Finding — and keeping — talent

When hiring, know what you want and stick with it

Inside Out

Christina Martini and David Susler

Christina L. Martini is a practicing attorney, author and columnist. She is vice chair of the Chicago intellectual property practice group at DLA Piper and sits on its executive committee. She focuses on domestic and international trademark, copyright, domain name, Internet, advertising and unfair competition law.

Martini’s husband, David G. Susler, is associate general counsel with National Material L.P., a manufacturing company primarily engaged in steel processing and aluminum extrusion. He has a general practice, providing advice, counseling and training to all business sectors and operation.

Last month, Martini and Susler talked about the fifth anniversary of Inside OutWatch them talk more about aspects of the law with the Better Government Association’s Andy Shaw on our YouTube channel. To submit a question for future columns, e-mail questions.insideout@gmail.com.

How can organizations ensure they are hiring for success?

Martini: Start by being very clear on the qualities and characteristics necessary to succeed at your organization, then map out a hiring methodology focused on finding qualified candidates. Because companies evolve over time, it is important to revisit this list on a regular basis and to revise it accordingly.

It is also critical to have the right recruiting team out in the field. They need to be well-trained on interviewing techniques, should understand what they are looking for and be aligned with those objectives. They also need to be strong ambassadors and should project a clear, concise message to recruits about your organization, what it has to offer and what the expectations are.

Finally, you need to track the success rate of candidates you have hired. Who has stayed and how they have done and who has left and why? This analysis provides valuable information about your hiring efforts and enables you to self-correct as needed.

Susler: The hiring decision-makers need to understand their business, their culture, their goals, their succession plans. This is the foundation for determining the skill sets and personalities you need/want to hire. Then follow Tina’s outline to accomplish your goals.

What are some necessary steps to help ensure the long-term success of hires?

Martini: First, candidates must be properly vetted before they are hired to ensure they are qualified on their way in. Second, you need to have a framework in place to ensure that recruits are given the necessary resources to effectively integrate into the organization and to learn the ropes. Candidates also need to be provided with ways to give real-time, honest feedback on how the integration is progressing and what is and isn’t working well.

Recruits should also be receiving this type of feedback about their own performance on a regular basis. Successfully integrating new hires often takes a village, beyond just direct supervisors and practice groups, to ensure that they are becoming an integral part of the social fabric of the organization.

Susler: It is also important not to overlook the basics of getting onboarding, as this can create either a positive or negative first impression of the company overall that will remain throughout the hire’s tenure. For example, ensure necessary office equipment is ready to go upon arrival. Not having someone’s computer and e-mail address set up and ready to go gives a negative impression on Day One. Have some sort of training program that includes a company overview and an explanation of expectations, and introduce new hires to key people as quickly as possible. These steps help make new hires feel welcome right off the bat and set positive impressions. Successful employees want to feel they are positive contributors to the organization, so make sure systems are in place to ensure they have a meaningful voice and are being heard.

What advice can you offer about hiring?

Martini: There are a number of things I have learned over the years. First, it is critically important to hire with purpose, meaning that recruits must be a solid fit for particular roles and be well-positioned for success from the outset. Second, do not hire candidates just because you like them and can have a nice conversation.

You should also avoid hiring candidates who have significant weaknesses in the hopes that you can mold them into something else. This is often a recipe for disappointment.

Instead, focus on those recruits who are well-positioned from the outset and who are likely to grow along the same trajectory as the organization. They should be nimble, adaptable and should have grit.

Also, remember that just because someone has a strong pedigree and great grades does not mean that they will succeed. Having a fire in the belly to push you forward to your optimal performance is often a much more reliable indicator.

Finally, you should actively use your intuition when interviewing candidates. If something doesn’t seem quite right when you interview a candidate, it usually means that it’s not the right fit.

Susler: Hiring decision-makers need to have a clear vision and understanding of their hiring needs. Are they looking for a specific talent set or someone with a broader-based skill set that is not necessarily subject-matter specific? Go look for and hire that person. Do not be afraid to test the desired skill set in the interview. One of the best interviews I had was for a litigation position where the interviewer had me read some briefs, then argue the motion to him as if he was the judge.

Some people are excellent at interviewing but fail to live up to expectations, while others may not interview well but make excellent employees. This is why it is important to have the right people conduct interviews — people with good judgment — and to train your interviewers.