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How to prepare for interviewing legal professionals

04/07/2018
Posted by: Lynn Sedgwick

Long-winded, time-consuming and hard work; if any of those words spring to mind when you hear the phrase ‘interview process’, you’ll be relieved to know that there is a better way. An
interview checklist streamlines the process - whether you’re hiring solicitors or paralegals and support staff, a clear process and list of requirements ensure you appoint the best candidate to the post.

Because it’s not just how the candidate performs in the face-to-face interview that matters. Law firms and recruiters need to prepare too. And with the number of solicitors holding practising certificates on the rise, it’s clear that firms will be coming up against the need to interview more and more candidates. 

From the very start of the process to the end, an interview checklist will prepare your firm and recruiter, help you glean the right information from interviewees, and choose the most suitable candidate. You can think of the ‘interview process’ as three steps to success: preparation, the interview itself, and decision making. 

Preparation

Successfully hiring the right legal professional requires preparation. The two most important factors are:

  • Timings - Don’t try and rush the process as you will increase the risk of making a hasty decision. Ensure that the timings of the interviews work for all involved in the hiring process and leave enough time for note comparison and decision-making.
  • Communication - Make sure there is a good two-way flow of information with your recruiter, whether they are in-house or external. If working with an external legal recruiter, establish how information about candidates will be passed to the firm – and how often. Too infrequently and you may miss out on candidates, too regularly and it may be too piecemeal.
  • Pareto Principle - The Pareto Principle is the idea that 80% of possible effects will come from 20% of the possible causes. Also known as the 80/20 rule, the Pareto Principle can be applied to interviewing, with the candidate speaking for 80% of the time and the interviewer for 20% of the time. This allows the candidate to answer questions fully, which helps give a better insight into suitability for the role.

The interview

An effective interview process will help those candidates that fit your criteria to shine and will reveal those that are not such a good match. But it can only be effective if careful thought has been given beforehand as to what’s required of the successful candidate. Decide what you’re assessing at the interview stage(s): hands-on skills and knowledge, fit, or potential for development if hiring someone with a view to a training contract for instance. 

Before the interview, look over the CV and note any areas you want to ask about. For example, gaps, achievements and why the candidate is moving firms. Notice how the candidate talks about their current employer; any unprofessional comments are likely to be a warning signal. 

On the day, ask some initial questions to build rapport. This will paint a fuller impression of the individual than is provided by their CV. Enquire about their experience; the more demanding and senior the role, the more detailed the questions. Be clear amongst colleagues and recruiters what’s skills are ‘nice to have’ and what’s ‘need to have’ – check these off throughout the interview.

Competency-based interview questions give the candidate a chance to answer fully, helping to keep the interview in line with the Pareto Principle. Here are some example questions and responses:

“Describe a situation when you had to work under pressure? How did you approach it? What was the outcome?”

The law can be challenging and often requires quick-thinking. Listen out for positive action and problem solving – the way in which the candidate used their professional experience to work around the issue is likely to be very telling. Even if the outcome was not successful, observe whether the candidate maintained a positive attitude or learnt anything. 

“Tell me about a time when you were faced with conflicting priorities?”

A good response might sound like a candidate working through a logical process to resolve the conflict. For example, prioritising by urgency or juggling a caseload while making sure work was systematically completed. 

“What do you do differently to your other colleagues who have similar roles?”

This gives candidates a chance to show off their initiative and unique skills. Doing things differently can give your firm a competitive edge, so can be highly valuable. The response ‘Nothing, really,’ is not a great sign if you’re looking for innovation.

Finally, asking a candidate about their career aspirations and progression gives you an idea of how they see themselves in your firm. An assured answer also demonstrates that the candidate has a clear vision for their own progression – and this clarity of vision could be beneficial to your firm and clients too. 

The aftermath

Space for reflective thought is important, and it’s a good idea to take some time to compare notes with colleagues and your recruiter. Wait until you’ve seen all of the candidates before jumping to any conclusions – if interviewee number two impressed you and swung your vote, that’s great. But what if the last person on the list is even more suitable?

Finally, relaying the information to candidates – and being able to make a swift offer once the decision has been made – is the last piece of the puzzle. Decide what the process will be for feedback to unsuccessful candidates – and who will deliver it. And once you’ve reached the end of your checklist and are ready to say a resounding ‘yes’ to one lucky candidate, who is the best person to make the offer? Your recruiter will be able to help, although it may be more personable coming from the firm directly.

Working through a process before, during and after will ensure the interview goes smoothly and provides the result you’re looking for. Our interview checklist has all the tips and information you need to make a successful hire. Click here to contact us or call 01772 259 121 to request a copy.

And if you enjoyed this blog, you may also like to read our blog on ‘How to shortlist candidates effectively and efficiently’. Don’t forget you can register a vacancy with us online or give us a call to see if we can assist.

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