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• Initial screening/criteria for the candidate pool
• Initial identification and contact of potential employees
• Advanced screening
• Interviewing
• Strict decision-making process for offers
• Compensation negotiation
• After the offer: selling the firm and the opportunity

Retention involves the following phases:

• Periodic individual review and feedback (individual review)
• Employee satisfaction programs on a classwide or levelwide basis
(group review and feedback)
• Mentorship programs
• Compensation programs on an individual and group basis
• Quality of life concerns

The Phases of Recruiting
Every firm has its own needs and resources for recruiting. Many of the at-
tendant factors depend on the size of the firm. A CPA firm with four ac-
countants may need just one more professional to grow its business to the
size that it has identified in its business plan. Conversely, a huge consulting
or law firm may need a constant inf lux of talent to service its clients and
groom the next generation (taking into account planned-for attrition) to take
over the firm in 20 years. But regardless of the needs of the firm, the re-
cruiting process itself should be institutionalized. That is, it should be agreed
on by all necessary decision makers. This serves several purposes. First, it
prevents one partner or other decision maker from subverting the process or
playing favorites. Second, it allows for the time spent on recruiting to be ef-
ficient. Throughout the recruiting process, the firm should always be con-
centrating the majority of its resources on its revenue-generating activities,
not on the non-revenue-generating process of recruiting.
The ideal structure is to have a single person in the firm whose primary
focus is recruiting. In larger firms, this role is almost always fulfilled by a
248 Attracting and Retaining the Best Professionals

professional recruiting coordinator. This is an industry unto itself that is dis-
cussed in more detail later and is a luxury well worth the investment for a
firm that has large, continuous human capital needs. But even if this role is a
luxury that a firm cannot afford with a full-time person, it is well worth it for
any firm to have a person who is not a profit center in his or her own right
(such as the business manager, accountant, or operations manager) to own
the logistics of the recruiting process: identifying recruits, arranging inter-
views, researching compensation packages, and so on. This allows the profes-
sionals in the firm to do what they do best, which is generate revenue
through the servicing of clients.

Initial Screening/Criteria for the Candidate Pool
At the beginning of the search process, there should be in place an initial
screening that is completely dependent on what the candidate looks like on
paper. Whether for new hires or laterals, the persons ultimately making the
decision should set forth specific, detailed criteria. This is not, however, a
mandate to create the ideal candidate”very rarely will such an animal be
found, and the potential pool of candidates would be noticeably brief. In-
stead, this criteria should set forth the minimum criteria by which a firm
will interview a prospective candidate. The idea behind this is to increase
the applicant pool, not decrease it. With the criteria in hand, one of the
search methods set forth in the next step can be used to establish the initial
candidate pool.

Initial Identification and Contact of
Potential Employees
There are a variety of sources for potential employees for the professional
services firm. I will discuss the most important sources.

NEW EMPLOYEES IN THE WORKPLACE. At some point in their lifetime,
most professional services firms require some quantity of employees who are
entering the professional workforce for the first time. In larger firms, the
need can be quite large, with hundreds of new recruits being hired straight
out of school. The target recruits in this situation are usually the easiest for
the firms to identify: They must fit a certain predetermined profile, they
must have a certain GPA, they must come from a school that the firm be-
lieves will have provided its graduates with a certain minimum level of
knowledge, and they must have a level of maturity or other life experience
that the firm considers valuable. The initial resume vetting is done by the
person who is in charge of the recruiting process, and a potential candidate
either fits the criteria or does not.
Professional Staff Recruiting and Retention

The talent pool for fitting the firm™s criteria is also readily available, be-
cause it comes from the schools themselves. Almost every professional school
has some form of career counseling, and most of the top schools have profes-
sional placement administrators, whose entire job consists of selling the
schools and its graduates to potential employers. These schools most often
have interviewing programs, whereby firms send a certain number of repre-
sentatives for a day or multiple days, during which the firms interview a series
of preselected candidates in 20- or 30-minute interviews. Once these initial
on-campus interviews are concluded, the firm then informs the schools or the
candidates directly whether they are interested in pursuing further action.
To access this talent pool, the recruiting coordinator (whether a profes-
sional or part time, as discussed earlier) need only contact the schools in
which the firm is interested and ask to be a part of the process. The schools
themselves have a vested interest in making sure all of their students obtain
employment, regardless of GPA or other qualifications, and thus there is
rarely a selective criteria for the firm to be able to participate.
Apart from the on-campus interviewing process, many firms accept re-
sumes over the Internet or through the mail from potential employees looking
for work. This is often the favored method for students whose grades are not as
high as they would like or for students who are searching for job opportunities
in less-traditional environments (e.g., public service or political arenas).

LATERAL HIRES. The process of identifying lateral hires (professionals al-
ready in the workplace working for other firms or in other capacities) is trick-
ier. First, there is no common pool such as universities where the candidates
are readily ascertainable. Therefore, the initial identification of lateral re-
cruits takes much more legwork. Second, the process of identifying lateral re-
cruits by necessity means that you must find people who are unhappy at their
current job or, at the very least, would consider moving to another firm. For
example, you could obtain the names, professional schools, background, and
even basic qualifications of every third-year associate in a given firm easily
over the Internet, simply by mining through the web site of that firm. Finding
which associates would contemplate a move, however, requires a level of infor-
mation that is not publicly available. To compound the problem, cold calling
each such associate is both time consuming and can ref lect negatively on the
firm doing the recruiting. Professional services firm within a given industry
are a close-knit group, and if you begin calling every employee of a rival that
fits your criteria, someone is likely to find out about it.
The most reliable method of identifying lateral hires is simply word-of-
mouth. Professionals form lifelong bonds with other persons with whom they
attended school. They socialize together (often to complain about their
bosses with someone who will understand), they marry each other, and they
live in the same neighborhoods. Therefore, an open-ended “bounty” for new
250 Attracting and Retaining the Best Professionals

hires can be offered by firms to their current employees. The logistics are
simple: If Anne works for your firm and convinces her friend Robert (who
she knows is unhappy at his job) to interview with your firm and Robert sub-
sequently accepts an offer of employment, Anne is paid a recruiting bonus
for her identification of a quality candidate.4
The other alternative, and one far more common than it was 20 years ago,
is to hire a search firm to identify potential candidates. This completely out-
sources the process of identifying laterals and thus has the advantage of free-
ing up firm resources to deliver services to the clients while someone else
goes through the arduous task of cold calling potential recruits. This also has
the advantage, at least theoretically, of keeping the contacting firm™s identity
a secret. The outside recruiting firm can cold call and vet likely candidates,
according to their qualifications and interest level, without revealing to a
rival firm that you are raiding its employees. The potential lateral is not in-
formed of the raiding employer ™s identity until the interview process is un-
derway. The downside to using an outside firm is the cost. Many firms
charge a f lat fee, plus expenses, to conduct the search and insist on a contin-
gent completion fee that is equal to a significant percentage of the new em-
ployee™s salary (from 10 percent to as much as 50 percent, depending on the
level of the search).

Advance Screening
Once the criteria are set in place and the potential candidates that meet the
criteria are identified, the next step is the advance screening. This can be
combined with one of the preceding steps. For example, if a school conducts
on-campus interviews (OCI) for new hires, the OCI program itself is the ad-
vance screening. It consists of a 20- or 30-minute interview, and if either the
firm or the recruit does not wish to pursue the opportunity, both sides can
walk away with very little time or effort wasted. The same theory applies to
lateral hires. If during the search process a potential recruit is identified and
contacted but the person expresses no interest or does not, at second glance,
fit the firm™s needs, the process is terminated as to that candidate.

The beginning of the interview process is the turning point for the recruiting
process. This is where a significant portion of firm time and resources begins
to be spent, and thus the opportunity cost in lost business or lost opportuni-
ties for other candidates increases. Thus, firms should be careful as to how
many persons are considered for interviews and how much time is allotted
for them. If a firm interviews 100 people for five job openings, someone has
invited far too many candidates to interview, and the firm should reassess its
“advance screening” phase to rule out more candidates.
Professional Staff Recruiting and Retention

Because this chapter is focused on the recruiting and retention process
overall, an analysis of interviewing itself is far too extensive for this space.
Hundreds of books and articles are available on the subject.5 Nonetheless,
firms should always remember certain truths to the interviewing process
that make the world of professional services unique:

• Keep the interviews manageable. Your employees are taking time out of
their busy schedules to interview a potential employee and have other
tasks that need to be done that presumably will generate revenue for
the firm. At the same time, there needs to be sufficient time for the in-
terviewer to get a feel for the candidate and for the candidate to feel
comfortable and to obtain the information he or she needs to possibly
make a decision. An hour is too long; 15 minutes is too short.
• Keep the interviews friendly. One source indicates that the “friendli-
ness” of an interview was the single most frequently cited “best inter-
viewing practice” for law firms and a major factor in the decision of
recruits as to whether to continue the application process.6 This can be
more a function of who interviews potential candidates and can be a
political football for the person in charge of the recruiting logistics.
The office curmudgeon who is more likely to turn the interview into a
pop quiz of the recruit is an almost sure-fire turnoff. However, if that
person is also the managing partner who wants a hand in every decision
the firm makes, some type of compromise will be necessary. A social
situation, be it happy hour or lunch, where that person can be managed
by another partner, is often a viable alternative. Firms should be cog-
nizant of the fact that while they are possibly offering a job to someone,
they are also selling the firm to that person. Ultimate recipients of
these offers will accept only if they feel that this firm is the place they
want to work.
• Keep the interviews professional. This is the other side of the coin from
keeping the interviews friendly”they should by no means be too
friendly. Inappropriate (and sometimes illegal) questions such as family
or marital status or personal history other than past employment should
be avoided. Candidates are often uncomfortable answering questions
that they do not view as job-related.
• Be sure the candidate has the opportunity to ask questions and that
the questions are answered. Members of many well-respected firms
often fall into the trap of believing that their firms are the best possi-
ble place to practice their profession. As such, in interviews, they rat-
tle on for the majority of the time about themselves and /or the firm,
and the only information being imparted is nothing that the candidate
could not glean from reading the firm™s web site. Interviewers should
be encouraged to allot a mandatory amount of time (and more than
252 Attracting and Retaining the Best Professionals

30 seconds as the candidate walks out the door) to answer any questions
the candidate has.
• Have more than one person conduct the interviews. If possible, have at
least two, but no more than three, persons interview the candidate. A
one-on-one interview tends to produce more awkward silences, which
can leave a bad taste in the mouth of both the interviewer and the can-
didate. Having two people in the interview can minimize this risk. Also,
the perspective of two persons witnessing the same conversation re-
duces the chance that bias and /or favoritism will unfairly prejudice the
interviewing process.
• Provide for some social interaction. It is a fact of life that not all work is
done in the office and that employment decisions are made on criteria
beyond compensation and job titles. For good or for ill, candidates want
to know what the professionals in a firm are like outside the office.
And, a firm certainly should have an idea of candidates™ ability to con-
duct themselves outside the interview process. For both firm and can-
didate, then, it is a good idea to have some type of social interaction,
whether a lunch, dinner, happy hour, or any activity where both the
members of the firm and the candidate can obtain an idea of what it
would be like to work with each other and interact on a daily basis.
However, the social setting should not be forced. Do not put candidates
in the situation where they feel forced to drink alcohol or engage in
other activities that make them feel uncomfortable”not everyone
wants to play on the firm™s softball team.
• Require written evaluations from the interviewer. These evaluations
should be completed immediately after the interview and should pro-
vide for some type of numbered scoring system by which candidates
can be compared with one another. It is not likely that every candidate
will be interviewed by the same persons, and it is also certain that dif-
ferent interviews will contain different conversations and foci. By re-
quiring written evaluations and scoring, the decision makers can have
points of comparison from several different people to review when hir-
ing decisions are made.

Checking References
As the candidate is being interviewed, or shortly thereafter, the recruiting
coordinator should check the references provided by the candidate. This is
ideally done by a single person for all of the candidates or by a specific team
of persons. This procedure also ensures that bias and favoritism are taken
out of the process as much as possible. Special care should be taken, how-
ever, with checking references for lateral hires. The firm and the candidate
should be very clear on which references are going to be called and when the
Professional Staff Recruiting and Retention

calls are going to take place. For obvious reasons, it is a bad practice for pro-
fessionals in the interviewing firm to place calls on their own to friends or
acquaintances about the candidate. Jobs are often lost, and firm reputations
ruined, by the surreptitious investigation of a candidate. A side note: Poten-
tial conf licts of interest should also be thoroughly analyzed and cleared at
this point, if not sooner.


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