A few law firms have adopted "behavioral interviewing," a technique their clients began using two decades ago. Organizational psychologists developed this method as a way for prospective employers to learn more about job candidates than could be mined from a resume or a GPA.
The premise is that past performance is the best predictor of future performance. The goal, therefore, is to elicit information, not just about what candidates have accomplished, but how the process candidates have used to motivate themselves, identify priorities, and cope with challenges. The interviewers do this by posing open-ended questions and following up on vague answers until details about candidates' analytical style and personality emerge.
In a traditional approach, an interviewer would ask, "Tell me about yourself" or "Did you enjoy working on the law review?" In a behavioral approach, an interviewer would ask, "Tell me about a time when you had to make a quick decision" or "Describe an instance when an idea of yours faced resistance from a group."
Firms, like other employers, need to decide in advance what sorts of behavioral traits they're seeking. Larry Richard, a lawyer-turned-psychologist with Hildebrandt International, advises firms that are adopting the behavioral method to complete an internal survey to determine what qualities are common to its most successful lawyers. With care and discernment, interviewers can then look for them amongst the pressed and polished applicants sitting across the table. Or so the theory holds.