Befriending the boss a lucrative move

Last updated 11:55 03/01/2013
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BUDDY UP: Confronted with a dizzying array of candidates from the top universities, bosses at elite firms choose someone they would like to form a friendship with.

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They are the 1 per cent - but how do you join them?

A new study of how the world's best-paid elite at investment banks, law practices and consulting firms hire new employees has found it is often not the best qualified candidates who get the job.

Instead bosses at elite American firms - when confronted with a dizzying array of candidates from the top universities with the best marks - choose someone they would like to form a friendship with.

Lauren Rivera, from Northwestern University's school of management, found that these elite firms hire people like them.

"Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but also culturally similar to themselves in terms of leisure pursuits, experiences and self-presentation styles," Professor Rivera's research, published in December in the American Sociological Review, found.

The research, she wrote, was the first systematic and empirical investigation of whether shared culture between employers and job candidates was crucial when hiring.

Professor Rivera conducted 120 detailed interviews with people involved in hiring at top-tier law, consulting and banking firms that pay exceptionally well - with typical law firm entry level salaries ranging from US$175,000 ($209,885) to US$330,000.

She found, after three years of research, that "similarity was the most common mechanism employers used to assess applicants at the job interview stage". One law firm partner told her the company was, when hiring new entry-level associates, "looking for cultural compatibility. Someone who will fit in".

More than half of the 120 people Professor Rivera interviewed rated the candidate's ability to fit in culturally above analytical thinking and communication skills.

Because of the long hours these workers spent on the job, Professor Rivera wrote, "evaluators ... reported wanting to hire individuals who would not only be competent colleagues, but also held the potential to be playmates or even friends".

Evaluators in these high-paying firms also perceived their work was "not rocket science", given the extensive training given to new employees.

The importance of personal interests appeared crucial to elite firms choosing employees.

"Whether someone rock climbs, plays the cello, or enjoys film noir may seem trivial to outsiders, but these leisure pursuits were crucial for assessing whether someone was a cultural fit," Professor Rivera wrote; with so many candidates from prestigious universities, firms needed distinctions to compile interview pools.

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One law firm manager said they would be unlikely to hire a graduate who listed lacrosse and squash on their resume, because they wouldn't fit in; another said they could select candidates for interview on those same activities.

Another law firm said they wanted people who lacked personality.

"When I see people who have a lot of activities on their resume´s, or if they seem to have a really strong passion for something outside of work, I'll usually take a pass because it's not going to be a good fit,"' one lawyer said.



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