How to Make a Successful Hire

As the economy continues to take a beating and more layoffs take place, competition for new jobs is at an all-time high. While companies may initially view the large candidate pool as an embarrassment of riches, it also provides them with a challenge.

Companies face a more difficult and certainly a more time-consuming task identifying the right person for the job, and often with greater risk that the wrong decision will be made. In these days of “doing more with less” and stricter labor laws, hiring mistakes can take a bigger toll than in the past. What, then, is the advice we can offer corporate and executive recruiters to increase their chances of success in making the right match with minimal wheel-spinning?


First and foremost, your organization should agree on the need for a new team member and on exactly what the job description/responsibilities should be. Both the internal recruiter and the consultant must thoroughly understand what the job entails and the experience that is sought. Be as specific as possible. If a corporate lawyer is needed, what does that mean? Will the lawyer handle M&A transactions, be responsible for periodic reporting to the SEC, formulate business ethics requirements and negotiate and draft contracts?

Make sure that the people in charge of evaluating this opportunity, reviewing the resumes and interviewing the candidates – i.e., the managing attorney, the HR department and the outside recruiter – clearly understand and are able to communicate what the prospective hire’s day-to-day tasks will be. Otherwise, problems will arise. For instance, one company couldn’t decide if it wanted a corporate governance type lawyer or one with IP-licensing experience. Clearly these two sets of expertise produced very disparate slates and reflected confusion on the part of the employer that made it extremely difficult to sell the job and find the right person. All aspects of the job need to be discussed and agreed upon beforehand, so there is clarity among all the team members.

During the screening process, you should determine not only whether the candidate has the appropriate subject matter expertise, but also whether he or she actually performed the work rather than merely outlining what was needed to a third party. You also need to understand where and in what types of culture the candidate has worked, what the candidate liked or did not like about those cultures, what he or she looks for in a professional atmosphere and what kinds of relationships he/she attempts to establish with management and other people in the company so you can determine if he/she will flourish in and add value to your environment. Culture, temperament and personality are key components for determining compatibility.

Robert Major, Founding Partner of Major, Lindsey & Africa, divides candidate screening criteria when hiring a General Counsel into two categories – objective and subjective. The objective criteria include years of experience, industry-specific experience, public company experience (for those companies that are already or seek to be publicly traded), in-house and/or GC experience and experience working with Boards. The subjective criteria include pro-activeness, leadership/management experience, “presence”, communication skills and the ability to be a team player.

The candidate’s previous leadership/ management experience should be analyzed very carefully. You should determine exactly how many individuals the person managed in his/her previous position. Too few or too many – both can cause problems. In one case, a lawyer left a position where he had managed 50 in-house attorneys for a new position that required supervision of just a few, and those few didn’t really need to be managed. They were extremely self sufficient. The candidate felt one of his most valuable skills (i.e., as a manager) wasn’t being utilized and the new company felt he spent too much time attempting to run things instead of contributing to the team.

If your company has a very collegial atmosphere, and considers it important for executives and employees to spend social time together, you need to ensure that all finalist candidates are given an opportunity to participate in less formal situations – having lunch with the HR director and his/her spouse, attending the company’s softball games – to help both sides see if they will fit in.


Often called “capability” within the recruiting field, the manner by which a company requests, reviews, reacts to, and acts upon candidates can not only help/hinder the ability to identify the right candidate but can also determine whether the candidate’s experience is positive or negative. A company that drags its feet once too often, postpones interviews, fails to respond as and when promised, or otherwise seems too busy, distracted or disorganized will be perceived as deficient in organizational structure and indifferent to its human resources.

You should recognize candidates as important potential critics or supporters of the company, whether they ultimately work there or not. If a company is going to undertake a search – be it on its own or by working with a recruiter – its quality of communication, consistency and concern will significantly influence how a candidate feels about the company as a whole. Many a good candidate has walked away from a company that treated its candidates as if they did not matter.

But there are ways you can make a bad situation better for the candidate. One consumer products company tended to be slow in completing its interviews and processing its final offer terms. While such delays would typically cause frustration for the candidate, the company was diligent about communicating the details of every step – e.g., who the candidate needed to meet, the reasons for delays and how long the process might take – thereby easing concerns and demonstrating that they were inclusive and respectful. On the other hand, the hiring executive at another company made candidates wait for as much as an hour past their scheduled interview time without any explanation or apology. Many ruffled feathers had to be smoothed to try to prevent candidates from withdrawing from that opportunity.


As Ben Franklin said, “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”

Hiring executives must prepare themselves accordingly, paying close attention to the who, what and why of the process. For instance, who in the firm is going to conduct the first, second and third round interviews…and why?

Once a candidate has passed your initial screens, you need to help convince them that you are the right company for them to join. Think of this part of the process as “wooing” the candidate. Look for common denominators – like hometown, undergraduate or graduate school, community involvement – so the candidate can establish a personal connection with at least one person on your team. It is also helpful to have the candidate meet someone who is relatively new to the firm, so he/she can see how quickly and successfully you are able to integrate newcomers. You should avoid having them meet with someone who will make them feel unwanted or unimportant. You may also be wondering about reference checks – the best way to conduct them and who should do them. However, that is a subject for a separate article.

As you can see, identifying the right candidate is not the conclusion of the recruiting process. In many ways, it is just the beginning. Careful consideration should be given to items that might seem minor, but that have a major impact on the candidate’s impressions of the company, and their decision to accept or reject your offer. The more carefully you handle each step of this process, the more likely you are to enjoy long-term success