By Jules Miller
Your next interview candidate is in the meeting room, looking at her notes, reviewing her portfolio, sipping the latté she carried in from the café down the street from your office. She was early, but not too early, and your assistant gives you a nod as you walk by her desk, suggesting there were no red flags when she arrived.
More importantly, she’s worked at a couple of respectable law firms in town, which you think would give her enough legal experience to run with, and win, a few of the cases you have lined up.
But how can you know for sure? How do you know whether this is a lawyer you can work with day-in and day-out for the foreseeable future?
Asking the right interview questions can give you more information about your candidates and will help you learn whether or not they will be a good fit for your company. Once you’ve lobbed a few ice-breaker questions and set the tone for your interview, you’ll want to delve into deeper substance with more in-depth, mettle-testing questions.
Test their real-life problem solving skills
There is no set-in-stone guide for the questions you should ask during an interview. However, the best questions elicit specific examples from past experiences so you can see how candidates approach and resolve different scenarios.
Ask questions like:
- Can you share an example of when you hit a roadblock with a client and how you overcame it?
- Tell me about a time when you missed a client deadline and what you learned from that experience.
The way a prospect responds to these questions will give you valuable insight into how they react to real-life scenarios. This is more helpful in predicting success on the job than vague situational descriptions.
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Solve a real problem
Of course, candidates are most likely to share past experiences that make them look good. Another effective interview strategy is to give real-world scenarios of sticky situations that the candidate may encounter and ask them to tell you how they’d respond. It works best if you use an actual situation that occurred or a current challenge you are facing (anonymizing any identifiable details).
Listen carefully to how the candidate would attack this problem. The more realistic the situation, the better. And as they respond, try to visualize whether you would approve of their approach if the person was really on your team and you were the manager.
Role play a dicey scenario
Ask the candidate to picture themselves in a specific situation so they can tell you what they would do. For example, how would they pitch your firm for business development purposes? Tell them:
“Pretend I am a prospective client and you are a member of our firm’s team. How would you articulate why I should work with your firm over your competitor?”
Whether this is an important part of their job or not, it’s useful to see what the candidate knows about your firm and what information they believe is important.
Role-play scenarios are also useful for understanding how candidates will approach conflict. For example, have her walk through a scenario:
“We quoted the customer a flat fee but the project became much more complex and time-consuming than originally expected. If I am the client, lead a conversation breaking the news to me that you are raising the price.”
Assign real-world tasks and evaluate performance
Give interviewees a homework assignment to see how they approach real problems that are slightly more complex than you can cover in a short interview. You’ll see their level of preparation and thoughtfulness, which can show how excited they are about the specific job and your company. You’ll also see what their actual work product will look like.
It may seem extreme to give work to someone who doesn’t yet work for you, but this is a standard practice in many industries, including finance and tech.
Again, it is always best to use scenarios that are very close to the reality of what the candidate would be doing in their role as opposed to pure hypotheticals. You want to filter the candidate pool to clearly identify the people who demonstrate that they can do the job—not just the ones who interview well. You might even learn something about a real project you are working on from having a fresh outside perspective during an interview.
Create a 30-60-90-day plan
For any leadership role, you should have candidates complete 30-60-90-day plans to articulate their overall vision for where they think the company should go and how they will help get it there. This is a great homework assignment to make sure that the candidate’s vision aligns with your goals. Checking for this alignment will allow you to better trust their decision-making abilities with minimal oversight once they are on the team. When you can trust your managers to make decisions without much oversight because you are comfortably aligned in your vision for the business, it leads to happier, more empowered managers, higher productivity, lower attrition, and less work for you.
Knowing the right questions to ask in an interview is only part of hiring equation. Download Hire for Success: 5 Secrets to Growing Your Law Firm, a free guide that will help you assess your strategies for finding and hiring exceptional talent.
About Jules Miller
Jules is an investor, three-time entrepreneur, ‘intrapreneur,’ and hands-on operations expert. She is co-founder of Evolve Law, a community of entrepreneurs, law firms, in-house lawyers and legal services companies dedicated to accelerating the adoption of technology and innovation in the legal industry. She is also a Venture Partner at LunaCap Ventures, an early stage venture debt fund that focuses on Veteran, women and minority founders, and interim COO of Brava Investments, a holding company investing in companies that economically benefit women. Jules was previously co-founder and COO of Hire an Esquire, a B2B labor marketplace providing an on-demand workforce of attorneys to law firms and in-house legal departments. She also spent seven years as an ‘intraprenuer’ helping companies including Ernst & Young, Salesforce.com and Tiffany & Co. to launch and grow new business units. She earned her BA from UCLA and her MSc from The London School of Economics.