Recruiting new people to the firm will usually mean interviewing candidates to see how they will fit. This checklist covers the basics of holding interviews, writes Anne Harnetty, managing director of the legal sector recruitment consultancy Jonson Beaumont. (Updated 13 April 2023)
- Have a defined job description that sets clear selection criteria.
- Have a Privacy Notice that can be made available to all candidates. This will deal with issues of data protection and their personal information.
- Ensure that any standard application forms do not ask for information that may be viewed as discriminatory (eg age, marital status).
- Give each criteria a weighting based on the requirements of the job. Distinguish between essential requirements and skills, qualifications and experience that are desirable.
- Prepare questions and, if necessary, tests that will help you determine how candidates match up to your criteria.
- Ask the same questions of all candidates.Think about what management and other skills you are looking for, rather than only legal or technical expertise.
- Think about key competencies and competency-based questions for assessing the transferrable skills of candidates.
- Use candidates' application forms and CVs to pre-select a shortlist of the best candidates who at least meet your essential criteria.
- Progress candidates promptly and keep communicating with them, to avoid them becoming disengaged and accepting other job offers.
- When using a recruitment agency, frequent communication to the candidates — and feedback from the candidates to you (eg about other job interviews) — is a key part of their role.
- Use two or more interviewers and ensure they are properly briefed. Involve the partner or a senior lawyer from an appropriate practice area in interviews for legal positions.
- Arrange a convenient time for interviews when you will not be disturbed.
- Consider holding meetings out of office hours if it is difficult for candidates to attend during their working day.
- Lock interviews into diaries. If a candidate has to take leave to attend and then has to cancel that leave day it causes real issues.
- Confirm all the arrangements in writing.
- Put the candidate at ease with a friendly welcome, introductions and an outline of the interview structure.
- Verify any important information; look for evidence of skills and achievements.
- Probe for a better understanding of the candidate's experience, skills and attitude.
- Use open-ended questions to encourage the candidate to talk; listen and observe carefully.
- Remember that the candidates is assessing the firm as much as you are assessing them.
- Throughout, avoid discriminatory requirements and inappropriate questions.
- Recognise your own general personal attitudes and views and learn to put these to one side during the interviews. Avoid any unconscious bias.
- Invite questions from the candidate; sell the job and the firm, and confirm that the candidate is still interested.
- End the interview. Tell the candidate when the decision will be made and explain what further steps may be necessary (eg checking references, qualifications and eligibility to work in the UK).
- Take notes on candidates against your objective criteria during, or immediately after, the interview. Remember, interviewees can request to see all information you are holding on them, including your interview notes.
- Make an objective evaluation of the candidates after all the interviews have been completed.
- Make further checks, or re-interview, if you do not have enough information and evidence to make a decision or wish to involve others in the process.
- Retain copies of all interview notes; for unsuccessful candidates, this should be for at least one year.
Done well, an interview is great PR for your firm. Done badly, people will hear about it.
If using a recruitment agency, establish a strong relationship with them. The agency will have a major impact on the quality of the people that you end up employing.
"It's far too easy to let unconscious preferences cloud your judgement. Be as objective as possible in assessing how a candidate matches up to the firm's business needs." Nicola Jones, Athena Professional
Too many interviews miss a trick by asking the same old questions – with candidates giving prepared answers that reveal little – says consultant Catherine Gasparini. Well-planned questions can help you really understand what makes the candidate tick, what their abilities and attitudes are, and how well they will fit with your firm's culture.
Questions will need to be tailored to the particular role, but possibilities include:
- This role does / does not have the potential to lead to partnership – how do you feel about that?
- What most interests you about practising law? How do you feel about client recruitment, and contributing to the management of the firm?
- What do you think are the biggest challenges facing lawyers and law firms? What do think the impact of ABSs will be?
- What legal or other training are you most interested in receiving?
- How do you approach clients who challenge fee notes or pay late?
- Why do you want to work for a small / mid-sized law firm like us?
- Why are you interested in your particular practice area? Are you prepared to change?
- How many hours do you typically work each month in your current role? And how many do you bill?
- What is your approach to dealing with difficult clients? Can you give an example?
- What are the most difficult situations you've faced working with colleagues and how have you resolved them?
- What types of matter do you prefer / have you worked on most?
- As someone who works in a management / support role, how will you convince the partnership to back your ideas?
- What are your thoughts on work-life balance, for yourself and for people who report to you?
- What interests or activities do you have outside work, and how could any of these be of benefit to the firm?
- What is the biggest difference you have made to your current firm?
"Hire for attitude, then train for skill. This gets you the right person for the job, who will work hard, learn fast, and be a pleasure to manage."
Georgie Whitmore, head of talent, Shieldpay