May 1

How to assess candidate fit and improve attraction, recruitment and retention of legal talent


Struggling to attract, recruit and retain legal talent? Lack of cultural fit could be the problem. 

Skills can be learnt but attitude can not. So why are you still hiring purely based on skills and experience?

No matter how skilled, hiring someone who doesn’t fit your culture can be extremely detrimental to your department. A bad hire can be even more devastating to ambitious start-ups and SME’s who have tight-knit and established teams. If they don’t slot into your team and get along with them there’s a good chance there’s going to be drama. And who wants drama? 

In this article, we discuss how to measure candidate fit and provide you with our top tips to ensure that you hire and keep hold of the best legal professionals for many years to come. 

Cultural fit should always outweigh skills

In the legal industry skills and experience are obviously very important. However, it’s essential to bear in mind that skills can always be learnt, attitude rarely can. 

With that being said, have you ever overlooked a more junior candidate that has bags of personality and positive attributes for a more experienced, steady (but quite mundane) candidate? 

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, this is a very common mistake made by hiring managers and HR teams in the legal industry. 

The biggest two human error mistakes that can be made are hiring someone (or not) based on your first impression of them. The other is hiring someone who may be the most talented but do not fit your company culture. No matter how talented an employee is, if they don’t fit in, they won’t deliver. 

Once hired an employee with the right attitude will always want to learn new skills, undertake training and be engaged with the business on a wider level. Unfortunately, personality traits, attitude and fit can rarely be learnt. 

Employees that align with your business are often:

  • Eager to learn and easier to train.
  • Faster to make meaningful contributions. 
  • Better team players. 
  • Most likely to become top performers. 
  • The happiest and most engaged meaning they stay with your company for longer. 

Assessing Cultural Fit 

Cultural fit is largely dependent on 4 key factors:

  • Fit with the pace and structure of the organisation.
  • Fit with the manager and the wider team. 
  • Job fit – are they really up for the demands of the role. 
  • Willingness to adapt. 

1.Keeping up with the pace and fitting with the structure

All companies grow, adapt and evolve differently. Fast-growing companies with limited resources must make quick decisions, rapidly adapt to changing business conditions, implement continuous process improvement programs, and be able to instantly collaborate.

Stable and moderately growing organisations are more rule-bound, implementing change is more complex, and decisions are slower.

 When asking a candidate about their accomplishments at work it’s important to find out how they make decisions. Are they methodically with their approach or not, how do they deal with and manage different stakeholders and how adaptable are they to changes. 

Before the interview make sure you map the dimensions of cultural fit to your company’s situation to be able to effectively assess and analyse answers given by candidates. 

Structure is different from pace. Start-ups/ young SME’s are likely to have very different structures when compared with old, established corporates. Is your business heavily structured at both the organisation and process level? Or are you quite an agile and fast-paced business? 

Being able to create some order out of chaos is not the same as being able to improve or sustain the order of the day. Make sure to ask your candidate questions that provide you with insights into how they deal with different types of structure and which they are most suited to. 

2. Managerial and team fit

It’s critical to understand how any potential employee fits into your existing team. If you interview someone and you know they won’t get on with another employee (I don’t just mean they support another football team!) or they don’t align to your management style there’s no point progressing them in the process. 

Some people are capable of working with all types of people and adapting to management styles but many are not. 

When interviewing a candidate it’s important to establish how they’ve excelled in the past and their relationship with past management. Did they collaborate with their peers to accomplish tasks, did they have a manager who was hands on and got stuck in? Or did they like to fly solo on projects and keep their manager at arms length? If you don’t think they’ll fit with your managerial style or your team’s ethic this is a massive red light. 

If you don’t get the managerial fit part right you can expect below-par performance, potentially conflict and the employee out the door as fast as they came through it. 

3. Job fit

Success can be problematic when hiring a talented person for a generic job. Hiring a highly skilled person for a job which in their eyes might be below them can often cause problems. That’s why it’s essential to clarify job expectations upfront using a performance-based job description. 

These types of job descriptions define the top performance objectives that the new hire would need to accomplish to be deemed successful. 

By asking candidates to describe an accomplishment most comparable to what needs to be done, you can start to gauge overall suitability. The job fit problem is easy to recognise: it happens when anyone is surprised that the job they were interviewed for is different than the one they’re doing.

4. Adaptability

Few people can excel in all cultures, under all styles of management, and in all types of roles. 

It’s important to seek out the circumstances behind the candidates past successes. Even if the person’s past performance matches your current requirements, it’s important to understand if the person has been able to accomplish this in the same environment. This is also a strong indicator of upside potential. Those that are the most adaptable are likely to be your best hires, since they’ll be able to grow and take on bigger roles as your company changes over time.

The importance of assessing cultural fit cannot be understated. It’s not a soft skill. It is the primary driver of motivation and on-the-job performance. Unfortunately, many managers and most companies give it lip service, measuring cultural fit more on personality and presentation skills. If you’ve ever hired a highly skilled, talented employee who has underperformed, you’ve experienced the cultural misfit problem firsthand. While it takes extra effort upfront to avoid the problem, it takes months to eliminate the problem once it’s in place.


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