Everyone working at a law firm knows the pain that comes with employee turnover – the struggle is real. I have interviewed, hired, and fired law firm employees for over 15 years across a variety of firms and practice areas. While there are many factors that contribute to employee retention, the initial interview process can start the employer-employee relationship off on the right foot by ensuring you hire the right people to suit your business.
While you will have some law firm-specific and practice area specific questions that need to be asked, what I have found is that personality, compatibility, and work ethic account for a sizable portion of a new hire’s success. Much of the relevant information needed to assess these fundamental employee qualities can be obtained during an initial interview, whether by phone or in person. I personally prefer an in-person interview, but I rarely – if ever – grant them without a thorough review of a candidate’s resume and LinkedIn profile and a subsequent prescreening phone interview.
HOW CAN YOU REALLY GET TO KNOW A JOB APPLICANT?
Since we all try to put our best faces forward during the interview process for a new job, how can an interviewer actually get to know the real person behind the resume and glossy exterior? Think of the interview more as a conversation, as if you were trying to get to know a new acquaintance outside of work (while maintaining professional boundaries, of course – leave out politics, religion, and other such divisive topics). Ask the applicant questions you actually want to know the answers to, not just the typical boilerplate “how many years of experience do you have doing XYZ” questions. You can learn a lot more about a person from asking an open-ended abstract question than you can from asking a work-specific question with a defined answer.
Getting To Know You Questions Can Include:
- What do you do for fun?
- What motivates you? What frustrates you?
- Who have been the biggest influences in your life and why?
- What would you say is your greatest strength/weakness?
TESTING, TESTING, ONE, TWO THREE
After the initial pleasantries, a personal favorite interview component of mine involves a hands-on experience. I have offered both a position specific skills test and have made the candidate answer an actual live law firm phone call while observing. The first provides an objective assessment of their professional skill level relative to what you are seeking for the position. The latter lets you hear their phone voice, professionalism, and grammar to see if they are a good fit to represent your law firm to the public.
But of course, when hiring an employee for your law firm, you do need to find out if the candidate is qualified. Sometimes a resume is just a “pretty face” and the applicant will not have the chops to back it up. Ask him or her questions about what they did on an average day at each position – how many clients they spoke to, how many cases they worked on, etc. Regardless of the position you seek to fill, the list below gives you a good start in mapping out questions for applicants:
- Have you worked in a professional office environment where the dress is business casual?
- What do you think you can bring to this position?
- What computer skills do you have and what programs are you comfortable using?
- How comfortable are you dealing with confidential information?
- What is your greatest strength and how will it help your performance in this position?
- What things do you NOT like to do?
- Describe the best boss you ever reported to and why.
- How do you interpret the responsibilities of the role for which you are interviewing?
- How would you approach this job?
- You are asked to organize a meeting. What steps do you take to ensure everyone attends?
- Can you provide a recent example of when you were under stress, and how you coped?
- Why should we employ you, instead of someone else?
THE QUESTIONS YOU HAVE TO ASK
As much as we’d like to come off as welcoming and friendly to attract our desired applicant, we do have to tread into the tough stuff, including money. You’ll come into the interview with your ballpark salary range or hourly rate in mind, likely knowing that if the perfect candidate comes along, you’d be willing to be a little bit flexible. The candidate will come to you with an earnings history and his or her own expectations of the appropriate pay for your advertised job.
How do you talk about such a sensitive topic without sounding cheap or scaring an applicant off? I like to leave the money talk for the very end of my interviews – that way, if I don’t think the candidate is a good fit, I don’t even have to waste time on it, and if I do think the person could be a great hire, we haven’t sullied our entire time together with a potentially controversial topic.
So after you ask some open-ended personal questions, assess the applicant’s professional skills and phone voice, and go through some job-specific questions, you’ll arrive at the compensation portion of your interview. I prefer to put the ball in the candidate’s court and ask them, “What sort of salary and/or benefits are you expecting?” You’ll find candidates will open up and say things like “my husband has coverage for me so I won’t need health insurance” or “I really need to have three weeks paid vacation a year.” Having as complete of an understanding of a candidate’s situation as possible will further enable you to select the person whose needs match your available compensation structure.
Of course, to be polite, after you finish peppering the applicant with questions and assessments, you should give them a turn too. I close my interviews by asking, “Do you have any questions for me/us?” This question often provides great information, including how much the candidate learned about your firm, and what is of the greatest importance to the candidate about the potential job, including things like “I have a long commute, so I prefer to get to work as early as possible so I can leave before 4:30 to beat the traffic home – is that okay with you?” and “My last firm gave employees bonuses after the biggest cases resolved, is that something you do here?” The more you know – the better you can reach the elusive “meeting of the minds” and find the symbiotic employer-employee relationship that will stand the test of time.