Last week I attended some "interview training" at Farrers. One of my new duties as a recently promoted partner is getting involved in the recruitment of Farrers' new trainees.
Now, as an employment lawyer I have been advising clients for years on "dos and don't" in recruitment. So it was something I was excited about and secretly thought I would be pretty good at. At the same time of course, as an employment lawyer I have been advising clients for years on what to do when it has all gone wrong. So it was also something I was a bit nervous about and of course I didn't want to end up having to give evidence in Tribunal...
All in all, I turned up at the interview training feeling pretty confident. And, to a certain extent, I was right to be confident: I knew the protected characteristics, was well aware of unconscious bias, knew the answers to the tricky "dos and don'ts" and – unsurprisingly – was aware of the potential legal pitfalls. So far, so predictable. However, by the end of the training, I was far more nervous than when I went in.
This was certainly not the fault of the trainers, who were excellent and very positive about the whole process. In fact it was down to me and the dawning realisation that this part of the job is hugely important and has long lasting implications for the person being interviewed and for the firm. Yes, you can make sure that you follow the right legal process but, just as importantly, you have to make space in a busy diary full of client work to prepare properly, to give the interviewee the chance to shine, to make sure that Farrers is put in its best light and to make sure the right recruitment decisions are taken.
We have only 10 trainee places each year at Farrers and almost 100 applicants for each of those places. To have got through to interview at all means any candidate I interview will be excellent – but we have to choose which one is offered a job and the chance to work at one of the best law firms going (ok, I admit I am biased but Farrers IS a great place). This isn't to say that that interview training isn't important – it most certainly is. Of course not every interviewer at every employer is familiar with the relevant law (and I know some of you have interviewers who may need to be reminded of the basics more than once!). But, once you have a sound grasp of it, law – in the sense of employment law – has little to do with the practicalities on the interview day. There is much more to think about.
It was another reminder to me that putting myself in the client's position whenever I am advising someone – whether an employer, a partnership, an educational establishment or an individual - is invaluable. I have had the advantage of going on three fantastic secondments during my career and this has helped me maintain Farrers' excellent pragmatic and commercial style of advice but being "the decision maker" in a real life situation reminded me again how important this is. It is also important to remember that the law is just one aspect of any decision-making process. It is vital to have it and to get it right, but it is not the whole picture.