Most people in the legal industry agree that this job market is one of the strongest in several decades. What this tends to mean is that it is harder than ever for to close a search with a successful candidate for several reasons: (1) Due to the robust economy, most of the best candidates have multiple opportunities, so getting them to accept a specific offer can be challenging. (2) Because many companies are fairly prosperous these days, not all candidates are in a hurry to leave their current employer (especially as compared to 7–10 years ago when individuals were running out the door) (3) There is a dearth of candidates with about 8–12 good years of legal experience because so many candidates who graduated law school between 2007–2011 were “wiped out” due to the financial crisis.
Does this mean that a hiring manager will be unable to find a top candidate for a challenging search? Absolutely not. But it does mean that the manager can’t go into a search with a “2011–2013 mindset” and expect that there will be more candidates than you know what to do with and that any reasonable offer will be immediately accepted by the top candidate. That mentality will lead to a less-than-desirable result. Alternatively, here are some tricks of the trade that I would encourage employers to adopt in order to find and successfully recruit the “candidate of their dreams” for any role:
- Be patient. Some employers like to give deadlines such as, “We need to get this role filled in 60 days.” Indeed, it is good to have timelines and goals, but recruiting legal talent is more commonly an art, not a science. Particularly when there is a dearth of strong candidates, it is important to understand that – in strong economic times – it might take just a bit longer for a search to get completed. Hiring managers should not get frustrated, but keep their eyes on the prize. Ask your recruiter for some timeline proposals and goals, but also be flexible as the search unwinds if strong candidates don’t immediately emerge on the first few days.
- Accept flaws in your top candidates. You shouldn’t settle for a second-best candidate, but you shouldn’t immediately throw out candidates on paper just because there are one or two things about their background you don’t like. For instance, if you’ve been desperately seeking a data privacy candidate for 5-6 months, and you’ve finally found a good one who is interested in your role, don’t immediately disqualify him or her because they moved jobs a couple of times or because you didn’t like the way that their resume is arranged. Keep your options open because frankly you might not have as many.
- Interview, but also recruit, top candidates. Employers should be strongly encouraged to ask all of the tough questions that they want to the top candidates. But a bit of recruiting nuance and subtlety should be demonstrated; remember to show the candidates why your organization is a great home for them. If a candidate is looking at four or five opportunities, they will have a choice. You want them to choose you, and sometimes the intangible feel of an interview date can be the difference between the candidate giving you the nod and giving you the hard pass.
- Be proactive, not reactive. Whether you are conducting the search on your own or you have engaged an executive recruiter, you should be the one spearheading the progress of the search. When a client hires MLA, we call it a partnership. That means that the employer should be doing their part, and in boom economic times, this means that the employer is expected to avoid “leading from behind” and proactively think of ways to move the search along with more positive results. It doesn’t mean that the hiring manager should micro-manage a search that has been farmed out to a recruiting firm, but it does mean that the employer should ask good questions, set a tone for the search, be creative and provide helpful tips to the search firm, and objectively and rationally analyze each candidate until an offer-and-acceptance is obtained.
- When it comes to the offer, show some love. In these times, the worst thing an employer can do is farm out the final negotiations to someone else – whether it is a colleague or an outside search firm. I would recommend that the hiring manager step in and play an active role. Whether that is speaking with the candidate directly, or specifically advising the search firm, or working internally to make the offer as strong and creative as possible, these are all things that can and should be done to make the offer (and the adjoining process) as tempting as possible.
I understand that much of this advice is easier said than done. Having said that, in economic times that are strong and at a time when it is harder than ever to compete for top talent, nothing should be left on the table. If you want someone to join your team, there is no reason not to expend the small amount of time and energy necessary to land that individual and add to your organization’s future success.