Tips and Techniques for Interviewing and Hiring Employees
by Marcia Watson Wasserman
(County Bar Update, November 2003, Vol. 23, No. 10)


Tips and Techniques for Interviewing and Hiring Employees


By Marcia Watson Wasserman, Law Practice Management Section Executive Committee. Wasserman is the president of Comprehensive Management Solutions, Inc. and specializes in human resources and law practice management consulting. She can be contacted at The opinions expressed are her own.


At one time or another, every lawyer needs to hire a new employee or replace an existing one. The following tips and techniques may help you hire the right candidate for the position.


-- Before starting the process, make sure you have an accurate job description of the position you want to fill. If your former legal secretary performed certain duties (ex. took face-to-face dictation), re-evaluate the job duties to determine whether they have changed. Perhaps you are using a voice-activated dictation software program such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking and no longer need to dictate to a secretary.


Take the time to list the essential functions of the position and create a job description or update the existing job description to more accurately reflect the position’s duties. Being clear about what qualifications and job experience the position requires will assist you in finding better candidates.


-- Review resumes carefully to determine how well they fit your job description. Try to narrow down the resumes to the five or six that appear to most closely fit your requirements, and arrange interviews with those candidates.


-- In addition to accepting resumes from job applicants, it is important to have them complete a detailed employment application form (that complies with both federal and state law regarding what you can legally ask a job applicant) when they arrive for the interview. The employment history section of the form should include not only the employer’s name but also inclusive dates of employment, starting and ending compensation, position and duties, the reason for leaving, and whether the termination was voluntary or involuntary. It also should inquire about periods of unemployment and the reasons for unemployment. Since a resume typically does not include the reason for leaving a position or discuss periods of unemployment, important information about an individual’s work history can be gleaned from an employment application form.


-- When the time arrives for the interviews, objectively evaluate each candidate and take notes on the interview. Allow candidates an opportunity to talk about their qualifications and job experience. (Often, interviewers will spend most of the interview talking about themselves without learning enough information to determine whether the candidate is a good fit for the position.) The easiest way is by asking open-ended questions such as: What are your career goals? What areas would you like to improve upon? What involvement with the community have you had? Do you prefer to work for a large law firm or a small one and why? Tell me a difficult problem you experienced at your last job and how you solved it.


-- After concluding the interview process, carefully review the resumes, job applications, and your notes. Narrow down the candidates to the top two or three, and begin the process of reference-checking the finalists. Make sure that you have written authorization from the candidate to obtain references from previous employers.


Learn to read between the lines. If the candidate only gave the name of a co-worker at a prior job rather than the immediate supervisor, this might indicate that the individual had a problem with that supervisor. This should be considered a red flag.


-- Once you have selected the person you think you want to hire, it is critical to conduct a background check of that individual (after you have obtained the appropriate authorizations from the applicant to conduct a background check). Background checks often reveal important information about an applicant (ex. the applicant does not have the college degree indicated on the resume).


-- When you are ready to extend a job offer to the finalist, it is acceptable to offer the position over the telephone. However, an employment offer letter also should be sent to the applicant setting forth the terms of employment including job title, starting date and time, rate of pay, and overview of benefits. The more that is communicated before the new employee starts, the better the orientation will be to the new position.

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