In an environment where every hiring decision remains carefully considered, it’s critical that counsel with management responsibilities properly set the stage for productive interviews with the candidates they have selected after recruitment activities. Yet many hiring managers give insufficient time and thought to this pivotal aspect of the employment process.
The following are some all-too-common interview pitfalls that occasionally ensnare even experienced managers:
‘Winging it.’ Believing the hardest part of the interview consists of such activities as placing job notices and reviewing resumes, by the time they get to the interview stage many managers attempt to simply “go with the flow.” The problem with this approach is that, by having a different routine with every interview, they deprive themselves of the one thing they most need to compare candidates: an objective standard on which to base their conclusions. Skillful interviewers think through the process and tend to follow the same method each time – albeit with minor variations that are tailored to individual situations. Having a consistent approach to the interview is the only way to effectively compare candidates’ responses. Not to mention that if managers “wing it,” they probably won’t leave candidates with a very good impression of how things work at their firms.
Being too busy to conduct interviews. Some legal managers simply don’t have time to hire. This is especially true in the current job market in which law firms and corporate legal departments are inundated with resumes for every open position, many of them from unqualified candidates. One overwhelmed hiring manager welcomed a candidate into his office and candidly acknowledged that he had not only forgotten about the interview but wasn’t sure of the candidate’s name and couldn’t seem to locate her resume. Although it’s understandable that many managers today are too busy to oversee hiring details, failing to devote adequate time and effort to the process is the main reason interviews often produce mediocre results. Counsel who are too busy to give hiring issues the attention they deserve may want to consider turning the task over to a recruiting firm that specializes in the legal field. Not only can a specialized recruiter provide access to a wider pool of qualified applicants, but the firm can also handle the most time-intensive aspects of the hiring process.
Talking too much. Some managers are guilty of dominating the interview, especially when a candidate seems unusually reserved. But if an interviewer is talking more than 20 percent of the time during a job interview, chances are he or she is talking too much. Even if a candidate is slow to get his or her answers out, managers should strive to listen actively, rather than waiting to jump in and move the interview along. Probing through active listening – for example, letting an interviewee finish a long-winded story or allowing the person’s responses to spark related questions – is a critical interviewing skill because it reveals valuable information that would likely be missed if the interviewer did most of the talking. This approach to interviewing allows counsel to react and build on the answers that candidates provide. And it is through listening well that they can gain a feel for what type of employee a job seeker might be.
Falling victim to the ‘halo effect.’ A common phenomenon in hiring, the “halo effect” is when managers are so impressed by one particular aspect of a candidate – appearance, credentials, interests and so on – that it colors their overall perception of the individual. It increases the risk that deficiencies in other key areas will go unnoticed. Although interviewers may not always be able to curb their biases – everyone is guilty of making subjective appraisals at times – it’s important to be aware of them and attempt to keep them in check. Involving others in the interview and selection process can help create balance.
As every manager knows, there’s never a good time to make hiring mistakes. But with legal departments continuing to take a cautious approach to adding staff and seeking to derive maximum value from every new employee, selecting the wrong person can be especially costly in terms of time, money, team morale and lost productivity. Although it’s never easy to accurately assess a candidate’s qualities and potential through an interview, taking care to sidestep these common problems can improve a managing attorney’s ability to zero in on the best prospect at this critical stage of the hiring process.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.