Robert Byk: looking for grit
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How do you go about hiring trainees?

The first point to note is the interesting and bizarre element of law: we invite students to apply two years before starting. They apply during the summer, or a little bit earlier, of their penultimate year [of university study].

You make an application through our online portal — it’s just name and exam results — then attach a CV. There’s no application form, no specific skills-based questions, just CVs read by our partners and HR team, and not filtered by a computer.

If you’re invited to the interview stage, you’ll do a written exercise, then an interview with a partner. Then you go with a trainee to have a look around, followed by a 15-20 minute chat with the recruitment team.

The written exercise has some time pressure associated with it. Then there’s the interview, where you’ll be given a current affairs article as part of that process. We will be looking for determination to take an argument to its logical conclusion and test that argument.

The process on the day takes two and a half to three hours. After your interview, the two interviewers will have a chat about whether they want to take the candidate forward, then at a weekly review meeting a group of partners will get together, that candidate will be presented, and the group will decide.

To what percentage of applicants do you offer trainee contracts?

We don’t give out those figures. If you are invited to interview, it is because we are keen to find out more about you. Our retention levels at the end of the two-year training contract are high (historically around 90 per cent).

How do you seek diversity among your recruits?

There are people here from about 65 different educational institutions. So, it’s about encouraging people to apply; it’s about reputation.

We do presentations. We’ve done a webinar. We advertise that on social media and do networking events.

Has your recruitment process changed in the past few years?

We’ve always thought the CV and cover letter are the best way. [They are] blank sheets of paper, and people have the opportunity to present themselves.

The written test is not a law-based test; it’s a scenario, and we’ve a number of them. It’s mostly problem-solving; it’s ability to write under pressure. Some of that is the ability to follow instructions, to finish the task and to synthesise well.

We’ve looked at online testing that goes on with other firms and have concluded that’s not a path we want to go down. Last year we introduced a psychometric questionnaire for candidates we invited to interview, and it is in a pilot phase.

We introduced it to find out more information about the candidates, not as a tool to filter in or filter out.

We find that it’s trickier to do the CV and cover letter [than an application form], and it tells us more about a person, because they don’t know exactly what is expected of them.

What is the main attribute you look for in recruits?

Brightness, or intellectual ability. We need people with creative spark and ingenuity and those who can display necessary grit under a degree of pressure. And curiosity.

Sense of humour is important. We’re also very interested in what people do outside of studies.

Is there anything else in particular you look for, like language skills or international background?

The classic question is, if I have German language skills, would that be any better than being fantastic at maths? The answer is no; you are who you are. We’re not ticking boxes but looking at the whole person.

We recently recruited a Lego enthusiast: he has a Lego model of Singapore in his bedroom. They could be knitting enthusiasts, cage fighters or juggling studies with full-time work to make ends meet. The particular thing makes no difference to us; it just informs us.

What is innovative about how Slaughter and May recruits?

In other firms you would spend a lot of time with HR, but we think it is right that [partners] do the bulk of presentations at universities.

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