Courting Candidates

Courting Candidates

Top talent is a hot commodity and will have many suitors. Thus, to engage and ultimately hire the best candidates, you need to woo them.

The interview experience is a major factor in whether a prospect chooses to join your organization because your recruiting and hiring process reflects what it’s like to actually work there. According to a 2015 LinkedIn survey, 83% of candidates said a negative interview experience can change their mind about a role or company they thought they liked and, conversely, 87% said a positive interview experience can change their mind about a role or company they once doubted.

Every interaction during the process matters. So, how can you make sure that your desired candidates “feel the love”?

  • Communicate!

The most important element of courting candidates is timely and candid feedback. Starting with an initial “we received your inquiry” email, keep them informed every step of the way. Respond quickly after each interview with an indication of your level of interest and next steps, and to any questions they may have. Don’t “ghost” your candidates or leave them hanging for any appreciable length of time. Just as with dating relationships, any extended silence may get your candidates thinking about reasons to break up with you before you break up with them.

Small gestures, such as an email or quick phone message, can go a long way. Keep your candidates apprised of where they are in the process, and what comes next. Even if there’s no update right away, inform them of that fact, and let them know when you expect to have more information. Being clear and honest with candidates sets the right tone, builds trust, shows your respect for them, and earns their respect in return.

Once you decide a candidate is not right for a position, tell them as soon as possible. An honest rejection letter always is better than silence. Love them or leave them, but don’t lead them on.

  • Be transparent

Be open with each candidate about your recruitment process, anticipated timeline, and what you require from them during each step. For partner candidates, tell them early in the process what kind of information you will need for the LPQ (lateral partner questionnaire) and conflicts check, and at what point it will be requested, so they have adequate time to gather the necessary data.

Before each interview, provide the candidate with full details including an agenda listing who they will meet, the interviewers’ backgrounds and roles, parking and/or security information, and exactly where to go and who to ask for upon arrival.

An effective strategy for courting top talent is to assign a lawyer to be that candidate’s mentor throughout the recruiting process, to facilitate the process and keep it moving on track and in a timely manner. You want your candidates to feel like they are being guided by someone who cares about them and their future success with your firm.

  • Prepare your team

A disorganized or unprofessional hiring team sends the message to the candidate that the entire organization operates that way. First, be clear what you’re looking for and how each candidate fits into your strategic plan. Prepare your recruiting team so they are on the same page and can tell a consistent story.

Carefully consider who is on your interviewing team. Put your best people forward and make sure they are cheerleaders for the firm. The team should vary depending upon the level and practice area of the candidate being courted. Include lawyers in the same and related practice areas, including peers and top-ranked people. Meeting with executive committee or managing partners lets a candidate know that their recruitment is important to the firm. When courting a female or minority attorney, or a lawyer with a disability, it’s helpful for the candidate to meet similar lawyers at the firm so that they can ask questions particular to their situation and can see how such lawyers are successful within your organization.

Train your team on how to conduct successful interviews. Their conduct can either sell candidates on the opportunity or scare them away. According to candidates, great interviews are friendly and personalized conversations with questions tailored to the individual and the position. The most effective interviewers are engaged and open and offer opinions and insights into the organization.

Asking candidates irrelevant questions or the same questions repeatedly throughout the interview process is a turn-off for candidates. To avoid these pitfalls—and the possible omission of other important queries—one strategy is to compile a list of unique questions tailored to the candidate and assign them to particular interviewers on your team. This makes efficient use of everyone’s time, covers all the bases, and ensures that no two interactions are the same. Beyond asking the right questions, the interviewers must really listen to the answers and understand what’s important to the candidate. This provides you with the necessary information to better address their aspirations, needs, and concerns—and craft a tempting proposal should you decide to formalize the relationship.

  • Respect their time

Despite the saying that true love waits, be on time for every meeting or recruitment call. You cannot expect top talent to cool their heels in your lobby or wait at their desks for any period of time. The best candidates have important jobs and are very busy.

Make sure each interviewer has the candidates’ material and reads it thoroughly— beforehand.

Your team must know that you expect them to prioritize hiring even though they have other pressing matters to handle. They must ignore any distractions on their phones or computers during an interview. The prospect must feel as if they are the sole object of attention.

Streamline your process to be as efficient as possible. Although you want to thoroughly vet even the most attractive candidates, think twice before asking your top prospects to spend multiple half-days, or full days, at your offices. Of course, you want several people to interview a promising candidate, and it’s difficult enough to coordinate times with your own busy lawyers, but you must accommodate the candidate’s schedule to the greatest extent possible.

Maintain momentum. Keep the process moving at a good clip and make each decision as quickly as possible. The most attractive candidates will have other firms vying for their attention, as well. Speedy response and turn-around times reinforce how much you value and desire them. Your enthusiasm goes a long way towards the ultimate success of the courtship. Remember, the best candidates won’t be on the market long.

  • Go the extra mile

Everyone in the firm, not just the recruiting team, plays a role in the courtship. Make sure the whole firm, from the top partners to the front desk staff, is on the same page. You want your prospects to receive a warm greeting from the receptionist and a smile from those he or she meets in the hallway. Have someone ready to meet candidates upon arrival, escort them between each interview event, and act as a “candidate concierge” to get water, coffee, etc., and personally make sure they are completely taken care of, including giving them a tour to get a feel for their future workplace. Offer to validate their parking; don’t make them ask.

After establishing initial mutual interest, wining and dining is appropriate. Consider conducting some of the additional meetings at a more casual venue like a coffee shop or outdoor café (being mindful of confidentiality concerns, of course), where the candidate can relax and open up. When recruiting heavy-weight partners or for key roles, you might really go all out to woo them. Book all the arrangements, such as air and hotel reservations, car pickup, etc., and have firm-branded “swag” for them upon arrival. Provide directions and traffic updates the morning of the interview and station someone to greet them in the lobby. Take them to a nice restaurant for lunch and, possibly, a dinner including Significant Others. Sometimes courting a candidate requires wooing their special someone, as well.

Approaching recruiting like a courtship increases the chances of enticing top prospects to say “I do” to your job offers.

Valerie Fontaine

Valerie Fontaine

Valerie A. Fontaine earned her JD from UC Hastings College of Law and her BA, Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, from UCLA. She was on the Editorial Board of COMM/ENT, a Journal of Communications and Entertainment Law. Valerie practiced law with a prominent Los Angeles law firm and entered the legal search profession in 1981. Valerie serves as Secretary to the Board of Directors of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC).
Valerie Fontaine

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