How to hire staff

Last month, I discussed when to hire staff. Hopefully, you heeded my advice of keeping overhead low and held off hiring a staff member until as long as possible. So now you are ready to hire someone, how should you go about it? A team of great employees will help you reach your goals faster and more efficiently than you can on your own. The right staff makes your life better. The wrong staff makes your life miserable and impedes your progress. What’s worse is the wrong staff member can cause irreparable harm to you, your firm, and your reputation. How do you know who will be a good employee and who will not? How do you find great employees? What follows are a few things I have learned the hard way.

Looking for love in all the wrong places

The first step in hiring the right staff is looking in the right place. My best hires have come through word of mouth recommendations. Let’s face it, people do not put in a good word for someone unless they feel comfortable vouching for that person. Ask other lawyers if they know anyone looking for a job. Ask your staff for recommendations. When I was looking to hire a new paralegal, Sue Boltz (featured in our employee spotlight this month) recommended her sister who had spent 30 years in corporate America and was recently downsized. I hired Marilyn Miller on the spot and she has been a welcome addition to the office since 2009.

I have also found good employees by looking in publications which cater to the legal community. The Help Wanted section of The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin is a very good place to advertise for new staff. Consider placing an ad on Craigslist. The key to a Craigslist ad is spending the time to write a detailed description of who you are and what you are looking for in an employee. Posting an ad anywhere which says, “Paralegal needed” is not going to get you the applicants you need. As many of you know, I am a big advocate of the lawyer marketer, Ben Glass. He has a download of examples of want ads he has placed on Craigslist on his web site. I hired my internet marketing director, Kyle McGuire, with a Craigslist ad. He’s responsible for formatting these newsletters, my social media presence, as well as driving internet traffic to my web site.

You have a stack of resumes, now what?

Your first inclination may be to discard the resumes of those with no background or experience. This would be a mistake. No matter how much legal experience an applicant may have, you will be training them to work your systems, having them work the way you want them to work. This is the reason I have never put much stock in paralegal training programs. I would rather have someone who is smart, eager to learn and will follow my direction than someone who has a paralegal certificate. Let’s face it, very few people will be able to step right into your office with no training. Look for people who will fit your personality and have the characteristics to thrive at your office.

Trust . . . but verify

Do a thorough investigation of the references and job history of the prospective employee. You probably know that no past employer is going to give a truthful negative assessment (“he was always late, terrible work ethic, made mistakes, fired for cause, etc.”), but anything less than a glowing recommendation could be a possible red flag. You may laugh, but you should check if the prospective employee has ever sued their past employer, filed a workers’ compensation case, filed for bankruptcy, been evicted, etc. While these alone may not disqualify a potential candidate, these public records are something you should investigate. My friends who handle employment law cases always advise investigating the educational background and academic credentials on a resume. It is not uncommon for people to “embellish” their credentials on their resumes. The reason employment lawyers know this is because a fraudulent resume can prove a defense in employment cases.

Spend the time to get the right person for the job

The business world has done a lot of research on how to hire great employees, but sadly, little of this has permeated the legal profession. Business consultant Jim Collins has a great book called “Good to Great” where he researched what separates good companies from great companies. He summarizes his findings on his website and I highly recommend anyone contemplating a new hire to read his book, or at least his condensed findings on his website. The key to success is hiring the right people. Invest the time and money to make sure you get it right. And if you don’t, next month I’ll talk about how to fire an employee!