Reject a Job Applicant, Gain a Client

Market Your Firm Even When Hiring

reject a job applicant gain a client
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Interviewing job applicants for any given position at a small law firm, whether for an associate position, a paralegal job, or a secretarial gig, provides partners already at the firm with an opportunity to enhance their own sales skills. No matter that the challenging economy, coupled with changes in the legal field, has made the current market very much an employer’s one, law firms seeking to expand still must sell themselves to their prospective employees.

Even if that prospective new hire has absolutely no other job in the offing, he still has the power to say no if offered a position that just doesn’t suit him, whether because the salary is too low, the work too dull, the location too dreary, or the potential coworkers too unpleasant.

As an employer, a law firm wants to be able to choose among a variety of good candidates. Even during assessments of job applicants where the firm determines it is not interested in pursuing an employment relationship, an opportunity to enhance the reputation of the firm, to foster some goodwill in a member of the firm’s community, and to solidify the firm’s brand should not be squandered. In short, make every job candidate who walks into your office like you. Impress her with the firm’s accomplishments, your achievements, the conviviality of the team, the challenge of the workload, the potential for advancement, and the delightfulness of the working environment.

Every candidate whom you interview should walk out of the office thinking he got the job.

Why would you want to give that impression? Doing so benefits you, and the candidate, in the long run. Remember that the first person to whom you offer a job at your firm may decline for any number of reasons. A seemingly set arrangement could fall apart at any point before the new hire starts and even after.

You may need to turn to the also-rans and, should you need to, it’s best if they are not aware that they were the second runner up, or the third, or the seventh. Moreover, even though there may not be an opportunity for others in the candidate pool right now to join your firm, you may well have an opening in the future. Why not foster a good relationship from the get-go?

Remember, too, that job applicants remember their experiences. The impression they gain of you and your firm, whether you hire them or not, is one they are likely to talk about to their family and friends. Why squander a potential opportunity? Wouldn’t you much rather have a citizen in your community say about your firm “a job didn’t pan out, but it seems like a great place to work and the lawyers there are really great” than “what a bunch of jerks; there is no way I would ever work there.”

Let’s be real. Bad experiences tend to linger and tend to get worse in the retelling. For instance, I still remember a number of the interview experiences I had when I was in my last year of law school and seeking a position as an associate. Of course, I remember those that resulted in offers, but I remember a few that resulted in rejections.

The ones most vivid in my mind all these years later are where the lawyers asked inane questions (​Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?) or seemed disorganized (​No, I do not want to sit on this box during my interview because your offices are being redecorated). Those early experiences still color my impressions of what all were major law firms.

For a small firm, the imperative of creating a good impression no matter the outcome of any given job interview is far more necessary. That candidate, if he does not join your firm, is likely to join one of your competitors. That candidate, even if she is not offered a job now, may be a viable candidate in the future, or a possible opponent, or a collaborator or a source of referrals. The legal community tends to be a small one, especially once we’re outside the stratified sphere of the megafirms.

Lawyers in a community know each other; paralegals know each other; judges know each other. Even though a candidate might not be right for your firm right now, you never know when that candidate could refer clients to your firm or get a job with a judge on a case you’re involved in, or be prospective counsel for you at some point in the future when you need to retain a lawyer. Put your firm’s best face forward and generate some goodwill where many don’t even make an effort to.