Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Interview techniques for employers

This article is a discussion of interview techniques for employers and in particular how to get the most out of your interviews and to avoid the common pitfalls.

The first thing you must do when interviewing for a position is to decide actually what you are looking for and what is important to achieve out of employing that particular candidate. One thing we often find with employers is that they have very unreasonable expectations as to what exactly they are looking for in their employee. For example, a central London company like to recruit professionals from a City background with impeccable academics. This sounds great but the salary they are offering is less than a secretary would get for a post in a central London firm. This means that if they do find anyone with the background they are looking for, the chances are they will be completely unfit for any employment and probably in copious amounts of debt or alcoholics.

There are other firms similarly who try to recruit very junior members of staff for what really ought to be very senior posts. The idea is that this saves them the cost of the salary and the effect it will have on their overheads. Again this is a false economy. A junior member of staff will require a lot of training and support whereas if they were paying more money for somebody more senior, that person would not need the support and would get on immediately with the task of generating income.

Another problem or issue comes up with marketing and sales. If there is any marketing and sales involved in a post then the employer needs to think carefully about how important this is. Sales and marketing are two particular skills that a lot of employees lack as it takes a certain sort of person to be able to cold call someone and convert this into sales or to network and generate income out of contacts they find there. If sales and marketing are a particularly important part of a post, it is vital that the employer looks at the sales and marketing background of the person they are interviewing. Experience and academic ability will play absolutely no part in this particular element of the role.

So how do you find all of this out?

The first thing is to speak to the recruitment agents involved and specify exactly what you are looking for from the outset. There is nothing more frustrating as a recruitment consultant than being given a brief job specification from an employer who then decided to completely change it when he gets the candidates in for interview. It’s not only embarrassing for the recruitment consultant, it is also a complete waste of everybody’s time including the employers because those particular candidates will be there to be interviewed for the post they have been told about and not a new one. A worse case scenario was an incident my company had some years ago where a number of interviews were arranged with a salary bracket and a particular job and when the candidates arrived for the interview, they were informed it was a completely different field and the salary was half that, that had been indicated. Needless to say, nearly all of them walked out of the interview after a few minutes.

Although that employer might have thought he had been clever in getting them in to see him and then hoping he could persuade one of them to stop, in actual fact, he probably wasted about two to three hours of fee earning time which cost him in the region of about £500.

It is very important to make sure that the information you provide to your recruiters is accurate and reflects exactly what your organisation is looking for.

The Interview

Make sure that your reception area or waiting room or general foyer is clean and tidy and warn your staff in advance that someone is coming through to you.

We hear horror stories every year of firms and companies who have people waiting interview whilst the secretaries are having a fight in the back and arguing and telling each other how awful each of the various directors or employees is. We have also had stories of secretaries and receptionists who have been very rude to the person being interviewed and in one case, so much so that the interviewee walked out before the interview on the basis that she did not want to work the firm. In fact, your staff can help you because they are warned that the person is coming and they can perhaps strike up a conversation with them and provide you with an extra pair of ears and a set of opinions as to what they thought. This can be very important because if your staff do not like them, they are not going to last with your organisation. In fact, it could even pay to have somebody sit in reception in the waiting area with the person. You can see if they impress a new client. You could even ask them to play devil’s advocate and test them out to see if they will react positively to a negative situation and ask the person who is sitting with them to criticise your organisation and see what the interviewee does.

Before the interview, make sure the room you are interviewing in is clean and tidy and there is plenty of space. Remove all the files off your desk if there are any and make sure the room is cleaned.

If there are other people who will be working with the interviewee, make sure they are in the building so that they can meet the person as well and assess them themselves. It may be that they have very positive or negative views of that person and this will help you decide whether you would want to employ them.

If you are meeting someone at very senior level, it is probably worth having the first meeting in a separate location to your offices. A neutral venue is often a good idea because it could mean that the person could simply discuss the role with you without any predefined conceptions of your offices or staff.

Interview Style

There are lots of don’ts related to this, one of these is don’t talk too much about yourself and not have questions planned before you start the interview. Download 100 questions off the legal recruitment website before you start firing questions at the interviewee. Have some technical questions ready to ask as well, and in particular, have a file or process ready to test the interviewee with as this is why you are employing them. If they are unable to do that particular task or know anything about the action you wish them to take, it is very unlikely that you would want to employ them. Be nice to the person you are interviewing. Do not try the “we don’t have a job, but we may be able to help you in the future” approach. This never works but simply infuriates the candidate who may well have taken time off work or gone to quite an extreme to get to see you on that particular day.

More about interview styles in the next article.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment. He regular interviews and gives guidance on interviewing via the website at and also coaches graduates and professionals at all levels of their career. Details of the coaching service can be found at .

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