Many logic driven attempts have been made to assess culture fit objectively: personality tests, skills based tests, and situational interviewing strategies. Such exercises can be useful, and I’ll address them in future columns. No matter the process, however, I believe that hiring is far more art than science. Trusting your gut is the correct approach. And in my opinion, that gut check should include a checklist of three essential attributes.
1. Hire people pleasers. Your nightmare as a general counsel is the professional who does not enjoy providing customer service. Many outstanding lawyers lack good bedside manner, and they are most effective as outside counsel.
Everyone is on their best behavior during interviews, so you really have to probe for customer service culture fit. Good clues include experience doing in-the-field charity or pro bono work, participation in group activities, or even a stint waiting tables.
Negative clues include the need to always be right, or too much extraversion. Perhaps surprisingly, I recommend slightly introverted as the best people pleaser demeanor. Introverts tend to do well at putting the needs of others above their own. And they don’t crave the stage. Avoid extreme introverts, of course, as they will lack sufficient people skills or confidence to perform well.
2. Smart helps. A lot. Notice the heading here does not include the words pedigree or credentials. In fact, there is actually a trend among law departments away from hiring the shiniest resume. Real world experience and collaborative skills have become more important.
Then again, mere passage of a bar exam is useless as an indicator of intellectual firepower. Poise, ability to think quickly, communicating effectively, exercising judgment—these are among the smart qualities you want. Ask questions that force candidates to express and defend an opinion. Can this person evaluate a problem on the fly? Smart comes through. It’s genuine and hard to fake. Only hire truly smart people.
3. Enthusiasm matters. A lot. Favor the candidates who tell you early and often that they admire your company and want to work for you. If you think someone is unsure or might be settling, pass on that candidate even if he or she is the most qualified. Don’t try to talk anyone into falling in love with the position you’re filling.
I always think of that line from the movie “Sleepless in Seattle,” when Meg Ryan’s character hands back the engagement ring to her nice but uninspiring fiancé. To which the fiancé responds: “Marriage is hard enough without bringing such low expectations into it.” The same dynamic applies to hiring.
Finally, accept input from the other interviewers as data points and let that feedback inform your candidate ranking. Please don’t fall into the trap of group think and require consensus, however. If the new hire is reporting to you, then always go with your first choice. If that person is a smart, enthusiastic people pleaser, you will have a winner.