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Falling for the Credentials Trap in the Interview

NEWSLETTER • volume 3 • number 3

Thinking about hiring that last candidate? True, he's a little too smooth and a bit too arrogant. But look at his credentials - a B.A. from Stanford and first in his class at Harvard Law. Still, before you promise him a salary higher than that of some NBA players, consider the case of Craig Spradling, a former associate at a prestigious New York law firm who made $48,000 his first month on the job by illegally trading securities.

Spradling, too, had impeccable credentials. He graduated Phi Beta Kapa and magna cum laude from Wesleyan University, had an MS in computer science from Yale, and graduated with honors from Texas Law School where he was associate editor of the Law Review. All this before he turned 25! His future firm - Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton - had every right to be impressed. Yet just weeks after joining Cleary Gottlieb, Spradling was helping his firm orchestrate the takeover of a client, Loctite Corporation, and decided to buy securities for himself in the company.

Having pled guilty to charges of insider trading, Spradling now faces a possible ten years in prison and hefty fines. His years of education and unbeatable credentials probably won't earn him a lighter sentence; in fact, they could work against him. The firm is highly embarrassed. Even more unfortunate is the fact that Spradling's case is not unique.

All too often, companies desperate to hire talented candidates are so dazzled by a resume top-heavy with prestigious schools and degrees, they fail to look much beyond the credentials. But the candidate with the most impressive pedigree may not be the best person for the job, or for that matter, simply the best person. The selection process can start with credentials, but it certainly shouldn't end there.