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How to Hire your next Superstar Employee

It’s so tempting to take the easy way out.  When it comes to hiring a new employee, it’s just so easy to take the first candidate that has a nice smile, appears motivated and seems somewhat bright.  Hey, you’ve got a ton of work to do, and the hiring process is getting in the way of your real work.  The temptation to just hire the first person and get it over with, but there’s one big problem:


That’s right, you can’t tell a damn thing from an interview.  All candidates come to their interview wearing their Sunday finest, beaming smiles and puppy-dog enthusiasm.  You leave the interview convinced that you just discovered the next great secretary or paralegal for your law firm. The honeymoon begins when you hire your new employee and everything seems to move along just swimmingly.

But then a funny thing happens. Your new superstar employee starts showing up a few minutes late to work a couple of times and before you know it, she is leaving work five minutes early. You shrug this off as an aberration in the stubborn hope you made the right choice.  But time slowly and surely leaves you with no doubt that your “superstar” employee is a train-wreck. But what can you do now?

It’s hard.  You want to be well-liked by your staff and firing an employee is never pleasant. So, like everyone else, you find ways to put off the inevitable decision to fire. Maybe it’s Christmas and you just don’t want to be Scrooge.  And deep inside, you are still hoping your new secretary makes a miraculous comeback and a strong work ethic will magically appear out of thin air.

But you know that you’re kidding yourself.  Things won’t change…in fact, they’ll get worse.

So why is it so damn hard to fire the new employee?

It’s simple: you don’t want to have to go through the interview process all over again. You dread the interview process more than anything and you know, even with the best interviews imaginable, you can’t tell anything from an interview.  So, what can you do?  Throw up your hands and give up?

One, BIG Confession

Your systems and rules in your law firm CANNOT mold a bad employee into a good employee.  It doesn’t matter who you are.  If you’ve got the wrong person for the job, there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Inevitably, you will be forced to fire the new employee or she will quite, but either way, the outcome will be bad for all.

The goal is simple: finding the right person who will not require constant discipline and supervision to do the job.  The kind of person who will do the job even when no one is watching and takes pride in getting the job done right.  You know who we’re talking about: the secretary who comes early to work and leaves late and shows up on weekends when she is behind in her work.  More than anything else, the right employee is one who takes an OWNERSHIP ATTITUDE about the work.  She is INVESTED IN HER WORK and you don’t need to stand over her shoulder to make sure the job gets done.

“The best people don’t need to be managed.”

–Jim Collins, Good to Great

I know what you’re thinking.  The Superstar employee doesn’t exist in my town. That’s right, your town just happens to be the worst place in the world for finding legal secretaries and paralegals. But guess what?  You’re wrong!

But how do you find the Superstar employee?

Great legal secretaries and paralegals are everywhere, including in your town. You just have to find them.  But you already know that the interview is meaningless and you’ve seen one resume, you’ve seen them all.  So what can you do to find the Superstar employee?

Three Simple Steps to Hiring a Superstar Employee

Have you ever thought what little time and effort goes into the advertisements for secretaries and paralegals?  One advertisement looks identical to the next: “AV-Rated law firm seeks legal secretary with three to five years of experience in personal injury.”  Blah, blah, blah.  What crap!

Why would a Superstar secretary want to interview at a law firm that sounds like just another ordinary firm?  So you jazz things up a bit. In your advertisement, you state that you have a “GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY for personal growth and development in firm that places utmost value on YOU.”  Wow, you just got their attention.

But don’t stop there.  Your advertisement must spell out specifically how you are different from every other law firm and yes, that includes fully paid health insurance for spouse and family, a salary that is the highest in the legal community and three weeks of paid vacation.  Oh, and before you forget, you offer training and education in personal development and growth, e.g., Dale Carnegie, that has nothing to do with the law.

Now the prospective secretaries’ heads are spinning.  The secretarial candidates are ready to knock down your door to get an interview.  You’ve got the interest of a whole bunch of candidates, but how do you pick the right one?

The Second Step to finding the Superstar Employee

Now that you’ve got a boatload of candidates for the position, you’ve got to weed them out before the interview.  You want to make it as difficult as possible to apply for the position.  In your advertisement, you explain that the candidate must follow there is a sequence of steps that the candidate must take in order to be considered for the position, and if they fail to comply to the “T” with your instructions, their resumes will be thrown in the waste basket.

Your advertisement should require that the candidates submit a cover letter with the subject line, “Why I am the perfect candidate to be your secretary”, together with a resume, and names and addresses of three references (whom you will not contact without their permission).  Your advertisement should explicitly require the candidate to send the written materials via Federal Express (not UPS or other overnight delivery carriers) and leave a voice message on a specially designated phone service explaining why she is perfect for the job. In your advertisement, you should explain that you will not accept phone calls, walk-ins or emails and the candidate will instantly be disqualified from consideration if he does not follow your instructions.

If one hundred candidates apply, how many do you think will comply with your rules? Less than one-third.  Some will try to contact you with phone calls or emails and others will fail to sign the cover letter or forget to provide references.  You should review the cover letter and resume for grammatical errors—it never fails that almost every resume or cover letter has at least one grammatical mistake.

And that’s just fine because you don’t want to waste time interviewing candidates who cannot follow simple instructions or are careless about following instructions.  If they can’t follow your simple instructions when applying for the job, how do you think they’re going to do once they’ve got the position?

You’ve just weeded out two-thirds of the candidates before conducting a single interview.

A Crucial Third Step in the Hiring Process that is almost always ignored

So you’ve weeded out two-thirds of the candidates and you’re left with some excellent candidates…at least on paper.  What can you do before the interviews to find the right candidate? It seems simple, but very few employers check references.  First, ask for the permission of the candidate to contact their references and then call every reference listed by the candidate on their application.

You might be shocked by the results.  It’s amazing what persons listed as references will say about the candidate and it’s not always complimentary.  The person listed as the reference may hem and haw about the candidate and give a lukewarm assessment and now you know this isn’t one of the candidates you want to interview.

You can find out a lot more about the candidate from the references than you can tell from looking at a piece of paper (the resume) or spending 20 minutes speaking with the candidate in your office.  Now that you’ve narrowed down the field to 3-4 candidates, it’s time for the interview.

When in Doubt, Don’t Hire

And always keep in mind one cardinal principle:

“When in doubt, don’t hire—keep looking…You absolutely must have the discipline not to hire until you find the right people.”

–Jim Collins, Good to Great

As the adage says, “FIRE FAST, HIRE SLOW”.  Take your time in the hiring process and if you’re not sure about a candidate, take more time.  It’s a pain interviewing more candidates, but just think of the alternative: you will spend the next six months with a secretary who doesn’t show up on time and can’t follow your office rules and then after the six months, you have to fire her and start the whole process over again.

Remember, nothing you can do will turn the wrong people into the right people.

The Ultimate Goal: Self-Disciplined, Committed Employees

What is your goal?  To find a new secretary or paralegal that you couldn’t imagine living without.  Once you’ve found that person, overpay her big time and you’ll never have to do another interview.

“It all starts with disciplined people. The transition begins not by trying to discipline the wrong people into the right behaviors, but by getting self-disciplined people on the bus in the first place.”

–Jim Collins, Good to Great

Once you get the right people on board, you won’t have to worry whether they will show up on time and do the work that you ask. Self-disciplined staff members who are committed to the culture of your business don’t have to be told what to do…and you won’t have to worry about interviewing the next round of candidates.

How can we help you become more awesome?

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