Law Practice Magazine
Whether you are preparing to hire one person or the year’s new class of associates, having a well-thought-out approach to the interview process is essential to successful recruiting and hiring. How you conduct these interviews could mean the difference between attracting or losing the candidates you want.
I’ve advised a lot of people about the interview process, both from the vantage point of the employer and the candidate. The process is by no means black and white—but there are some practices that will ensure a smoother and more effective course. Key is remembering that this process isn’t just about the firm’s vantage point. Many candidates view the way in which a firm handles hiring interviews as a sign of how it treats its associates and other employees. What does your interview process say about your firm?
To help you be competitive in your recruiting, here in a nutshell are best practices to follow in interviewing candidates.
Pre-Interview Best Practices
There are multiple things you need to do before the first candidate comes through your office door. These pre-interview steps focus on creating a plan that will lead to a successful conclusion to the entire process.
Qualifications. Carefully consider the core competencies needed to succeed in the position. Core competencies are the knowledge, experience and skills specific to the position and your firm. What will qualify a person to proficiently handle the required work? Skills consist of both technical legal abilities and interpersonal aptitudes. Creating a list as specific as possible will help immensely in the screening phase.
Job description. Write a detailed description of what the individual filling this position will be expected to do. The job description is not a repeat of the qualifications, but rather the specific responsibilities of the position. Having a thorough description allows you to fully describe the position in both advertisements and the interview process.
The firm’s uniqueness. What separates your firm from others? Each firm is not alike. What things can you say about your firm that will attract your target candidates? Practice areas, culture, backgrounds of individuals, flexible work options, benefits, any number of things can make a firm unique. Think through the question from the candidate’s perspective: “Why should I join this firm?”
The application process. Consider how you want individuals to apply for the available position and what should be included—a resume, writing samples, transcripts, references, perhaps a statement of interest, to name examples. Also, decide who will screen resumes and set up interviews. And will there be one long interview for each candidate or a callback after an initial screening interview? Construct a well-organized process.
Interviewing for Success: The Next Stage
While planning out the interview content lays the foundation, obviously the emphasis is on the actual interviews. Following are recommendations for ensuring they go smoothly.
▪ Certainly interviewers have to be well prepared to speak with candidates, but anyone who interacts with the candidates will leave an impression—positive or negative. Remind everyone at your firm that they, too, are part of the recruitment process and should act accordingly when candidates are visiting, for interviews or otherwise.
▪ If you are conducting multiple interviews on the same day, do your best to leave plenty of time in between them so that candidates don’t run into each other. Candidates often say that when they see other interviewees coming and going, it feels like a “cattle call.” Also, having time in between allows interviewers to fill out candidate evaluation forms and to refresh before the next candidate arrives.
▪ The core competencies list and job description you created will allow you to generate interview questions and evaluation forms targeted at finding the right fit for the position and your firm. If you are using a two-interview process (which is recommended), focus the first interview on determining whether the individual has the necessary experience and abilities to do the job effectively. The second interview should focus more on how the individual will fit with the mission and culture of the firm.
▪ Encourage the interviewee to ask questions. Not only does this allow a candidate to learn more about your practice, but it also provides an opportunity to evaluate what is important to this person in terms of potential assignments, work styles and the like. This may be very useful in “sealing the deal” with the person who becomes your lead candidate.
▪ At the close of the interview, let the candidate know what the next steps will be—for example, whether you’ll be calling people about follow-up interviews, if other paperwork might be needed to complete their evaluations, and when the firm will likely make its hiring decision. Having an idea of your timetable is very helpful to candidates.
After the Interviews: Steps to Close the Process
Once the actual interviews are over, there are several more things to do to wrap up the process on a successful note. Let’s look at each in turn.
Check references. I recently spoke to an attorney who had made an unsuccessful hire. The person wasn’t appropriate for the position, and looking back, the employer realized that he’d ignored a couple of signs that should have indicated the bad fit. The most significant was a comment made during the reference check. It’s very tempting to want to fill a position as soon as possible, especially if you’ve invested a lot of work in the search and interview stages. But as this attorney found out, it’s actually more work to hire the wrong person.
Make the offer in a positive way. So you’ve picked your top candidate and are ready to make the offer. This is not the time to prove what a dogged negotiator you can be. It sets the wrong tone for a positive working relationship with the person you want to bring into your firm. Think instead of how to take a win-win approach and get your top choice to say “yes” gladly. For example, if you can’t offer the kind of salary this individual is seeking, are there other benefits, such as a year-end bonus or insurance add-ons, that might appeal?
Think more broadly than just salary and “traditional” benefits. While financial incentives are important, most individuals are looking for positions where they can learn, be part of a collegial environment, receive meaningful work, and have opportunities to integrate their professional and personal lives on some level. These things are often valued over the dollar figure alone.
Let other interviewees know their status. Even though you’ve made your hiring choice, those who will not receive an offer from you can’t fall off your to-do list just yet. It’s essential to inform them of your decision. If someone has taken the time and effort to apply for the position and interview with you, it’s only appropriate to let them know where they stand in the process so they can get on with seeking a job elsewhere.
Plan the new employee’s first day and orientation. The recruitment process segues into the retention process from the moment an individual begins working for you. Accordingly, it’s very important to make sure the new hire feels welcome when he or she arrives on the first day.
Also, you need to plan out an orientation that will not only help the individual acclimate as quickly as possible, but also help him or her feel like a part of the firm. Interpersonal connections are essential for someone to have a sense of belonging to an organization. So put a high priority on this for everyone at your firm, and encourage them to be especially friendly and helpful during the new hire’s first weeks. When this happens, you’ll find that individuals work more effectively, and they also enjoy coming to work—putting the perfect cap on a successful hiring process!
Marcia Pennington Shannon is a principal in the Washington, DC, attorney management consulting firm Shannon & Manch, LLP.
She is coauthor of Recruiting Lawyers: How to Hire the Best Talent ( ABA, 2000) .