About Michelle Belville

Social Media & Hiring New Employees

When social media exploded onto the scene a few years ago, it was as if hiring managers had discovered a gold mine. Suddenly, practically anything and everything they wanted to know about a job applicant was just a few keystrokes away. But as the old saying goes, “Careful what you wish for.” Now, the very thing that drove employers to Facebook and Twitter in the first place is giving them pause. And the reason is simple – the law.

The last thing you want to do when choosing one candidate over another is give the impression that your decision was biased – particularly that it was based on certain protected characteristics like age, race, religion and medical history. Generally, there are two ways to avoid any legal pitfalls. One is to hire a social media screening company to do the work for you. The other is to develop a thorough screening plan of your own.

We’ll assume for the purpose of this article that you’ve chosen to conduct your own screenings. For a comprehensive plan to be successful, everyone in your company must be familiar with it, and they must be on board with it. This way, Bill in accounting will know he isn’t allowed to tell your hiring manager over lunch that he’s discovered a “juicy, little tidbit” about a person who’s on your short list. For additional safety, make your media screening plan part of an overall, written hiring policy.

Decide what information you will look for on social media sites, and then conduct the same type of research on every candidate you screen. Social media background checks for the purpose of hiring are subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which guarantees job candidates the accuracy, privacy and fairness of the information you collect.

Consider telling your potential hires that you will be looking at their accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Then, if they fail to scrub any objectionable material from their sites, you may gain some valuable insight into their judgment skills. But look only at publicly available information. And never ask candidates for log-in information to look at the messages and photos they choose to keep private.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is to hold off on conducting your social media screening until you’ve narrowed your field of candidates the traditional way – by looking at resumes and cover letters, and perhaps through the first round of interviews. You don’t want to be accused of passing on an individual because you discovered what religion he or she belongs to, or perhaps the person’s race.

Social media is an excellent research tool, especially for helping you decide if a candidate would be a good cultural fit at your firm. Use it incorrectly, however, and you could find yourself in a costly, legal quagmire.

Why Hire a Recruiter?

Sure, you could post ads on internet job sites. You could spread the word among colleagues. You could even place a few cold calls. But whether you’re looking for a new employee for your law firm, or you’re seeking a new career with a law firm, there are many good reasons to work with a professional recruiter, instead.

Let’s start with the advantages for law firms.

As someone looking to hire the next new attorney for your firm, there is a lot riding on your decision. You want someone with a good education; who did well in school or at her previous firm; who has the demeanor to “fit in” at your office; who’s a professional in every sense of the word; who will represent your firm well and who will work for a reasonable salary. It’s no wonder that conducting the search for this person by yourself could easily take more time than you can afford to give.

A professional search firm can devote the necessary time and resources to finding the best candidates because this is all they do. This is their livelihood. And their reputations are at stake every time they send someone your way.

A good recruitment firm will conduct background checks on all potential hires. An experienced recruiter will be skilled in negotiating salaries and can act as a mediator between you and the candidate. In addition, a job seeker working through a recruiter may be more open about his desires and plans than he would be in direct discussions with a law firm. And though it may sound counterintuitive, using a professional recruiter can be cost-effective. The better ones work on a contingency basis, giving you a reasonable time period in which to evaluate your new hire before you have to pay.

And what about the job seeker?

These days, there is so much more to finding your next career in law than opening an account at Monster.com or mailing a few dozen resumes and cover letters. In the legal field, it’s a “buyer’s” market; and to attract the attention of the better firms, you have to stand out.

That’s where legal recruiters shine. They have vast networks of contacts. They know how to “sell” your best assets. Recruiters can give you personalized advice on writing resumes and cover letters and how to approach certain interviews. If the search for the perfect job starts taking more time than you had hoped, a good recruiter can always be counted on for moral support. And because legal recruiters are paid by law firms – not by the candidates – you’re essentially getting their professional services for free.

Whether you’re a law firm looking for a new associate, or you’re an attorney or legal assistant looking for a new career, the task can be long, tedious and expensive. A good professional search firm will have the knowledge, resources and experience to help you lessen the effects of all three.

Email Etiquette

“Regrets, I’ve had a few – but then again, too few to mention.”  It’s safe to say that if he really meant those words, Frank Sinatra (or songwriter Paul Anka), never sent many emails.

Today’s digital landscape is littered with the faux pas of millions of computer communicators, more than a few of which have led to personal embarrassment or – in the case of office professionals – much worse.  In fact, few things can blemish your brand more than hastily written, poorly proofread emails.  How often have you hit the “SEND” button on a business message only to immediately wish you could take it back?  Follow some simple rules, and you’ll never have to say, “Oops!” again.

Subject.  Always use a simple, short subject line that is to the point.  Professionals get a lot of emails every day.  You want to make sure they have a reason to read yours.

Body.  Again, get to the point.  As with a good subject heading, your message should be direct, concise and on-topic.  You will gain respect by not forcing unnecessary back stories and sidebars upon your recipients.

Privacy.  Do not assume that your email will be read only by the person you’re sending it to.  Whether by accident or intent, your words can travel far and wide.  It’s best to assume they will.

Reply.  Do not hit “Reply All” unless you truly mean it.  Assume that many recipients couldn’t care less about your thoughts on the discussion at hand.

Mass Emails.  Think twice – or even three times – before putting the address of every recipient in the “To” or “CC” bar.  Doing so discloses to everyone you’re writing everyone else’s email address.  Many would like to keep this information private.

Introductions.  Just as you would when typing a letter on paper, use a courteous and professional introduction.  When communicating for business, a “Dear Sir” will win over more readers than a “Hey, Bob!” every single time.

Tone.  Your emails should reflect the professional you are.  Speak directly, calmly and without humor.  Words can be easily misunderstood – especially if they’re directed at someone with a different cultural background.  And if you’re angry, calm down before writing.

Exclamation Points & All-Caps.  In a word, don’t.  “ALL CAPS” is often interpreted as shouting.  Exclamation points can look unprofessional.  But if you feel that you absolutely, positively have to use one, then use only one.

Sign-Offs.  “See ya!” should be reserved for the note about the gang getting together after work for drinks.  “Sincerely” or “Yours truly” or “Regards” might sound a little stilted, but it will be appreciated.

Proofread.  Do this with every single email message you send.  Have only five minutes to get an email out?  Then reserve at least a minute or two of that time to check your work.  This cannot be emphasized enough.

Signature Block.  A signature block – with your name, title, business name, address, phone number, etc. – is a good way to tell your reader a little about yourself and give her or him an alternate way to contact you.

Address.  Address your emails last.  This may sound counterintuitive; but it can prevent heartburn, should you accidentally hit the “SEND” key before you’re ready to.

As with many lists of tips, the above is mostly common sense.  But in the heat of the moment, when everything has to be done “right now,” common sense is usually the best path to follow.  No regrets needed.

Look Beyond the Resume

Want to hire the best employee? Consider going to E-Harmony or OKCupid. No, this is not to suggest you’ll find your perfect hire at a dating site; but you are liable to learn a thing or two about what it takes to make the perfect match.

Successful dating sites know it’s important to go beyond the basic “Who?,” “What?,” “When?”, “Where?” and “How?” That’s why they also pose open-ended “questions” such as, “Tell us what makes you happy;” or “Describe your favorite vacation spot.” This tactic helps reveal more about a person’s true personality than she or he might ordinarily volunteer, thus increasing the chances of a successful first date. You can adapt this method when filling your next open position.

Once you or a computer has scanned that stack of resumes and saved the ones that tick all the right boxes – education, experience, salary requirements and so on – it’s time to move on to interviews. Often, a telephone call will reveal enough about a candidate to tell you whether an in-person interview is warranted.

Then, once the finalists for the job are seated across from you, you can begin evaluating traits that do not expose themselves in a carefully crafted resume or cover letter. How curious are they about the company? About the job, itself? Do they appear motivated and energetic?

Don’t count a person out simply because he or she lacks a particular skill. If someone demonstrates an eagerness to learn, that attribute may pay off long after he or she has acquired what is needed to fulfill the current job requirements.

Use open-ended questions to learn about previous job performance. You might have someone describe an especially difficult project he or she faced to get a sense for that candidate’s problem-solving skills – again, going beyond what you might learn from a piece of paper.

And without getting too personal, have a friendly conversation about a person’s favorite hobby, sport or other pastime. How did he or she get involved? Why is it important? And how does it bring that person joy or fulfillment?

Skills can be taught; personality, eagerness, curiosity and dedication cannot. So, while it’s important to find someone who has the training and background to perform the needed tasks, it is vital to hire an individual who embraces all the other attributes that would make her or him right for your job and your company. And those are things no resume (or dating profile) can predict.

Don’t Keep a Job Applicant Waiting

“Thank you; we’ll be in touch shortly.” When you say that to a job applicant, you should mean it.

In 2021, taking too long to hire is one of the biggest mistakes an employer can make. Open positions outnumber qualified applicants. And once they’ve been interviewed, applicants aren’t likely to wait very long. Allow them to think you’re not interested, and you may lose them to other firms.

Surveys and statistics bear this out. According to Glassdoor, the average hiring process for a private-sector job in 2017 was almost 24 days. Today? A recent report by one prominent consulting firm found that almost half of job applicants lose interest in a firm if they haven’t heard back from it within one to two weeks after the initial interviews.

Many hiring managers feel caught between a rock and a hard place. Statistics and surveys don’t lie. But if they cut corners and make an offer to someone before they’re truly ready to, they risk bringing onboard some “bad hires.” So, what’s the answer?

The obvious choice for many is to hire an independent staffing agency – one that has the experience and manpower to find the right person for you. By devoting their full attention to you and your needs, they can take significant time and guesswork out of the hiring equation. If you choose to conduct the hiring process inhouse, there are concrete measures you can take to make timeliness an important part of the equation.

First, make sure you’re ready to hire. Has everyone in the chain of command agreed that a new employee is needed? What will that person’s specific duties be? Who will he or she report to? What salary range can you offer? Be sure you know the answers to these questions before you even advertise the position.

Next, write a detailed job description. This will help you in the early stages of hiring, when you’re looking through a mountain of resumes. If a particular applicant doesn’t have the skills or experience you’re looking for, that’s one fewer resume to keep on hand.

Set a timeline for bringing a new person on board, and make sure everyone who’s involved in the hiring process knows to stick to it. Conduct initial interviews by phone or Zoom. Then, when you’re ready to bring the remaining candidates in for full interviews, set aside one or two days in which to conduct them all. Take detailed notes when speaking with candidates, to make it easier to compare two or more of them, later. Keep the timeline short – perhaps as few as seven days, if possible. Tell your applicants they can expect to hear from you within that time. And most of all, mean it.

By hiring quickly, you not only increase the chances of getting the person you want. You also signal to current employees that their time is valuable. After all, who’s doing the extra work until your new hire is in place? Hiring quickly also means keeping your company’s productivity up, which often leads to bigger profits. But perhaps most important, by conducting the hiring process in a timely manner, you also protect your company’s reputation as one that fosters a culture of respect.