The answer is that you don't know what a candidate is going to be like, but you can certainly undertake a few tests. Here are our recommendations:
1. When interviewing, try to make the candidate sweat.
Not literally (you'll probably sweat as well if you turn up the heating!). Try to get them under pressure. Ask awkward questions and probe their answers. Someone who handles you politely and fairly comfortably is probably going to do the same in a work situation. A candidate who gets distressed or aggressive will almost certainly do the same with your clients when faced with confrontation.
2. Get the candidate to meet your staff on the day of interview day.
You may think that you know everything about a person the moment you see them. As the boss it is your duty to make sure you employ staff who are going to either generate income for your firm or support those generating income. However you are not necessarily going to be spending much time with the new staff member and your colleagues may well work out in a few seconds that the new person is unpleasant or impossible to work with. Having a nightmare candidate in the office is not good generally for income generating or morale and you may well find yourself recruiting in a different role if you take on a bully or a headcase!
3. Put the candidate through some file tests.
At interview produce a file or get a case up on your PC - anything you like. Ask the candidate how they would deal with it - give them a few moments to read it (make sure the file is not from a multi-million pound litigation case!) and then ask them to explain what they understand the case to be about and what needs doing or watching out for. This works at all levels - junior admin staff, paralegals and solicitors etc. Again this puts the candidate under pressure and gives you lots of chances to probe further - eg at junior level ask where an attendance note would be found and at senior level ask about a technical issue.
4. Speak to their last employer
Easier said than done, particularly because larger firms now produce references that quite frankly are completely useless. "I can confirm that Bob Carolgees worked with us for 2 years but our policy is not to give any personal information." Great. Really useful for any future employmers. (On an aside - some of these firms expect detailed references from previous posts but thats another issue!). Where a reference is not possible, use a 3 month probation period instead. Speak to us about using our 12 month rebate and payment plan if you have recruited via ourselves.
5. Google them
Have a look online and see what their digital footprint is like. For example, if you search my name online (Jonathan Fagan) you get my youtube films, our websites, a link to my facebook account, linked in profile, twitter feed, a couple of press reports, blog entries and much more. A few clicks into our youtube account reveals what we post and some of this you may or may not appreciate. It gives you a good idea of what a candidate could be like. Not that long ago I clicked onto a candidate's profile to discover that there were lots of pictures of them enjoying a night out a little bit too heavily. Suspect a future employer may not have been too impressed by the pictures of the candidate staggering about a town centre with a bottle of beer!
Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment and a non-practising Solicitor. Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment provides online Legal Recruitment for Solicitors, Legal Executives, Fee Earners, Support Staff, Managers and Paralegals. Visit our Website to search our Vacancy Database. Our Legal Careers Shop has eBooks on CV Writing for Lawyers, Legal Job Interview Guide, Interview Answers for Lawyers, NQ Career Guide, Guide to Finding Work Experience or a Training Contract and the Entrants Guide to the Legal Profession.