Arming yourself with a few strategic questions and points to listen and watch for can help you find the right candidate who will be more likely to stay with your team long-term.

by Jennifer Johnson

Whether a big firm or small, hiring for your marketing department is an important process. Your marketing department is a core necessity in a law firm’s strategy and finding people who will work well in your team is imperative.

One Process Fits All

You’ve gathered resumes, reviewed them and decided on a few candidates to interview. Now what?  A structured interviewing approach that is used consistently will make comparing candidates and the hiring decision-making process at the end much easier.

If you’re using a recruiter for your search then you should expect to be fully briefed on the candidate’s background, reasons for leaving/being interested in your role, salary expectations and references before the interview takes place.

If you’re conducting the search on your own, you should do some legwork even when you find a candidate’s resume that, on paper at least, seems to be a perfect fit.   Start by Googling the candidate. What does the search reveal? Do they have a public profile on LinkedIn? Are they blogging? This type of due-diligence can provide you with valuable insights:

  • Recommendations that have been written about them by current and former colleagues/bosses – look for key words and themes that sync with what you’re seeking in your next hire.
  • Their writing style – do you see typos in the profile or is it clean and easy to read?
  • What types of groups they’re involved with – are they connected in the industries in which they work or merely sitting on the sidelines?
  • If they are blogging or Tweeting actively, review this content to ensure their public voice is one that would compliment your firm’s environment.

As a recruiter, I take Linkedin very seriously because it is the world’s business Rolodex.   For me, a marketing professional should be represented here to indicate that they’re “up with the times” and setting a good example for the attorneys they work for. Personally, a marketing professional who does not have (at the absolute least) a basic profile on LinkedIn is not a candidate that I will consider in my roster of talent.

The Art & Necessity of Small Talk and Big Listening

Once you’ve narrowed down the candidate pool and have scheduled interviews, you’ve got to actually talk them.  Wondering how to get the most valuable information? Try the following method, designed to provide most of the information you need to make a good assessment on a candidate’s qualifications.  To start off an interview, engage the candidate in about 1 minute of small talk (weather, traffic, the Yankees or whatever is top of the headlines  but nothing political or religious!) to help the candidate loosen up and feel that “we’re having a conversation versus an interview.”  Next, ask the candidate for the “Cliff’s Notes” version of their career path.  When I ask this question, I’m always assessing their ability to be succinct and on-point.  Why? The last thing you want is someone who stops by a Partner’s office to chatter without a filter. Take note of whether the candidate takes you down a long and winding path with irrelevant details or if they’re able to package up their background in a fairly straightforward way.  Here’s an example of the wrong answer: I recently asked a candidate about her experience in Real Estate as it relates to law firm marketing and business development.  Her answer twisted and turned (when she started with “Well it really all starts with e-commerce” I knew I was in big trouble!) and 3 minutes later I had to restate the question and put her back on track. If during an interview you ever ask yourself “When will this person be finished talking?” or “I’ve lost track of what they are talking about…” then you probably have not found the right candidate.

In this “Cliff’s Notes” question, you’re also listening for motivation. Why did the candidate jump from one position to another? Why are they looking to leave their current role? Answering these questions should be part of their overall story.  Generally candidates move for a few reasons:

  • no room for growth- they’ve been at the firm for a few years and the person above them isn’t going anywhere;
  • change in leadership – the firm hired a new CMO or a new Manager was brought in that they no longer “sync” with;
  • to diversify- they’ve had a narrow scope and are trying to broaden, or vice versa;
  • for money.

When interviewing, the reasons you get for why someone chose to leave a position will vary and you should react accordingly. For example, if a candidate says “I was recruited out for a better opportunity” I will stop them right away to ask what it was, exactly, that made the opportunity better in their mind – I want them unpack it for me so I can learn their motivation to see if they’re the right fit for my client.  You should not hesitate to do the same as I’ve found that zebras do not change their stripes; past motivators are a clear indicator of current motivators.

A Day’s Work: Put On Your Observation Hat

After hearing their full story, move on with questions that will prompt them to tell you, in more detail, about their experiences at work.  A good question is “What does a good day look like for you at work?” which will lead to many verbal and non-verbal responses that can lead you to understand the candidate.  If they’re in a bad situation in their current position you might see an eye roll or they might lead off with something negative that they’d rather not do so that they could, in fact, have a good day.  I interviewed a candidate a few weeks ago who was interviewing for a business development Manager position. Incredibly, the first thing out of his mouth was how a good day would be to never have to do another RFP.  The second bullet point in the job description (that the candidate said he had reviewed before we spoke) talked about RFPs and pitch work that the role would be responsible for.  Needless to say this wasn’t a good position for him and I told him he should consider roles outside of BD.  If someone is in a good place with their current employer, they’ll lead off with favorable comments about their team, how they enjoy the lawyers with whom they work and that they have had a good experience.  You’ll feel this energy come through in a very positive way.

Another question that gives me insight is “Give me an example of what you’re working on today – when you get back to your desk what is waiting for you?”  Obviously you’re not asking the person for confidential names of clients; the purpose of the question is to see if the they have a manageable hold on their day or if they’re scattered or overwhelmed.  This question also opens up the field for the candidate to naturally lead into other projects that they’re working on.  This type of probing question can help you can hear the real “meat” of what they’re doing (or not doing!).   On a recent interview I asked this question and the candidate said that she had to review her task list once more before an event that evening and make a final run of key attendee bios to present to the attorneys at their pre-event briefing.  This told me that she is detail oriented and also used to getting the work done by herself.  This made her a great candidate for the role I was working on which required someone to be very hands-on.

While it’s normal for every interview to weave it’s own course, I find that it works out well to be intentional about using the same process for every candidate:

  • Due diligence
  • Warm up banter
  • “Cliff’s Notes” question
  • Good day at work question
  • What’s on your desk today question

Regardless of the type of scope or level of role a candidate is interviewing for, using this process will facilitate the process of making solid comparisons across candidates.  It is very easy for an interviewer to talk a lot during the interview process but the art of listening and observing is essential. It is amazing what you can find out about a candidate if you ask a few open-ended questions and just let them talk.

Author Jennifer Johnson is Founder and CEO of Calibrate Legal.  This article originally appeared in Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing,  published by by the Legal Marketing Association, Chicago, Ill

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