Interviewing skills are often overlooked and undervalued—until a “bad hire” happens. Somehow the person hired wasn’t the “right fit” or misrepresented themselves in the process. It does happen—there are instances when someone represents themselves by painting a lovely landscape that the interviewer delights in viewing. Savvy interviewing skills are the key to sorting out the paintings from the practical.

Recent statistics were released about the success of lateral hires.  We now have the hard data to support our intuition—about 50% of lateral hires stay 3 years or less. We also know that the cost to replace an employee is roughly equal to their compensation, including benefits. For a lateral hire, the number is substantially larger than your file clerk, and either way we can begin by looking at our interviewing skills.

Hard skills are often the focus of interview questions. For attorneys, we ask about court appearances, brief writing, and marketing efforts.  For staff we ask about computer skills, organization, and prioritization of tasks. These are important questions, and the differentiators in the process are more often than not the soft skills.

What exactly are these “soft skills”? And, how do you screen for them? I define soft skills as self-awareness and emotional intelligence, which are also cornerstones of leadership. You may not look for a leader in your next file clerk, although if the skills are there, you’ll have an employee who will look for ways to improve processes and procedures while amplifying relationships. And you should most definitely be looking for leader-ship skills in your hiring of attorneys, especially laterals who are an investment in the future of your firm.

Let’s start with your basic questions—the ones you’ve already built into the conversation, and your candidates usually come prepared to answer them. These are the questions that relax the room, build rapport, and provide a nice platform for the tougher moments ahead.

  • Why should I hire you?
  • What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
  • Tell me about a…
    • Situation that felt unfair…
    • Time that you recognized a problem before anyone else…
    • Time that you solved a problem by working smarter not harder…
    • Time that you made a mistake…
    • Time you had to present unpleasant information…

You are in listen-only mode. Not forming your next thought, or reaction. Listening. Looking at body language, taking in the information being provided non-verbally as well as emotionally. Do you hear empathy in their responses? What kinds of communication skills are coming through their statements?

Now let’s ratchet up the conversation and include ones that are not often asked:

  • What would your biggest critic say about you?
  • What are three words your co-workers would use to describe you?
  • What is the biggest misconception people have about you?
  • Who is your hero(es) and/or role model(s)?

I’ve been assisting clients with their interview process recently, and have been told I’m a tough interviewer. I’ll own that.  I hire for fit, and take my role in the process as important to the success of the firm. Why do I ask these questions?

We all have a brand. We develop it in our daily actions, and understanding how we are perceived is a big clue into our self-awareness. Is your candidate aware of how they are perceived? And is it a positive perception?

Our role models shape us. Our heroes guide us. Our values are derivatives of our upbringing, and understanding who has influenced us is not only a glimpse into values, it will often spur many more questions and conversations to open up the dialogue with your potential employee.

And, speaking of dialogue, how comfortable are you being vulnerable? It takes courage to reveal what your critics say about you, and how you are perceived by others.  What efforts have you made to change perceptions, if appropriate? How much self-awareness do you have about how you are influenced by others, and how much social awareness do you have to manage the misperceptions of others?

Interviewing is art. The flow of the conversation without harsh stops and starts is a dance that illuminates the candidate, and your firm, to see if there is a rhythm to pursue. I encourage you to begin this dance by learning your own steps. What are your answers to these questions? How is your self- and social-awareness?

Once you are clear on your growth opportunities you can dig deeper into the ways your candidate may grow and excel (or not) with your firm.

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