in Careers Advice, Employers, Interviews, Job Applications

Top 5 Tips for Getting the most out of Candidates

Top 5 Tips for making sure you get the most out of candidates applying for your posts.

These tips apply as much to senior members of staff and managers as they do for junior staff. They are designed so that you get the most out of the recruitment process when they apply for jobs with your firm.

1. Make sure that the candidate is aware of the role he or she is coming to interview for.

This might seem fairly obvious. After all your practice manager telephoned the agency and told them you needed a conveyancer to work full time in your Chipping Camden office and this is what the candidate has come to be interviewed for.

However, does the candidate know that you start work in the morning at 9.30am and expect everyone to stop at 6pm? Do they know you want them to spend a day a week at your other branch 20 miles away? Have you told anyone that you close for an hour at lunchtime from 1-2pm? Are they aware that you make pension contributions each year of 3% of salary, offer a bonus structure of 20% of salary over 3 x salary and shut down between Christmas and the New Year? Have you indicated that part time work is available if wanted?

One of the main reasons candidates cancel interviews before they get there is because they are wary of exactly what is being offered and doubt it is going to be worth their while. Very often this is caused by a lack of information from the employer. We have often seen candidates turn down good roles because they have not been given enough information.

Think about preparing a pre-interview information pack for future employees. You only have to do this once but it can save time in interview and mean a candidate has lots of information available to consider before attending.

2. Ensure that the CV you have is complete and up to date.

I have to admit that sometimes, and only sometimes, we send out CVs that lack the full information they ought to have. Not necessarily our fault – quite often it is because a candidate has decided not to tell us everything we would like to know.

Take a CV for a conveyancing solicitor for example, applying for a permanent job. Chances are, as the employer, you would like to see some or all of the following:

1. Current salary levels.
2. Salary levels required.
3. Notice period.
4. Confirmation of exactly how much experience the candidate has in terms of years.
5. Types of conveyancing undertaken – eg have they covered new build, development work, staircasing, right to buy, shared ownership, freehold, leasehold, unregistered, agricultural, high value.
6. Number of conveyancing files open at any one time.
7. Billing targets and levels.
8. An indication of what they are looking for in a new role – ie career progression, partnership, reduced or increased hours, etc..

As well as all this just about everyone wants to see all the qualifications leading up to being admitted to the Roll or becoming a fully fledged legal executive. This includes A levels, degree, postgraduate courses and professional qualifications. So many people leave some or all of this off their CV when it makes a real difference to the overall impression.

3. Do not mess them about.

A real bugbear for us. If you are going to use an agency make sure you are aware of the terms before making an offer. Just occasionally, and it is very occasionally, we get a firm contacting us after an offer is made, a start date agreed and a candidate has handed in her notice.
“Please note that we are concerned about your fee and wish to negotiate…”

Wonderful. Whilst it is most commendable that you want to keep down your overheads and reduce the fee, doing this makes the firm look very unprofessional, untrustworthy for the candidate (who after all has just handed in her notice) and not likely to develop into a long lasting and fruitful career move. It is a bit like going into Tescos and trying to haggle with the cashier.

Similarly we have had offers by firms that are adjusted downwards when in writing. Never good practice.

4. At interview give them the opportunity to shine.

So many law firm interviews consist of the interviewer talking at the interviewee and not actually asking them any questions. Partners seem to think it is important to explain their ethos, where they see the firm going and their own plans for global domination. Interviewees really do not care. All they want is the chance to impress.

Make sure that when interviewing you let the interviewee speak and explain their talents. If they are a fee earner ask them to outline their caseload. Produce a file and ask them to go through it and explain what work is outstanding. Ask them some technical questions, but do not make them longwinded (I once sat in an interview where one of the interviewers had to explain to another interviewer what their question actually meant).

If you want to see how they react in a stressful situation make sure you put them under pressure during the interview, albeit in a friendly way, but it can be done easily with technical questions that probe experience and knowledge.

5. Ask them to produce a presentation/plan for the interview

It is standard practice in some industries, although not common in the legal profession, for the employer to request that the interviewee brings some sort of plan with them to the interview and present it. For senior lawyers this can be a new business plan, a plan to increase productivity in the firm, a plan to save costs for the firm. For more junior staff it can be a personal development plan – where do they see themselves in say 5-10 years time?

This can be a useful exercise for the employer – partly because it makes you think about your own plans and whether there are some ideas here that could be utilised, but also for the candidate, who then thinks about the interview in a business-like way and doesn’t just think about themselves when planning what to say.

For a senior candidate make sure you get an idea from them as to where they expect their business to come from and where it has originated from in their last role. Has someone else generated leads that they have been responsible for servicing? Have they been expected to go out and get work? What is their preference? I can think of plenty of candidates who are quite happy servicing work you may generate and others who would prefer to go out and get it themselves. If candidates are generating their own work it is often better to discuss incentives for doing this from the outset as naturally this type of candidate will be looking for a bonus to be paid at the very least.

Be careful not to ask for too much – some firms have been known to expect a detailed business plan and then been surprised when a candidate has decided not to attend the interview… Similarly do not ask for a copy of the plan at the end of the interview – candidates will be very suspicious if you request this.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. You can contact him at – there are over 200 pages of free legal careers advice on the Ten-Percent website and a further 200+ at

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at You can contact Jonathan at