Hiring is an omnipresent conversation in coaching. On average, it costs employers $4,000-20,000 to hire a new employee. These estimates include the time spent in writing descriptions, posting on sites, reviewing resumes, interviewing candidates, hopefully a few times, and then training the new hire. Recruiters are another option when you and your team don’t have the time or possibly the expertise to hire for a specific position. Every employer assesses skill set, experience, and education. Social skills and personal dynamics are observed and analyzed during the interview process. But is this enough? How many times does the candidate look perfect on paper and during the interview process, but show up for work and frankly miss the mark?
The essential tool missing from your belt is hiring for character. An honest, hard worker who is equitable and kind can always be trained. An immature gossip might be highly successful and talented, but their poor character will run like wildfire through your office eating up your time, attention, and vigor which should be invested into your employees, clients, business, and your professional development. Teaching skills can be challenging. Reprogramming character is nearly impossible.
Hiring for character involves a deliberate and thoughtful approach to evaluating the personal qualities, values, and behaviors of potential candidates. This approach observes the long-game, attempting to align with hires who will have similar values rather than similar skill sets.2 Here are some strategies law firm owners can employ to prioritize character in the hiring process:
- Define Core Values: Clearly articulate the core values that define the culture of your law firm. Whether it’s candor, empathy, teamwork, or innovation, having well-defined values provides a framework for evaluating character during the hiring process. You can’t identify the right candidate without outlining your own standard criteria. Core values make for excellent interviewing questions. “We have a core value of candor. What does candor look like to you?”
- Transparent Communication: Clearly communicate your firm’s values and expectations during the hiring process. This transparency sets the stage for candidates to self-select based on their alignment with your firm’s character requirements. If you’re looking for a long-term employee, tell them. If you want someone in a dual role such as office manager and lead paralegal, discuss this desire and how it will manifest in day-to-day activities.
- Behavioral Interviewing: Structure interviews to focus on behavioral questions that reveal a candidate’s past actions and responses in relevant situations. Ask about instances where candidates demonstrated discretion, patience, integrity, and adaptability. How do they speak of old bosses who mistreated them? How do they share about their own shortcomings and key learning? Which teammates do they credit with pieces of their own success? You’re looking to understand how they recover from difficulty, share wins with others, and if they possess humility. Or do they believe all of their success is self-made and independent of others? Hopefully, you will get a better sense of the team player capacity of person sitting in front of you.
- Scenario-based Assessments: Present candidates with hypothetical scenarios related to the challenges they will face in their role. Ask how they would approach ethical dilemmas, handle conflicts, or contribute to a team project. The more open-ended the better. This allows you to assess their decision-making process and problem-solving skills in real-world contexts. Take your time here. Be present, reading body language, hearing their tone. Their words matter, but do they believe them? Are they giving a “principal office” answer or does the response appear genuine and well-thought-out?
- Cultural Fit Assessment: Assess how well candidates align with the culture of your law firm. Consider the working environment, communication styles, and team dynamics. Do you expect them to attend the holiday party? Do you value close relationships with your employees? How will they integrate among others already present in the office? A candidate who shares the values and cultural nuances of the firm is more likely to thrive and contribute positively.
- Team Involvement: Involve key team members in the hiring process, especially those who will be working closely with the new hire. Collect input from a few perspectives within the firm to ensure that character assessments are well-rounded and reflective of the entire team’s needs. Choose your perspectives intentionally at this stage. You’re looking for clarity in subjective evidence of behavior and interaction, not a popularity contest.
- Personality Assessment Tools: Consider using personality assessment tools as part of the hiring process. While these tools should not be the sole basis for decisions, they can provide additional insights into a candidate’s personality traits and how they might fit into your team. We commonly utilize the Kolbe and PXTs in our hiring process which have proven very helpful in predicting strengths and behavior. These assessments are designed for and measured against standards set for each position, allowing you to customize assessments for associates, paralegal, marketing coordinators and beyond.
- Probe for Growth Mindset: During interviews, inquire about a candidate’s approach to learning and personal development. Individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to adapt to new challenges and continuously seek improvement.
- Reference Checks: Conduct thorough reference checks to gain insights into a candidate’s work ethic, collaboration skills, and overall character. Contacting previous employers, colleagues, or professional acquaintances can provide valuable information about how the candidate behaves in a professional setting. Keep in mind, references will likely give you the best picture of the candidate which is understandable. Why would a candidate list someone who will give them a bad review? Would you? Be careful here to not allow the perspective of one person bring discrimination into the process. Disqualifying a candidate based on one bad reference could open the door to legal liability.
- Trial Period or Project: Consider implementing a trial period or a small project as part of the hiring process. This allows you to observe how candidates apply their character traits in a real work setting before making a long-term commitment.
Remember, hiring for character is an ongoing process that involves assessing not only a candidate’s qualifications but also their potential for contributing positively to your firm’s culture and success. Regularly revisiting and reinforcing the importance of character within your team will contribute to a sustainable and thriving work environment.
Chat with you PBC about your needs and consistent barriers when it comes to hiring. We would love to help you craft a plan for your next homerun hire!
Practice Building Coach
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128