"Everything you've been told about building
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The Power of Extreme Selectivity in Hiring

(It’s Either Hell Yeah! or No)

No one enjoys the process of hiring employees.  The resumes are meaningless and the candidates all are superstars at the interview.  And even with a careful vetting of the candidates, it still seems like you’re just rolling the dice.It’s tempting to fall in love with the first candidate you meet so you can hire her and get back to practicing law.  Big mistake!

The #1 mistake made by lawyers is being too quick to hire.  Interviewing candidates and doing background checks is not what you want to spend your time doing, but it beats the hell out of the alternative: getting stuck for 6 months with a new secretary that has limited skills and does not fit in with your staff.  Unless you take your time defining the perfect employee, being patient and being ridiculously selective in the hiring process, you will get stuck doing the same thing again in six months…and that really sucks!

                                                                 Define the Perfect Employee

Just like anything else in your law practice, there are proven systems for hiring superstar employees.  You begin by defining your perfect employee.  Use narrow, explicit criteria like, “Is this exactly what I am looking for?” You should use an explicit set of criteria in making their evaluation for a secretary, including:

  • Keyboarding and computer skills,
  • Past experience at a plaintiffs’ personal injury law firm, and
  • Raving references by past employers (ideally, from lawyers you know and trust).

Don’t just assume the secretarial candidate has the skills—put her skills under a microscope with tests.  Before the interview, ask the candidate to take keyboarding and computer skills tests that are available online and send the results to you.  Let’s say the candidate passes the keyboarding and computer skills tests with flying colors—she is ready for the next phase. Now, interview the candidate by phone or Skype and invite the candidate to spend the day working with your team.

“One wrong hire is far costlier than being one person short.”

Greg McKeown, Essentialism

Ask the candidate to show her skills in the real-work environment—your office.Pay the secretarial candidate for one day and see how she answers the phones and fits in with your staff. A one-day tryout in your office will give you a heck of a lot more insights into the candidate’s ability than a 30 minute interview.

If the candidate looks like the perfect fit, take her and her spouse to dinner.  Find out if you enjoy spending time with her—yes, it matters that you get along.  You’ll be spending a lot of time with your new employee and if your personalities don’t mesh, take a pass on the candidate.

                                                                    Be Ridiculously Selective

Begin with the basic assumption that you would rather be understaffed than hire the wrong person quickly.  When you aren’t blown away by any of the candidates you interview for a job, you should say no to all of them.

“If the team isn’t absolutely sure, the answer is ‘no’.”

Greg McKeown, Essentialism

Instead of asking the obvious question, “Would she love working here?”, you should ask, ”Would we love having her work with us?”  Ask, “Will this person be an absolutely natural fit? If your staff doesn’t like the candidate, you can’t hire her.  You have to give your team the ultimate veto power over the new hire.

If you’re not absolutely blown away by the candidate, just say no.  There will be more candidates on the way and it may take 3-4 rounds of interviews before you find the right person.  Yes, interviewing sucks and you’d rather being doing “lawyer work”, but just think of the alternative: with a bad hire, you will be stuck with someone for the next 3-6 months, who you will have to fire and begin the process over again.

                                                                        Your Secret Weapon

Zappos, the online shoe retailer, has a policy of offering $2k to every new employee after their first 90 days on the job.  The new employee can accept the check—no questions asked—and leave the employment of Zappos, or refuse the check and keep working.  This is a test of the employee’s commitment and dedication to Zappos.

After the first 90 days on the job, you should ask your new employee if she is willing to quit in exchange for a check for $5k. Put a check for $5k on her desk and let her choose between the job and the $5k. If your new employee is committed to the job and loves working with you, she’ll rip up the check.  But if she takes the check, good riddance! Taking the money is a sign that your employee either (a) was not committed to your success, or (b) did not like working for you.  Either way, the check is a great way to get rid of new employees who are only there for a paycheck.



photo credit: target, hiring now via photopin (license)

Leave a comment below telling me what surprised, inspired or taught you the most (I personally respond to every comment). And if you disagree with my take on running a personal injury law firm, or have a specific, actionable tip, I’d love to hear from you.