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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

June 17, 2019

As a hiring manager, how do I land a great candidate in this über competitive market?

Julie Q. Brush

In a red-hot in house market, the world is a candidate’s oyster. So in order to land the candidate of your dreams, you need to know how to compete and run a pitch-perfect process. Below are a few suggestions to do so:

Be Organized.
Before you begin, get organized around the process (Who will write the job description? Who will initially review all resumes? How will the search be managed? Who will be on the interview team? How many rounds of interviews? What will the first round interview look like? Is there a hiring deadline date? etc.). Also, make a list of your substantive experience and interpersonal must-haves, nice-to-haves and non-starters. Then, provide this information to your interview team so everyone is on the same page. Perhaps the biggest missteps employers make are being disorganized and sending conflicting messages to the candidates during the interview process. This not only confuses candidates, but creates skepticism about and lower interest in the opportunity.

Compensation Must Be Competitive.
“Market” compensation for in house lawyers has skyrocketed. So before you start your search, learn the going rate for the legal profile you want to add. And be prepared for a numbers that will evoke the most quizzical of looks. Then, benchmark with your own metrics and abilities to be competitive. Always strive to offer market comp (or get as close as possible). If your lower range restricts you, consider upgrading the role, tweaking the seniority, loosening the requirements or getting creative with the different levers and offerings at your disposal. Perhaps it’s a signing bonus, perhaps it’s work-from-home or flex time or perhaps it’s an important sounding title. Whatever it is, make the best of it for the most competitive offer possible. You’re going to have to lean in to get the candidate you want.

Establish and Maintain Momentum.
In this market, candidates come on the market quickly and come off the market even faster. So momentum is critical to land the candidate of your dreams. Be on your game when moving the ball forward: promptly schedule interviews, follow up and provide feedback. If you know you’ve met The One, extend the verbal offer as soon as possible. Being sluggish will compromise your process. In this market, candidates are here today…gone tomorrow. And the first employer to cross the finish line…usually wins.

Choose Three Frontrunners.
Hiring managers typically choose one promising candidate and put all their eggs in that hiring basket – while the remaining candidates are akin to chopped liver for the remainder of the process. But increased market activity and multiple options for candidates have led to a record number of rejected offers. Leaving some employers at Square One more than once. To mitigate this outcome, pull three viable candidates forward at once so if your Chosen One falls through, you’ve got two great choices in ready to go.

It costs absolutely nothing and goes a looooooooooong way. And there isn’t a candidate (or employer) out there who doesn’t get warmer and fuzzier after receiving some love in the process. So be mindful to express your positive feelings to your frontrunners throughout the process: from start to finish.

Qualify Candidates On Their Other Options.
Some employers get blindsided when a candidate says they’ve accepted another offer – or are contemplating other offers in the last leg of your process. So ask for a search status and timing throughout the process to know where your candidates stand. And be specific. Candidates will lie through omission, so pose your questions such that you will get the answers your need. If a timing issue arises, take inventory of whether you would like to accelerate your process. If so, hit the gas!

Some Candidates Will Bend The Truth About Current Salary or Other Opportunities To Secure Leverage In Your Process.
Yes, it’s shocking. But unfortunately it’s an increasing reality in today’s opportunity rich market. There’s not much an employer can do about it other than to ask for specifics about these issues and hold candidates accountable for being truthful. So keep this in mind as you contemplate offer terms and process acceleration…and don’t go outside your comfort zone with either.

Extend A Fair…But Strong Offer.
Pinching pennies and/or ho-hum offers will. not. cut. it. in this market. Candidates will flat out reject lackluster offers and walk away feeling sour about you, your organization and your process. And guess what? There is another handsome offer with candy and flowers right around the corner, leaving little, if any room for second chances. So put your strongest or near strongest foot forward and work from there.

Put A Deadline On The Offer.
Give candidates 3-5 days to provide a response to your offer. This limits time for shopping offers, and waiting for other opportunities to “catch up” in their process. Most candidates will select a bird in the hand. But if not, a quick deadline allows you to quickly move on to your next frontrunner if need be.

Expect A Counteroffer.
Pretty much every candidate in today’s market asks for “more” when it comes to verbal offers. Even if a candidate continuously communicates that s/he is fine with every component of the compensation range, once the verbal offer is delivered, the shift in leverage tilts considerably. And candidates know it. So, they test the waters to see where there may be room for movement. Requests are usually reasonable – as are expectations. If you decide to extend a “best and final” offer, be sure communicate this to the candidate and provide context as to why it’s immovable.

Listen To Your Gut.
Candidates will tell you most everything you need to know about themselves during the interview process. So pay attention. Look for the tells. Assess. Dig deeper on inklings. And let your sixth sense guide you forward.

Landing a high quality candidate in a hyper competitive legal market can be quite challenging. Just how challenging will depend on several factors. Some you can control…others you cannot. But by controlling what you can – as “perfectly” as you can, and following the advice above, you’ll position yourself to be the employer to beat in this competitive war for talent.

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