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Selecting the Best Candidate

I know within three minutes of meeting an attorney if he or she will interview well. All of the key elements discussed in last month's column, "Winning at the Interview," show themselves quickly: self-confidence, likeability, presentation, etc. Winners are succinct, intelligent and engaging from the outset. But I also meet a lot of windbags, as well as surprisingly inarticulate lawyers.

Once making it through this cut, however, an employer faces the more difficult challenge of selecting the person who will actually become the most productive performer. Employers shouldn't be seduced into simply picking the most charismatic interviewee. When a client says, "I'm trusting my gut" and going with candidate xyz, I worry that we may have been charmed. Great interviewee does not always translate into great employee.

To make the best selection, you have to go deeper. Situational interviewing is very helpful. Ask your recruiter or human resources team for examples of how to do this. Also, don't be shy about asking some uncomfortable questions. Press people on why a short-tenured position did not work out, emphasizing what the candidate could have done differently. Reward candor over blame-shifting.

Look for objective indicia of success that may not be evident in the resume. Time spent in customer service, perhaps as a waiter or waitress during school, helps build work ethic and people skills. It often teaches a little healthy humility. Ask about competitions entered, even if these go back to school: theater auditions, sports, essay contests, etc. Winning is less important than entering, although winning is a plus. We want evidence that someone has fire-in-the-belly and takes initiative. Later in life examples include volunteerism, townhome board service, coaching little league, 5k runs, etc.

Hire the candidate who shows a positive and well rounded zest for life. The inside counsel role is stressful, political and full of long days. Cynicism, ego and negativity will all show up when dealing with red tape and the imperfections of any corporation. This will sound like a corny line from a motivational speech, but it's true: Attitude is everything. And that's why the interview process can be a trap for many employers. An intelligent and charismatic interviewee can project the right attitude. So look hard for real examples of a full and happy life. When your "gut feeling" is supported by this kind of evidence, then you are making the best selection.

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