Basic Personality Profiling for Partners & Recruiters

personality profiling
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Every day as part of my job, I provide written personality profiles of attorney candidates to our firm’s CEO, as well as to our clients. These profiles are used to help clients interview candidates more effectively. This is critical as most partners have never had any formal interview training.

What is personality profiling?  Human resource professionals use personality tests such as Myers-Briggs or DISC Personality tests, to help determine whether someone is a “people person” or more results-driven. They can help spot natural salespeople and those who will be the best researchers. The possibilities are endless but there’s a challenge.


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The problem is that the people taking personality tests, don’t always answer the questions honestly or accurately. Instead, they often provide the answer that the candidate believes would be best, to help them get the position.

If they’re applying for a job as a patent prosecution associate, is it realistic to expect them to tell the firm that they’re not as detail orientated as they should be? If their preference is to be left uninterrupted for hours at a time, so that they can focus on intensely complex work, are they going to give an answer that seems to imply they don’t like being around people?

This is exacerbated by the fact that people see themselves differently than they really are. Everyone knows someone who has the worst sense of humor they’ve seen or even no humor at all. But when asked whether they have a good sense of humor, such people will almost invariably answer “Yes. But people often don’t get me.”


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Thus, rather than administering the written tests referenced above, we do the profiling in real time, while we’re talking with both candidates and clients. While our people have been trained to identify everything from Jung’s personality “types” to Bandler & Grinder’s NLP Meta-programs and modeling strategies, we usually provide a simplified profile to our clients that identifies just one of two dichotomous personality characteristics: Big Picture vs. Data Driven/Detail-Oriented.

These two characteristics are so easily identified, that even the untrained layman can quickly spot the differences between the two.

Big Picture Thinkers speak in terms of their vision, the future, things that excite them and they even use phrases like “big picture” and “long-game.” Eventually they will get around to the details of how they will accomplish all these things but when asked questions like “Why will you be good for our firm?” or “What is your greatest strength?” what they share will be Big Picture concepts.

When a Data Driven person is engaged with you, they will speak in terms of specific strategies, percentages, statistics etc. They may get around to the Big Picture eventually but simply put, data and details are what they consider the difference between a dream and a realistic goal or business plan.


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It is important to note that observing and responding to these characteristics is even more important in the client development process, than it is in the interviewing process. An interviewee has the obligation of professional decorum.

A potential client can use the phrase “Thank you for your time.” within minutes. Thus, if a detail-oriented electrical engineer is faced with a Big Picture thinker who neglects what they feel is most important (solid and specific data), the sale is lost before the pitch goes more than a few minutes.

An interview is often a “Two-Way Sale” with both sides bearing the burden of making the most favorable impression, possible.

I spoke to John Lively, the Managing Partner at Practus Law. He recently used basic profiling while interviewing a Big Picture Rainmaker named Knicole Emanuel and her Data Driven Business Manager, Todd Yoho.

“We recently interviewed a partner who was described as a ‘Big Picture Thinker.’ So, during my talks with her, I skipped the minutia and focused on my long-term vision for the firm – and more importantly, for her. This was actually very natural and easy for me because I’d like to characterize myself as a Big Picture thinker, as well – and I told her so! We hit it off wonderfully.”

Lively continued about the contrast with that partner’s Business Manager, whom he described as the other side of the personality coin, which is Data Driven/Detail Oriented.

Lively was prepared for this, in advance.

“When it came time to talk to her Business Unit Manager/Paralegal, we went through all the details of our platform, resources, tech etc. that would be available to their practice. I had him talk with my Director of Finance, as well as our CTO.  Knowing the personality types really helped us communicate more effectively and in a way that the candidates appreciated.”

Todd Yoho, the Business Manager that Lively referenced had this to say:

“When I interviewed with Practus, I was pleased that the interviewers wanted to discuss substantive nuts and bolts issues (details!) about how the firm was going to help our healthcare practice, specifically.

“We discussed software packages and other tools the firm provides for billing, collections, document management, and marketing. By the time I had finished two interviews, I was certain that everything we would need to port and more importantly, grow our practice was in place. These details definitely helped us with our decision to join the firm.”

It is important to note that almost no one is purely a Big Picture Thinker or Data Driven / Detail Oriented Thinker. These are tendencies, like being right or left-handed. But interviewers who don’t pay attention to these personality types, risk losing rapport and even losing some candidates altogether.

Big picture thinkers will often view an interview that starts with the entire history of the firm, the interviewer’s background etc. as boring or irrelevant to their long term concerns.

Conversely, data driven personalities can view interviewers who start and stay focused on long term goals as inauthentic, evasive and lacking substance.

It’s critical for partners and recruiting managers to pay attention during the initial small talk of an interview, so they can determine what personality type is sitting in front of them. Once they know who is in front of them, they can mirror their communication style with that of the candidate. The result will be much higher levels of rapport and more successful interview outcomes.

Ayven Dodd

Ayven Dodd is the Executive Vice President of Shelton & Steele, a national legal recruiting and consulting firm that specializes in recruiting partners from AmLaw’s and placing them with viable alternatives.

Comments 1

  1. Otis says:

    Great article that any interviewer could benefit from. Seriously, now I think I’ve been boring people in interviews…

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