Using Your Interview Process to Create a Thoughtful Candidate Experience

Jennifer ScalziBuilding a Team

By: Kate Harry Shipham

This year is proving to be a buyer’s market in the legal marketing world. Unprecedented growth and movement in our industry means talented candidates have a multitude of options. When every interaction with a candidate counts, taking the time to consider how candidates are experiencing your interview process can help to tip the scales in your favor.

Most firms don’t take the time to map out how it feels on the other side of the table, but the way a candidate experiences a firm during an interview cycle is a significant opportunity for that firm to distinguish itself from the competition. Sophisticated professionals are looking for any indicators that will help them make a smart decision about where their time and efforts are best spent. Every single piece of the interview process helps inform their opinions and expectations about what it would be like to work with and for you. In the same way that CMOs and Directors want to be wowed by a candidate, candidates want the same experience. The question now becomes: how do you market to marketers? Below are the Top 10 ways to create a meaningful experience for your candidate.

Step 1: PREPARATION

Welcoming the candidate.  The candidate will walk into your reception area, most likely a little nervous, and will be eager to make that first impression count. Briefing your receptionist that someone is coming in for an interview goes a long way. “Good morning Kate; a pleasure to meet you. We were expecting you; do you need anything before I show you to the conference room?” This professional courtesy sends the message that the interview is important to you and helps to disarm what can be a stressful meeting for a lot of candidates.  You want your candidate to feel at ease, but also to be impressed by their surroundings.

Briefing the interviewers.  Consider providing a short bio or bullets to the key people who will be interviewing the candidate. Think about the time-poor CMO or Director (not to mention the partners) and give them some context as to why this candidate is appealing to you, their top strengths, and insights on their approach and personality. Also consider designating specific topics for each interviewer to address, as both the interviewers and candidate will appreciate the focus this provides. It’s more productive to have a few in-depth discussions on choice topics than several surface conversations on a variety of topics.

Scheduling.  This is always a challenge.  Not only do firms (especially CMOs and partners) have calendars that are always moving and changing, but the same goes for candidate’s calendars. Junior candidates, in particular, can take very few liberties with their day.  Rescheduled or missed interviews send the message to the candidate that they are not important or their time is less valuable.  Doing the very best to offer times that work for the candidates while ensuring your interviewers are on time and prepared sends a message of mutual respect.

Step 2: THE INTERVIEW

Setting the tone. Begin the interview with a short conversation about the weather or the weekend and then move into a more formal line of questioning. It sounds easier in theory than in practice. By interacting and connecting as people first, you set the stage for a more comfortable and enlightening conversation, particularly in this field where relationship-driven approaches are key.

Simple, thoughtful questions. Ask candidates simple, but thoughtful questions about their current role and then why this role is appealing to them that will elicit information you’re seeking.  Questions such as:

  • “Tell me about your professional journey”
  • “What does a good day at work look like for you?”
  • “What role in your professional life has been the most impactful and why?”
  • “When your colleagues or former managers describe you, what would they say?”

Equal parts. Spend the same amount of time listening to the candidate as you do talking about the role and the opportunity.  While candidates will have questions, they will also have examples and stories they will want to weave into the conversation to show you they understand the role and how their experience relates to it.  Also, think about what you can share with the candidate that is unique and interesting about the particular group or office or partner.  Finally, be ready to talk about the peer support, leadership culture and general office environment.

Parting words. Few people know how to appropriately end an interview. Conclude with some affirmative statements about how you enjoyed learning more aboutthem and when/how you expect to follow up with them (either directly or through your executive search partner). Candidates are eager to understand the next steps and you will save them the awkward question of asking.

Step 3: THE OFFER

Knowing the information.  Making an offer is one of the most exciting parts of the whole process; for both you and your candidate. Keep in mind that candidates have a lot of access to information and if you are “low-balling” your candidate, it sends a negative message to the person you’ve just asked to join your team. While offers must be competitive in this market where so many other firms are competing for your candidate, this doesn’t inherently mean paying sign-on bonuses or offering exorbitant salaries. It does mean putting a competitive offer forward that is commensurate with their experience and which gives them an incentive to accept the opportunity.

Presenting the offer. Some professional service firms personally deliver a bottle of champagne and a leather-bound offer congratulating the candidate.  Sound extreme? It’s actually not. Contrast this with a standard two-page PDF sent via email saying something like “We confirm your employment with….” The details make the difference, especially to marketers. Consider re-evaluating how you present offers to candidates and think about it from the candidate’s perspective. Think about the emotional response you want to illicit from the candidate and craft an approach that resonates with your firm’s culture.

A congratulatory call to your new team member.  Once you know your candidate has accepted, call them on their personal cell and congratulate them. Tell them how excited you are and let them know how much you and the team are looking forward to their start date. Ask them if they need anything, and make yourself available should they have any questions in the meantime.

The candidate experience can easily get lost in the overall interview process, but sophisticated firms will make it a priority. Regardless of whether the candidate ends up joining your firm, you want to leave them feeling like they were treated like a client of the firm. If their experience was a positive one and memorable for all the right reasons, you have successfully conveyed your firm’s image to one of the most important people in the market – your competition.