You may have heard the story of the two brickmakers who were busy about their trade. Someone came by and asked “What do you do for a living?” One brickmaker responded “I make bricks.” The second brickmaker replied “I build cathedrals!”
We all want to hire the cathedral builders, not the brick makers. How do you find the perfect applicant in the limited time you have to interview someone? You put a significant amount of time and resources into training new employees, so you want to make sure you make a good hiring choice so that investment is not wasted.
Over the years, I’ve found some things that help me in the hiring process. Our firm has gone from a small firm of five attorneys and seven staff to approximately 68 attorneys and 62 staff in the last 12 years. There have been a lot of interviews in that 12 year period! The process described below can help you in whatever size of firm you have.
Method: We use a four step interview process for interviewing applicants. Once we’ve reviewed the resumes and chosen the likely candidates:
1) Conduct a telephone pre-qualification interview
2) Baseline testing administered (varies by position being filled)
3) In person interview with hiring manager
4) In person interview with the person or team that the applicant will work with if hired
Step 1. Telephone interview and ‘pre-qualification’ of candidates. This step includes verifying experience listed on resume, reviewing the job description to see if it is a good fit and ascertaining the salary level is appropriate.
Step 2. Basic testing. Have you thought about reviewing the job description and selecting some basic skills that can be tested so you can have an objective measure of skill for applicants? For a staff position, you may use a grammar/editing test, along with testing in the programs the firm uses (example: Microsoft Outlook). If grammar/editing is important, it is something that is easily measured and can be a critical component in a hiring decision.
If you are hiring a marketing manager you may ask that applicants write a press release with facts presented, edit a website (test site), and/or edit a video. Look at your job description and decided what skills you can test for that relate to actual job duties.
Step 3. When you have multiple people interviewing the same candidate, have you thought about using a scorecard? This allows each person participating in the interviewing process to score each area that is important to you (examples include experience, appearance, presentation, goals, attitude, preparedness). Take time to lay out the philosophy of the firm and give a couple of stories that demonstrate the culture. Once that foundation is laid, you can ask the questions that relate to each scoring area.
Examples of questions are given below. Questions should be related to the competencies that the ideal candidate must possess in order to perform at the level a particular position requires.
Experience: For a litigation legal assistant you may ask a specific question that relates to the work they do. “Walk me through how you would go about setting a deposition of an opposing party represented by counsel.” Or, “Tell me what dates you would docket if a client brought in a complaint they had been served with.” If you were hiring for an HR person, the question may be “What steps would you take if an employee was tardy three times in a two week period?” Or a ‘what if’ question of a recent HR issue you faced. If hiring for a receptionist, the question might be “How would you handle an irate caller that did not want to leave a message?” The answers will give you an idea of how well they know their position.
Attitude: One of my neighbors told the story of a new person moving in to the neighborhood. The new person asked “Is this a good neighborhood?” The neighbor responded “How was your old neighborhood? The new person replied “It was great! I had such good neighbors.” The neighbor said, “You are going to like this neighborhood too.” That principle applies to work as well and satisfaction in any situation relates in great part to the person’s attitude. A good question to ask may be “What are three things you liked about your last/current position? What are three things you disliked about your last/current position.” I watch for signs of ‘sour grapes’ about former employers or co-workers. The answers also give you insight as to what the applicant values in a work experience which can help determine if they are a good fit with your firm culture as well as the position.
Goals: A sample question could be “What would you like to be doing five years from now?” or “Describe your perfect job.” The answers can help you know if their goals are in line with the organization and if they will be a good fit for the position. If they don’t have a goal, that also tells you something about the applicant.
Preparedness: My dad used to say there are three kinds of people: those who let things happen, those who make things happen and those who wonder what happened J A critical question can be “Do you have questions for me about the firm or the position?” Their questions are an indicator of how prepared they are. Good questions show they have thought about the position, researched the firm may be the kind of people who make things happen! You want someone who asks good questions. You want employees who ‘bring their brain to work’ and will question processes and procedures in place. Great insights can be gained by having a fresh set of eyes on what you are doing so you can make a change if there is a better way to do things.
End the interview by letting the applicant know what to expect next and when they can expect to hear from you.
At the end of this round of interviews, you should be in a position to identify the top two or three applicants to go on to the final interview.
Step 4. Have the applicants meet with the attorney or team that they will be working with directly if hired. The objective of this interview is to make sure there is a good fit with personalities and the team culture. The questions you want to see answered in this interview relate to expectations. The applicant can be asked what they consider to be important in their employment experience and why they think they should be hired for the position. They can be asked what their idea of ‘a good job’ is. The attorney/team members communicate what they consider to be ‘a good job’ for the position that is being interviewed for and what is important to them in the person that would fill that position. The attorney and/or team members that participate in the interview use the scorecard so that you can have a pretty objective scoring for each candidate interviewed.
Once all the steps above are complete, the scorecards and the test results can be tabulated and the team makes the final decision on hiring. A benefit of using the process above is that generally there can be a consensus as to the hiring decision. Another benefit is that all participants in the hiring decision work to make on-boarding a success in part because they have been engaged in the process.
Next in the series: On-boarding New Employees!