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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

July 8, 2016

How much time do I need to spend with a candidate in order to make the best hiring decision?

Julie Q. Brush

Hiring the “right” lawyer is one of the most important…and difficult responsibilities you have as a manager. And while it might seem like a basic exercise from the outside, it’s a complex task requiring skill, engagement, intuition, judgment and courage. Each hire you make is a reflection of you. So the stakes are high to get it right. A bad hire will cost the company money (sometimes lots of it) and cost you time and emotional energy. So for a busy hiring manager, how much time is necessary to spend with a candidate in order to make the best hiring decision? An hour? Two hours? Ten?

The answer is…It depends.

There is no mandated period of time that will unlock the door to understanding a candidate’s true self or abilities. As a general proposition, the more quality time you spend with a candidate…the better. But instead of thinking about this goal in terms of time, I recommend that you approach the process with an interview strategy to provide you with enough data and insight to make the best hiring decision. This path will allow you to maximize your efficiency, focus and quality of time spent with candidates. So before your next interview, book time to create your strategy:

Identify The Substantive and Interpersonal Skills You Want/Need.

Make a list of key responsibilities for the role and the legal skills the successful candidate must possess. Then, prioritize. What are must haves? Where do you have flexibility? Next up, interpersonal skills and culture fit. What kind of person would fit best in your culture? What values do you want this person to possess? What about work style? Fire in the belly? Worker bee? Slow and steady? Team player? Be specific.

Share Your Criteria with Your Interview Team.

Once you’ve identified the substantive and interpersonal “must haves”, share this information in writing with your interview team so they are aware of what’s important to you and can screen candidates accordingly. Everyone must be on the same page.

Craft The Key Questions to Get Key Answers.

In order to learn the most about a candidate, THEY need to do the talking. So create specific questions to address your requirements. Prioritize them and know what information you’d like to learn before you start your meeting. By asking these threshold questions upfront, you will receive relevant information that will provide you with valuable insights about the candidate.

Meet with Viable Candidates More Than Once.

It is extremely difficult to gather and assess all the information you need about a candidate in one meeting (which lasts about one hour). So take the time to meet with a candidate multiple times – each time with a strategy to gather specific information. An effective practice is to schedule a 30-45 minute interview as part of each interview round – ideally at the end – to address questions, topics or concerns that may have arisen during the earlier interviews.

Include a Social Interview.

Dinner. Drinks. Lunch. You choose. You can learn a lot about someone by how they engage in a non-work setting. Were they on time? Do they treat the wait staff poorly? Do they have good manners? Are they engaging? More relaxed? Do they check their phone constantly? The Social Interview can pay big dividends if you are paying attention to the “tells”.

Listen To Your Gut.

After executing your strategy, you will have gathered the information you need to make a good hiring decision. In addition, your instincts will have already kicked in. Whatever they are telling you, have the courage to honor to them. Your gut is never wrong.

Hiring the best candidate is more about creating and implementing the right assessment strategy than it is about identifying the magic number of hours necessary to make a good hiring decision. The time needed will be different for everyone. These are big decisions with big consequences. So don’t worry about hiring “rules”. Instead, focus on your approach and the time you need to do the job right.

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