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Hiring Your Next Superstar Employee

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Lawyers hate interviewing and hiring new employees and it’s no wonder why. You pore through a mountain of resumes, interview candidates wearing their Sunday finest, hire the top candidate thinking you just found your next superstar secretary, and everything’s copacetic, right?

Fast forward a few weeks and you begin noticing your newly-hired secretary or paralegal isn’t quite what you thought you were getting. Maybe she shows up a few minutes late to work, forgets to schedule a stenographer for your deposition or dresses like a slob in jeans and a t-shirt. But in just a few weeks on the job, the mistakes start piling up and you finally realize you made a colossal mistake. Now it’s time to make the painful decision to fire your “superstar” and start the whole interview and hiring process over.

This is really terrible. You love practicing law and you didn’t sign up for this when you got your law degree. Does it have to be this way?

A killer advertisement

It all goes back to the way you solicited your employee. Almost all lawyers begin their search for a new employee with a generic advertisement in the local newspaper. If you’ve seen one advertisement for a legal secretary, you’ve seen them all—“Personal injury law firm looking for experienced self-motivated legal secretary.” Blah, blah, blah.

You want to blow away the other mediocre advertisements in your local newspaper by featuring the amazing benefits you firm offers its employees.  Try something like this:

ONCE IN A LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY for a legal secretary at our world-class law firm that provides:

    • The highest compensation for legal secretaries in the market.
    • Premium family health insurance at no cost to you.
    • Four weeks of paid vacation every year (whether you want them or not).
    • Opportunity for bonus compensation based upon your performance.

Wow! How many law firms in your market offer these great benefits? Okay, you just guaranteed that you’ll be flooded with resumes from all over your region. But you’re just getting started—it’s one thing for the candidates to look good on paper, but how do you separate the superstars from the wannabes?

Weeding out two-thirds of the candidates

Your advertisement must have explicit instructions that must be followed to the “T” or the candidate will not be considered. Your advertisement might read, “Your application must be sent via Federal Express overnight delivery and contain your resume, three references and a cover letter explaining why you are the perfect candidate with the subject line, “Why I am the PERFECT candidate for this job.”

How many job candidates will comply with your instructions? Less than one-third! Many candidates will ignore your instructions by sending an email, fax or even calling you. You should immediately shred their applications. You should not consider any candidates who do not follow your instructions exactly as stated in your advertisement. It’s simple—if the candidates can’t follow these basic instructions, they’re not going to do what you ask them to do once they’re in your office.

You just screened out two-thirds of the candidates with this simple screening filter in your advertisement. Don’t forget to read the cover letter and resumes carefully for typos and grammatical errors—it’s amazing how many resumes are mistake-ridden. A single error on a resume is almost always a sign that the candidate is sloppy, has little eye for detail and is a poor candidate for your world-class law firm.

The ultimate litmus test

Once you narrow your list of candidates, you must always ask for permission to speak with the persons listed as references by the candidates. This is where almost all lawyers mess up. If you don’t speak with the references, you’ll pay the price later.

It will always surprise you when the persons listed as a reference give a less than glowing recommendation—“Oh really, she listed me as a reference?” The references may hem and haw about the candidate, and then you know she is not the superstar you thought she was. You might even find out that the person listed as a reference is the candidate’s uncle. The candidates with the strongest references should earn first dibs on an interview.

Calling the candidates’ references is a great way (and often neglected) to whittle the list down to your top three or four candidates. Now you’re ready for the interviews.

Short-circuiting the hiring process

Let’s face it, there is no foolproof system for hiring a superstar employee. Even with the best system, you may get stuck with a poorly-motivated slacker who just waits every day for five o’clock to roll around.

A great way to short-circuit the hiring process will be asking your lawyer friends, “Do you know any great secretaries looking for work?” Chances are, they might have a tidbit about a super secretary or paralegal who is looking to make a move to a new law firm. In just a few minutes of your time, you’ve gotten an inside track on a prequalified candidate.

Hey, maybe the hiring process isn’t so bad after all.

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