3 Tips to Avoid Hiring Mistakes

Every legal hiring manager wants to find someone with the right combination of legal skills, interpersonal abilities, and a strong work ethic to make an immediate impact on the job. But how do you turn this wish into a reality? While there isn’t a completely foolproof method, it’s important to develop a staffing strategy to help you make better decisions -- before you begin the recruiting process.  The key is to know to identify attributes and skills that are required for a prospective position and then prepare a fair system for evaluating all job applicants.

1.  Ask the right questions 

Before you schedule interviews with prospective employees, develop a list of core questions that each job candidate will answer so that you can assess their experience and knowledge in the legal field. You’ll also want to get a sense of a candidate’s interpersonal skills and “fit” with your firm’s corporate culture. Some questions to consider:

  • What did you like best/least about your last position?
  • What is the most interesting or challenging project you’ve worked on?
  • If you could have made improvements in your previous position, what would they have been?
  • Describe your favorite/least favorite coworker or supervisor.

Also, include hypothetical job-related questions to better gauge their individual work styles.  For instance, instead of asking how candidates typically handle urgent assignments, you might ask, “If you were working on a high-priority project for one partner in our firm and another asked you to help with an emergency task, how would you handle the situation?”

In addition, ask candidates specific questions about their professional experience and work history. Review each applicant’s resume in advance of the interview and note any areas of concern. For example, you may want to find out more about a long period of unemployment or short tenure at several law firms. 

2.  Maximize your meeting time

It’s important to make each interview a top priority and maximize your meeting time. To limit distractions, close your door, clear off your desk and hold incoming calls. While this seems like basic advice, it’s easy to allow other priorities to take precedence during the daily course of business.

Rather than dominate the conversation, let the candidate do most of the talking during the meeting.  Allow them plenty of time to answer a question. Listen carefully to their responses to avoid missing information that will help you better evaluate their fit within the organization. Take thorough notes so that you can later recall specific responses to questions and consider developing a ranking system to simplify the process of comparing each applicant’s skills and abilities. 

3.  Check references

While reference checking can sometimes seem unnecessary, don’t skip or delegate this important stage of the hiring process.  What you learn from these calls can help you make a more effective decision, especially if the new hire will be reporting to you. In fact, in a Robert Half survey of 2,800 senior managers in the U.S., 34 percent of respondents said they had removed job candidates from consideration for a position after a reference check.

Ask references to provide honest feedback about the candidate’s job performance. If you speak with a contact who is reluctant to help, explain that his or her candid comments can help ensure the individual is an ideal fit for the position. Acknowledge that no one wants the applicant to be unsuccessful in the job. While your questions will likely vary based on the specific requirements of the position that you’re trying to fill, here are a few to consider asking:

  • What were the candidate’s primary responsibilities while he/she was employed with your organization?
  • What are his/her best skills or qualities?
  • What was his/her most contribution or accomplishment?
  • What are his/her strengths and weaknesses?
  • In which areas would the candidate benefit from additional training?
  • How did he/she respond to constructive criticism?
  • Is there another person within your organization with whom I should speak?

Keep in mind that one negative reference doesn’t necessarily mean you should rule out a candidate. A former manager may be angry that a good employee quit and, as a result, not be objective. Look for a theme in the responses from references and try to verify any criticisms with other contacts.

Making the right hiring decisions is challenging for any legal hiring manager. But with a careful plan for evaluating candidates and verifying credentials, you can improve your chances of selecting the best person for your open position.