Since opening the doors of my law firm, I have interviewed a lot of job candidates. A lot. Some of them had a great résumé but actually lacked the work experience they were touting. Others were articulate and personable during the interview, only to become sullen and sluggish once they were in the office. After redesigning my search process and figuring out what red flags to look for, I became more adept at weeding out the application pool and finding the hidden gems in the group. Now, I am proud to say that my office has a solid foundation of quality employees, all with different talents and strengths. Here are four steps I recommend taking in order to find your next ideal employee:
NO. 1: In your job advertisement, ask that candidates include specific items in a specific format.
I always ask that candidates email me a cover letter, résumé, and work references, and that the email have a specific title. If they do not provide all four of these, then I delete the email and proceed on to the next candidate. Details are so important, especially at a law firm! You want to look for someone who can follow your directions and is detail-oriented. Also, if he or she is truly interested in the position, then they should take care to provide everything you are requesting.
NO. 2: Email all potential candidates a series of relevant questions.
If the candidate has successfully completed step one and you approve of their cover letter and résumé, the next step is to email them a series of questions relevant to the position and to your firm. (For example, when I hired a bookkeeper, I asked the candidates about accounts payable and receivable, payroll accounting, payroll taxes, accounting software, and settlements). To sufficiently answer the questions, the candidate must have some basic knowledge about that position. Only consider those who complete this section properly. Do not be surprised about how many candidates will not reply to the questions – they have self-selected out of the hiring process.
One of the biggest mistakes I made early on was hiring someone without experience, hoping to train them after they joined the firm. Sometimes you get lucky and the person is able to learn and excel quickly. But hiring someone and training them is a time luxury that many law firms do not have. The supervising attorney ends up spending the majority of his or her time training the new staff, which causes the supervisor’s productivity to run backwards.
NO. 3: Review résumés and check references before the first phone interview.
I know that it might seem obvious to recommend checking the candidate’s résumé and references, but if you cannot verify at least two great recommendations, that could indicate a huge problem. Also, make sure you reserve enough time to complete this part of the hiring process. If you are desperate to fill the position or you fall in love with the candidate before checking his or her references, you might get stuck with a bad employee. At my law firm, we have dodged some major hiring mishaps by checking all of the candidates’ references (or lack of references).
NO. 4: Schedule a phone interview, followed by an in-person interview.
You have reviewed the candidate’s cover letter and résumé. He or she has answered your questions via email, and their references check out. Now, it is time to speak with them directly! During your phone interview, you should ask them some basic questions to see if they pass the general test of competency and personality for the position. Following a successful phone interview, invite them to your law firm for an in-person interview. Run them through a few scenarios they will regularly encounter on the job and see how they think on their feet. Let a second member of your staff interview the candidate as well, and make sure you pay close attention to that staff member’s feedback.
At this point in the process, you should be confident in knowing the candidate’s strengths and whether they would be a good fit with the law firm culture. It is time to make a decision! Good luck, and happy hiring. Jennifer Gore-Cuthbert