The interview sessions are still just one component in the hiring decision, but the new model is more substantive and revealing, Subak and summer associates say, both for summer candidates attempting to display their qualifications and firm hiring chairs hoping to convey a sense of the firm's ethos, as well as trying to filter through the applicant pool.
"One thing I learned in meeting with the recruitment committee is that attorney interviewers were really frustrated, too, for all the same reasons we were," says Melissa Hatch, a recent Penn Law graduate who took part in the Pepper brainstorming as a summer associate. "They couldn't separate candidates in any logical way; they felt like their interviews were going the same again and again and again."
For Hatch, who attended Penn State University as an undergrad, frustration mounted when, time and again, many of her interviewers wanted to discuss football coach Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions, not her legal qualifications or the master's degree in bioethics she was pursuing. But despite rampant frustration, industry change has been slow to come, she supposes, because of the risk associated with breaking new ground. "If everyone's doing the same thing and you're doing something different, it could go very well, and it could also not go well at all," Hatch says. "You don't want to sacrifice a whole class by taking a gamble."
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Since implementing the new model, Pepper's Subak has fielded questions, he says, both from lawyers inside his firm and out about the new additions—though he's not sure if there's been any interest in replicating it elsewhere. This type of attention to revamped interviewing methods is increasingly common, according to Heather Frattone, associate dean of Career Planning & Professionalism at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
"I think the market's beginning to shift on this," Frattone says. "Firms will do anything from a model like Pepper's, which is very specific, to broader behavioral interviewing—questions like, 'Tell me a time when you were able to successfully persuade a group of people to see things your way,'—to get at specific competencies and skills they're looking for. We saw more employers last year do behavioral interviewing, and I think we'll see even more employers this year."
Regardless of whether Pepper's model is picked up by other organizations, some of the firm's previous summer associates are hopeful that future law students will have a chance to showcase their qualifications in evolving interview models similar—if not identical—to Pepper's.
"I would think that sometimes it really takes one firm to start, and to show other firms that it can be done, you don't turn off applicants, and that, in fact, you end up with a superior group of summer associates," says Hatch, who will soon start as a junior associate at Pepper Hamilton. "I think that once other firms start recognizing what Pepper is doing and the results that it's getting, they [will] be much less hesitant to think outside the box."
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