeting with? Can you see yourself working with them on a weekend or late at night?

Find out what support is available to associates at the firm in terms of professional development, training, performance management and executive coaching. This will help determine whether the firm invests in its people.

Look at the firm’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how strong its affinity groups are. Are the affinity groups involved in the recruiting process? Are individuals available to speak with you?

Observe the interactions between your interviewers. Also, how do they treat the business professionals? If you are at lunch or an event, how do they treat the staff at the restaurant?

Take notes. It will be a blur unless you jot down some of the details.

In the end, whether you are the interviewer or the candidate, being prepared and approaching the process systematically is the best way to ensure that you cross the finish line with a win.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Author Information

Alison Nina Bernard is Dechert’s chief talent and human resources officer. She oversees all aspects of the firm’s talent program, including recruiting, professional development, diversity and inclusion, culture, and human resources.

Andrew S. Wong is a litigation partner and the hiring partner at Dechert in Los Angeles and chair of the firm-wide diversity and inclusion committee.

Wisnik Career Enterprises helps clients to hire the right-fit talent and helps candidates build rewarding and fulfilling careers.