Invest in Talent for the Future, Even in a Crisis

Week by week (and sometimes day by day), we see new developments in the economy due to COVID-19. While most states made the decision to enforce stay-at-home orders several weeks ago, now some states are considering and enacting their plans to reopen. Others are watching the numbers climb and being cautiously optimistic that the peak is soon. The unpredictability of the virus and its ripple effects have left businesses on unsure footing, and with no set timeline on the horizon, the path forward is quite unclear.

The legal teams for many organizations now find themselves overwhelmed with work. They have the everyday workload, which has not lessened, but now, they also have work that is new and unrelated to what they were previously focusing on. Each day brings a new, novel COVID-19-related issue. For teams that were in the midst of looking for a new general counsel, they still need that leader to direct the work and address larger issues in front of the company. For teams that were short-staffed before, they likely still find themselves drowning in work, just of a different nature. But the uncertainty of the economy has made many organizations take a pause and reassess whether now is the time to hire.

Organizations need to be thinking about their long-term needs. Will they lose the people who are overworked now? If they put off hiring needs until the timing feels better and the economy shows signs of rebounding, how prepared will they be for what comes next? Will they have the leadership in place to keep the company on track with new regulations that arise? Will they have time to onboard and train new attorneys while they are ramping back up to “business as usual” pace? Now is not the time to stop investing in the future because one thing is certain: The economy will bounce back.

An Opportune Time to Hire

While some organizations are taking a wait and see approach on hiring, other organizations are full steam ahead in making critical hires to either combat the current surging workload or prepare for the future. These organizations will likely find that they have access to great talent right now because they are plenty of attorneys still open to new opportunities that show promise.

While some candidates, like companies, are hitting pause on their job search, others are very interested in new roles and still see this as an opportune time to make a move. The talent market is very individualized right now. Those with an appetite for a new opportunity will likely take a chance and make a move for a position that offers the right level of challenge with an organization that can provide a strong sense of security.

A New Take on a Classic Process

To secure this great talent, there are many ways to hire, even in this “new normal.” Organizations can complete interview rounds virtually exactly as they would in-person interviews. Initial interviews can be over the phone (a pretty traditional practice) as can early-stage follow ups. Later rounds can then take place via video conference. A video conference will show a candidate’s body language, facial expressions and overall personality very much like an in-person interview. We have now seen several instances of organizations hiring completely virtually—including setting start dates and onboarding virtually. 

If an organization is concerned about this non-traditional method, there are a few things it can do to allay hesitation:

  • Consider having the top candidates take a personality assessment like the Hogan Assessment, Myers-Briggs, DISC or something similar to gather a sense of the candidate’s working style, leadership skills, strengths and more.
  • Add additional rounds of interviews. To relieve any doubts in your mind, ask all the lingering questions whether more behavioral types of questions or more personal ones. Find out everything you need to find out to help make your decision easier.
  • Carefully check references. Ask follow-up questions and listen for tone, pauses and hesitations in their responses about the reference.
  • Work with an executive search firm that is familiar with the candidates being presented. The recruiter will likely be able to give insight into past experiences with the candidate and will provide a full assessment based on their knowledge of the candidate.

While there is never 100% certainty in making a hire, by adding steps to the process, an organization should have enough information to make an educated decision.

However, if that in-person meeting is still a must, organizations are getting creative to meet while still maintaining social distance. Some hiring managers have met the candidate at their empty office and sat on opposite ends of the boardroom table to chat. Others have met in the park and taken a walk while keeping a six-foot distance between each other. A few have even suggested parking two parking spots apart in a parking lot and sitting with the doors open to talk. Alternative, creative methods can work if organizations follow their local guidelines, think outside the box and respect the comfort zones of the candidates.  

The Next Steps

With all the thought put into the interview process due to the remote nature of the current working world, remember that the offer and onboarding stages will require an equal amount of thought. Also, a lot of patience will be required because the world is not moving quickly. Background checks will take a bit longer depending on how those organizations are operating, and the candidate may need to go out of his or her way to give notice—and also give more than two weeks to properly transition out of their role.

Onboarding will then also have to be done virtually. Equipment will need to be sent to the candidate’s residence, and video conferences and phone calls will need to be scheduled to share processes and procedures and make key personnel introductions. Detailed sets of instructions for setting up work email and computer software can be mailed or emailed ahead of time, followed by a scheduled call with the IT person to troubleshoot and set up issues. Some companies with clearance issues may find this challenging, but there are workarounds that can be taken early on to take care of the basics like paperwork and team introductions. I-9 verifications can be completed in a virtual manner at present and other important documentation can be signed via DocuSign or HelloSign.

Of course, all this said, how an organization proceeds with their hiring decision should be done in the best interest of the organization. But if an organization finds itself in a position to bring on new attorneys to shoulder the workload or even lead the team, then now is an opportune time to do so. With the right processes and support in place, an organization will be able to successfully hire and onboard legal talent and position themselves ahead of the curve for the future. 

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