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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

March 19, 2017

Which candidate profile is better to hire: (1) OK culture fit and spot-on experience; or (2) smart, great culture fit, but less relevant experience?

Julie Q. Brush

When interviewing lawyers for a new position, hiring managers break out their analytical scales in order to weigh the pros and cons of each viable candidate. Since there is no such thing as a “perfect” candidate, a hiring manager needs to prioritize their requirements and decide which aspects of a lawyer’s background deserve more weight than others.

In determining which of the two candidates will have the highest likelihood of success in your organization, you’ll need to assess two core issues:

1. The Role.

How vital is it that you have a lawyer who has spot-on experience and can hit the ground running? Is there anything about the substantive requirements that is niche or difficult to learn? Or, is this a role that a very smart person could pick up and do well? How much training would the less experience candidate require? Do you have the bandwidth to train? Is this less experienced, but smart person capable of mastering a learning curve and getting up to speed quickly? Would that mitigate the experience gap? Is there desired experience in other areas each candidate could bring to the legal department to add value? How much of a priority is retention at this stage? Those with more to learn tend to stick with an employer longer than those who have already mastered the responsibilities.

2. Culture Fit.

Every organization has its own personality. And how a person “fits in” is of utmost importance. Hiring a lawyer who does not align with the culture will number his/her days from the start. Maybe not tomorrow or in 6 months, but an exit will occur within 1 – 2 years – you can bank on it. And as a hiring manager, there will be pain for you in the interim. Lots of it. So this is a situation you want to avoid. Expecting that a lawyer will stay in your organization forever is not realistic, but in order to maximize retention, role and cultural alignment are two areas that should be present from the very beginning with every hire. No exceptions.

For the candidate who you perceive as the better cultural fit, just how good of a fit is this person when assessed independently? Or is s/he just better as compared to the other candidate? For the candidate who is so-so interpersonally, it is difficult to reconcile this negative to justify a hire – unless other aspects of his/her candidacy greatly outweigh this con.

Depending on how your analytical scale tips, I see two potential options for you: (1) hire the smart, less experienced candidate who is a better culture fit; or (2) keep looking.

As a new hiring manager, there is always some pressure (self-imposed and from others) to hire a rock star…quickly. But don’t compromise getting it done right with getting it done fast. If you need to keep looking, then do so. It may take some time, but the right person is out there. And it’s better to get it right than suffer the consequences…because a great hire is well worth waiting for.

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