Before accepting an offer, job seekers take into account these five factors, starting with most important: salary/compensation, career growth, work-life balance, location/commute, and company culture/values.
(Glassdoor survey, October 2014)
“It’s getting easier for candidates to find relevant jobs, but finding the right employer will become more important than ever.” (Muse)
You’ve launched the search for a high-performing lawyer for your growing legal department, the pieces are in place and the process is moving according to schedule. At this juncture, it’s important to bear in mind that the recruiting process requires a delicate balance and critical timing. Here’s why.
Often, several trains with competing information, needs or agendas are going down tracks that have to come together—without one of the trains derailing or losing steam and fizzling out. For example, we have seen situations where headcount has been reduced if a legal department has not been able to recruit within a prescribed period of time or where a candidate receives and accepts another offer when you are close to the finish line.
So what can you do to prevent this from happening?
Be clear about your requirements and expectations. What are the most critical requirements of the position? Which candidate clearly meets those requirements? In our experience, if you have an 80 percent or greater match, you are in the “hiring range.” If you are lucky enough to find a 90 percent or greater match, close the deal. Holding out for a 100 percent match in an active market when candidates are evaluating multiple opportunities is not wise. Knowing this may help clarify your decision-making process. Go for the 80-90 percent match. Important note: prioritize the key requirements so you can compromise on others, if necessary, and then assess all the candidates using the same criteria. (See article, “Master the Art of the Interview: Hire the Right Lawyer.”)
If you have identified an exceptional candidate, it is mission-critical to keep the momentum flowing and the candidate engaged. The best candidates are likely to have more than one opportunity and more than one offer. Knowing and acknowledging this will help clarify both a decision and the need to keep the momentum moving. You don't want to lose a candidate because you or your teams were not attentive and responsive to market realities.
Once you know the requirements for the ideal candidate’s successful skills, competencies, traits and cultural fit, and you assess the marketplace through your own efforts or with a search partner, you are headed toward the offer stage. Don't wait until you have found someone before you reach out and work with the human resources department or secure an internal budget approval to begin to build the momentum. Find the right HR contact and obtain approval before you start the process.
You may lose the potential candidate to a competing offer or the candidate’s perception that you are not interested. It could take several weeks to move forward, and here is what candidates think: “they’re not sure they want me” or “is this a reflection of their business decision-making process?” This is why it is crucial to secure your connection and work closely with the HR department as an ally. (See article, “Comprehensive Strategies for Building Allies With Human Resource Professionals.”)
Here are tactical mistakes we have seen organizations make that have derailed momentum. If you avoid these mistakes, you will maintain momentum and vastly improve the likelihood of hiring the lawyer of your choice:
Scheduling: Make sure that there is a scheduler or system in place from the beginning of the recruiting process. Momentum is easily lost when companies do not have a process for timely scheduling of interviews and follow up meetings with candidates. Check in with that person along the way to ensure buy-in and to clarify expectations.
Encountering Inertia: If a disagreement occurs or a non-decisive team member can’t make up his or her mind, keep the process moving forward. Ask yourself, is it worth losing the candidate? The lift to bring the candidate back into the process is a far greater effort than keeping the candidate engaged.
Running Out of Steam: We’ve seen this when a candidate has been chosen but it is unclear who will make the offer, how it will be made or who is the primary point person or negotiator. This scenario happens more frequently than you think. This is also a pivotal point for the candidate; the idea for counteroffers is born here.
Reach out to the HR professionals to find out what you need to do to extend an offer, preferably prior to or in conjunction with identifying your top candidate. Make sure you understand the parameters of the bonus programs and their timelines. It is crucial to keep the momentum building and to secure the correct information. We have worked very successfully with a number of well-run HR organizations that have been instrumental in ensuring that the offer is complete, detailed and inclusive of all components—benefits; compensation; base; bonus; incentive programs, long term or in the form of stock; relocation allowances or programs; PTO and other ancillary programs.
If you are unclear about the components, direct the candidate to the appropriate person. It is far better to acknowledge that you may not have all the answers and to send the lawyer to someone else than it is to go radio silent while you are trying to find the information. If you need time, let the candidate know that it may take a couple of days, particularly if a question is raised during negotiations.
Generally speaking, we advise our general counsel clients to extend the formal offer once approvals have been secured and once we have previewed and pre-closed the candidate. The lawyer will be reporting to you, and it is important to establish a trustworthy relationship from the beginning. Attorneys like to negotiate. Expect that attorneys will review in detail, clarify and negotiate the offer and its components. You need to know prior to the negotiations what is negotiable. Once the lawyer has reviewed your offer and possibly made a counteroffer, and you have identified what you can and are willing to negotiate, proceed with making a modified offer. Usually, verbal negotiations take place first and are followed by an offer letter. Make sure to review the offer letter before it is sent, particularly if items were negotiated as part of the offer.
Once an agreement has been reached, the onboarding process begins. Here is a list of questions to consider to ensure the smooth transition of the new attorney into your organization:
What is the start date and is appropriate space available for the individual? Are the desk, computer, technology requirements, cell phone, parking spaces, keys and access pass in order? (It would be valuable during the interview process to let the person see where he or she will be working. If your company has an open workspace environment, you do not want that to come as a surprise to a newly hired lawyer on the day he or she starts employment.
Who will this person meet with on day one, week one, week two and week three? Who is responsible for the company, department and position orientation/training? When will the new hire meet with these individuals?
How will this lawyer be introduced to the business partners within the organization? As general counsel, it would be valuable for you to make the introduction. You want to set up this person for success as he or she will be a visible face of your legal department and manage specific legal needs.
Will there be a team orientation and what will that look like? Will the individual be taken out to lunch formally or informally to meet the legal or business team members?
Is it appropriate for this individual to be introduced to members of the board, the C-suite or other executives? What will that process look like?
These steps, independently, are fairly straightforward and easy to follow. It can become challenging when the order is not followed or you have competing demands on your time. Working with a search partner, along with internal resources, will lighten the load, keep you on track and allow you to achieve clarity, depth of insight and shared wisdom when hiring your next attorney.
We wish you the best of luck in this process and suggest you may want to consider components of succession planning as future steps.