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Screening Recruits the Goldman Way

Vivia Chen

December 1, 2010

Image[1] Goldman Sachs has decided to share some of its goodies--and lawyers might be beneficiaries. But before you get too excited, some disclosures: The investment bank is NOT sharing year-end bonuses with lawyers, and it is NOT doling out legal work like yesterday's turkeys.

Rather, the Wall Street institution is offering interviewing tips to aspiring masters of the universe on its Web site. (Hat tip: Vault). I'm not sure why Goldman is telling the hungry masses how it picks its junior gods, but I suppose it's a form of public service.

Since the bank's vetting process is notorious for rigor, ambitious lawyers can only benefit by prepping (maybe over-prepping) the Goldman way. Here are some tidbits from the Goldman video:

First, the Dos:

 1. Make a list of your qualificatons--academic and work experiences. Goldman's favorite buzz terms are "team orientation," "leadership potential," "problem-solving," and "creativity." Law firms like creative problem-solvers (translation: good legal researchers), but I'm not so sure about the leadership stuff.

2. Create a narrative about why you are applying for a particular job or firm. Example: "I've had a fascination with hostile takeovers since childhood, and keep an active scrapbook of Marty Lipton."

3. Practice your talking points and memorize the names of the interviewers (assuming you know beforehand).

4. Develop a conversational, confident tone. This requires practice--if not an acting coach; it's not easy bragging about yourself in a nonbragging way.

And now for the Don'ts:

1. Don't come off being clueless as to why you are interviewing for the job. 

2. Don't ask about mundane things like money and benefits. The mantra is to snag the offer, then ask about what you really care about later.

3. Don't get lost on the way to the interview. Studying the subway map ten minutes before your appointment is not advisable.

4. Don't send a thank-you letter by mail (too slow) or call (too awkward). But do send a thank-you e-mail.

What really makes a Goldman interview the gold standard are the "competency" questions that it throws at interviewees. The video says the idea behind a "behavioral" or "case studies" interview is to see how candidates solve problems. Take this question: "How many manhole covers are there in New York City?" The video says you could multiply 12 avenues by 150 streets to get 1,800 manhole covers. That answer "may or may not be correct," says the video, but it demonstrates "an approach."

Frankly, that question would have stopped me dead in my tracks--but perhaps that's the idea. As you might know, there's talk that law firms should adopt some of these skills-based screening tools to weed out applicants. So perhaps it's a good time to practice explaining the rule against perpetuities.

Clearly, if you can master the Goldman interview, you should cinch most law firm interviews. But if you're really that good, why bother with law firms at all?


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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected].

Photo: Fotolia


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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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