Why Your People Matter – Hire Better
Over the years we have been pretty fortunate with our hiring decisions. However, as you well know, in most hiring decisions it takes some time to determine whether your new employee is what they appear to be. Unfortunately for all business owners, some individuals interview well and perform poorly. Regardless, I like to think that we put a significant amount of time and effort into finding and hiring the right people.
Part of my office’s hiring strategy is making sure we know what large and “successful” businesses are doing with their hiring practices. As you can imagine, this means that I read quite a bit on the topic. With that being said, if you haven’t read anything by Seth Godin, consider doing so. Mr. Godin is an exceptionally brilliant mind who brings an unusual simplicity to business and management. Through the years, Mr. Godin has preached that companies that want to succeed must locate, hire and retain the very best people. Naturally, I have exhaustively consumed everything he has written on the topic, including his blog, which is well worth reading.
So, this post is not going to be the typical SLAP article. This post is more of a confession. I recently made a significant hiring mistake. Fortunately, this mistake was fixed with the employee quitting three days after starting. This is a mistake that I would like to make sure you never make!
Two weeks ago, it came to pass (like most biblical stories) that we needed to hire an experienced paralegal for an extremely complicated set of cases we have pending in Wake County. As per usual, we put out our feelers and received a plethora of resumes. The hiring process was, and applicants were, what you would expect for a job posting looking for a paralegal with more than seven to 10 years of litigation experience.
After narrowing down the resumes to three reasonably qualified applicants, I undertook meeting with each of them in turn and informed them of our hiring process. Our hiring process is quite simple and effectively involves an initial interview to review the position with the candidate, explore their qualifications and assess their personality.
After the initial interview, we begin vetting their references and qualifications, requested a writing sample with a clever prompt we developed some time ago, and conducted the second hour-long interview, where we try to make sure that the applicant understands who and what we are, iron out the job duties and explore their problem-solving skills. Our second interview always involves an “interruption” where the interviewer is called away in an emergency and a second interviewer picks the interview to ask the applicant, “where were we?” or “what is your understanding of the job so far?”
We have found that our interview process works well to vet qualified candidates and ensures that the candidates adequately perform each of the required components of their job.
After our “extreme vetting” process was complete, there was little doubt in my mind, and the minds of my team members, that we had found the perfect person for this position. Our soon-to-be-new hire, let’s call her Jane, was experienced, level-headed, well-spoken, well-written and best of all funny, but in a punch-line kind of way. Hired!
In an effort to provide some comic relief to this unfortunate situation, I have taken the liberty of narrating the facts “Star Trek” style.
Journal Entry – Star date 072316-1 – Jane seems to fit in well with the team and is making herself comfortable. She has arranged her desk and requested stationary and supplies. She has been assigned a detailed overview of the first complicated case and has begun reviewing documents related to the allegations.
Journal Entry – Star date 072316-2 – As the day progressed, I have noticed Jane become increasingly quiet. I believe she is taking to the task at hand quite well.
Journal Entry – Star date 072316-3 – At the close of business, I spoke to Jane about her first day. She seems to be smiling, but I caught a hint of something in her eyes.
Journal Entry – Star date 072416–1 – Jane arrived 15 minutes early to work. She looks determined for the day ahead.
Journal Entry – Star date 072416–2 – It is now mid-morning, and I have noticed that Jane is slight agitated and has traveled to the kitchen for hot tea several times. Jane has made several comments about the complicated nature of the work, and I think she is discovering how much work there is to perform.
Journal Entry – Star date 072416–3 – After popping into Jane’s office to check on how she is doing, I have gotten the impression that she is feeling overwhelmed. I asked her to give me a shout about discussing the work to be performed and the issues at hand later in the day if she had any questions or concerns.
Journal Entry – Star date 072416–4 – It is late in the afternoon and I have popped back into Jane’s office after the office manager communicated with me privately that she thinks Jane is stressed and out of depth with the assignment. I discussed the case with Jane and she states that she no questions or concerns.
Journal Entry – Star date 072516–1 – Jane arrives that the office 45 minutes early. I noticed that she was carrying an empty banker’s box.
Journal Entry – Star date 072516–2 – I have taken my first sip of coffee and it’s not even 7:30 a.m., and Jane has informed me that she is unable to perform the work assigned and will be quitting effective immediately.
Journal Entry – Star date 072516–3 – It is still not even 7:30 a.m. and I have accepted Jane’s resignation. Jane seems unable to explain her dissatisfaction with the position other than to say that the position is too complicated, despite her 12 years of class action experience at a BigLaw firm.
Journal Entry – Star date 072516–4 – It is now 7:30 a.m. and Jane is no longer an employee. Cause of Resignation: unknown.
By any practical standard, I feel like Jane was a great fit and a great hire for our firm. Unfortunately, after taking the time to self-assess and diagnose how this problem may have been created, the answer was clear.
Our interview process was focusing on ensuring that the candidates could adequately perform each required skill and ignoring whether they could handle the work environment, workload and work-related stressors.
In essence, we had violated the cardinal rule of hiring: we had hired a qualified candidate but failed to ensure she could actually handle the job. While there is a lot to learn when running a law firm, finding, hiring and ensuring that your staff can handle the job are the basic cornerstones of only working with the best people.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h