By Regina Olbinsky, Practice Advisor

I have been in the business of people development and staffing for over 20 years now, and one of the things that I have been saying for as long as I can remember, is that it’s all about the fit.  What I mean by that is while there are many smart and successful people out there, with great experience, credentials and education, the thing that determines their inevitable success in any organization is whether or not they “fit” in.  This is not an issue of cliques as much as values, philosophy, culture and all those intangible things that are difficult to pinpoint and screen for.  I like to look at it as pieces of a pie:

  • Can you do the job?  Does the candidate have the requisite education, skills, experience to perform the basic functions of this position – be it typing or complex legal work?
  • Will do?  Does the candidate have the drive and motivation for the responsibilities?
  • FIT  Will the candidate fit in with the structure that we have?  Does she/he share the values and principles that are important to us?

Believe it or not, as a business owner (yes, law firms count) or even just an associate with responsibility for hiring your assistant, the process actually starts with you, not the candidate.  Determining how well you know yourself and your firm is paramount to being able to screen for and hire well. Some questions that you need to ask yourself are:

  • What are my personal values?
  • How do I manage (yourself, your team, and your firm)?
  • How do I communicate (out and in)?
  • What is important to me?
  • What drives and motivates me?
  • What is my firm’s mission?
  • What are my firm’s values?

Once you have an understanding of those things, you will be able to outline characteristics and competencies that your applicants should have for whatever role you are hiring.  The next step is asking the right questions that allow the candidates to share with you how they fare in these traits.  This is such an important point though – because what you are looking for is answers of how they have lived their lives in accordance with these traits, not how they think they should live their lives.  Listening for the distinction between the real and the hypothetical is critical.  Some sample questions that you may want to use are:

  • Tell me about a time when you were given an assignment at the end of the day that had to be completed by the following morning, and you already had plans for that evening. What did you do?
  • Describe for me a time when you have come across questionable business practices; how did you handle the situation?
  • Tell me about a specific occasion when you conformed to a policy even though you did not agree with it.
  • Describe a time when you put your needs aside to help a co-worker understand a task. How did you assist them? What was the result?
  • Describe a time when you performed a task outside your perceived responsibilities. What was the task? Why did you perceive it to be outside your responsibilities? What was the outcome?
  • Give me an example of an important goal you set and tell me about your progress in reaching that goal.
  • Explain the phrase “work ethic” and describe yours.
  • What kind of people do you find it most difficult to work with?
  • To you, which is more desirable: A business that is run in an efficient business-like manner OR a business that is run in a personal and friendly way?
  • What is your own philosophy of management?
  • Is it more important to be a detail-oriented person, or a big picture person? Explain.

There are obviously hundreds of others that you can find that will help you assess your candidates.  Find ones that specifically address the needs of your firm.

There is also the opportunity to have various current teammates, whose opinions you value and trust, and who actually already do fit within the culture to interview these candidates, as well.  Getting multiple perspectives broadens your review of the candidate and allows others to be involved and have buy-in in the decision making and hiring process (another very important step in getting the new person on board).  For this part, I like to select a couple of questions that everyone on the team will ask the candidate, and then divide up the rest of the questions among all the interviewers.  Asking the same questions allows your team to compare answers and ensure consistency – and an automatic red flag if the answers differ significantly.

Doing some kind of personality or style assessments is a huge help, as well.  The DISC inventory looks at a person’s behavioral and communication style based on four distinct attributes (Directive / Dominant, Influencing, Steadiness, and Compliant / Conscientious).  The Wonderlic assesses the aptitude of prospective employees for learning and problem-solving in a range of occupations.  Regardless of the inventory tool that you choose, it is important to know what you are looking for.  For example, no particular DISC style guarantees success, but knowing a person’s style in advance prepares you and your team for ways to deal with your new colleague.

Lastly, once you have made your selection, it is vitally important to conduct a thorough reference check on your chosen candidate – asking the same type of questions of their references to ensure that their past job performance mirrors their impeccable ability to interview.

When everything is confirmed, don’t forget to plan for their orientation period, as well.  This involves a list of expectations,  along with a training plan, and lots of communication.

Being prepared for the hiring process – by knowing yourself and your firm, understanding the type of hire you want to make (in terms of level, qualifications, and character), preparing relevant and behavior-based interview questions, and having an orientation plan will go a long way toward ensuring a successful hire is made (and kept).

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