First, begin with a clean sheet of paper, free of any legacy assumptions. Ask “Why hire someone at all?”
What would make this role critical?
What strategic outcomes do we expect the role to produce?
Defining the job
Begin with the annual review
Fast-forward to a year from now. You’re conducting the new BizDev executive’s first annual review. What will you be evaluating then?
What specific accomplishments would constitute "exemplary-", "better-than-average-", and "merely acceptable" performance? Once you've established objective success criteria, you can engineer backward from there to project the skills and capabilities necessary to be exemplary.
In McGlinchey’s case, firm leaders described the firm moving past the predecessor’s day-to-day-operations orientation and capabilities. They now seek greater strategic vision and direction from this role.
To get started, define the firm’s two or three critical strategic BD challenges and objectives.
Sell the opportunity, hard
One of the most consistent mistakes companies make in recruitment advertising is screening first, i.e., “Here’s the criteria you must satisfy to be considered.”
I don’t have any reason to care about your requirements until I decide that I’m really excited about the opportunity. You don’t want someone who's merely looking for their next job. Worse, they're moving away from a bad situation. You want somebody who’s really juiced about what you’re doing, who's moving toward your firm, not away from their current firm.
So, get them juiced.
Accept that a law firm isn’t a default destination for elite salespeople and BD executives. It’s too often a soft landing spot for modest talent from the corporate world, who recognized that “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” (and noticed that nobody pays better than law firms). Because lawyers know so little about Marketing and Sales, a so-so performer from the commercial world can appear to be a star, at least at first.
To attract really creative thinkers and innovators who can deliver on their bold vision, you have to show them real opportunity. You’ll stimulate interest among candidates who may not actively be looking, but yet are smart enough to recognize and respond to real opportunity. (In the tech world, they call these “passive candidates,” and everyone competes for them.)
If you aspire to attract interest among candidates outside the “guild” of BDers who’ve spent their entire career in the law biz, you’ll need to recognize that they’re not likely automatically to consider law a desirable destination. You have to create excitement that causes them to say, “Maybe I’m wrong about Law. Maybe it’s not as backward and stodgy as I assumed. Well, at least this one firm seems not to be.”
Attract the best recruiters, too
I know that employers all hope to avoid paying a placement fee. That’s understandable.
However, everyone in the law BD space knows that McGlinchey’s CMO left, so you’re probably already receiving resumes from candidates, and inquiries from recruiters. They’re all assuming that you’re looking for the same BD profile that every other law firm is looking for. They’re largely wasting your time.
When you’re in a disadvantageous competitive position in a talent-short market, you should at least consider engaging a professional to actively market your opportunity and sell your new story to whatever profile you define.
The quality, skill, and creativity of recruiters varies as much as it does with lawyers or any other professionals. Contingency recruiters take all the risk of sourcing, presenting, and managing candidates and your hiring process. They don’t make money unless you hire their candidate. If your opportunity is run-of-the-mill, you’ll get run-of-the-mill recruiters recycling other firms’ BD people the way the NFL recycles unsuccessful coaches.
To attract the best recruiters, you have to be a shiny jewel, comparatively. More on this below.
Forget about resumes and credentials
Three years ago, I was in a startup venture with some guys in Silicon Valley. We built software that eliminated hiring bias. In the course of vetting the venture I did a ton of research into hiring practices. The #1 factor in poor hires or biased hires is the practice of interpreting resume credentials to assess likely performance. Simply, it can’t be done.
All humans have conscious biases for or against high- or low-status colleges, companies, and titles. We have unconscious biases for or against race, ethnicity, age, etc.
The most immediate practical cause of failure, though, is due to trying to predict capability and performance from resume claims and work descriptions. No less an authority than Laszlo Bock, former VP of People Operations at Google, is resolutely anti-resume:
“I haven’t seen anything to suggest that resumes predict performance. Resumes are a very poor information source. Work sample tests are actually the best predictor of performance.”
Before you can create a work sample test, you have to decide what you’re going to test, and what capabilities you want candidates to demonstrate. That requires you to define what they need to accomplish in the role.
In our software, we referred to these demonstration projects as “tryouts,” so for simplicity’s sake I’ll use that term going forward.
Objective demonstration of capability
Demonstration is the only reliable evidence that the person can do the job.
In a strategic role such as you envision, the right candidate probably can define the job better than you can, based on his or her understanding of the objectives.
In his bestseller, “Good to Great,” author Jim Collins shares observations from successful CEOs, which he summarizes as,
...leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.
Prepare a tryout whose completion reveals candidates’ thinking about key components of the job’s charter and responsibilities. To mask your private strategic considerations, you can make the challenges akin to your actual goals, but different enough that you don’t lift your kimono publicly, while still producing useful thinking.
I can help guide you through this. In the hiring-software venture, we figured it out well enough to automate it.
Evaluate the tryouts first
Expand your candidate pool by letting anyone submit a response who’s willing to invest the time to share their thinking about how to accomplish your goals.
In a perfect world, your first exposure to the candidate would be their anonymous tryout only. No bias-inducing credentials. Not even their name. (Names trigger unconscious bias. In one study, researchers submitted two identical resumes to companies, with only one difference: One had a stereotypical Caucasian-sounding first name; the other had a stereotypical African-American-sounding first name. The version with the Caucasian first name attracted 50% more interview offers.)
The effectiveness of this “show me” approach is well documented.
For many years, the norm at Google was a half-percent hiring rate from one million resumes per year. When they shifted to a tryout approach, their hire rate shot up to 45% among about 5000 submissions.
Facebook began publishing puzzles that anyone could try to solve. One famous hiring story from The Rare Find: How Great Talent Stands Out was a young engineer who had gone to a middling college but didn’t graduate, who worked in the IT department at a middling bank in Maine. Not exactly Facebook’s tech recruiting profile. Yet, this fellow’s tryout response caused FB to set aside their “Stanford bias,” take him seriously, and they ended up hiring him.
Here’s a pretty dramatic result from our experience with our hiring software. Hitachi posted its tryout on a major job board, telling candidates to submit a tryout rather than a resume. Their first exposure to candidates was an anonymous tryout submission. Their metrics:
10 tryout submissions
The efficiency is obvious. Hitachi saved a ton of time because 240 people who might otherwise have submitted a resume that the company would have had to evaluate and process disqualified themselves, either because of insufficient interest or lack of capability.
An unsolicited email from the Director of Engineering, following a hire, explains it best:
“Because we first saw what he could do, we moved quickly to an interview and then to an offer. Seeing his resume later, I realized we never would have considered this guy from his resume alone. It didn’t look like he had enough experience. The tryout kept us from missing out on a good team member.”
Someone can either perform or not. Demonstration avoids false positives or -negatives based on the person's relative ability to interview. You don’t want to hire someone who’s merely a good interviewee, or miss out on an executive who can perform.
For example, you could:
Develop a flawed planning scenario for them to critique and improve upon, or require them to produce some original thinking that shows their understanding of the strategic challenge and sense about potential solutions.
Pose internal political dilemmas for them to untangle and demonstrate interpersonal acuity and judgment. The idea is to make such a demonstration the first step in the process instead of one that's engaged after many interviews and much time invested.
Have recruiters validate capability first
Provide tryouts to your recruiters and insist that your first contact with a candidate be their anonymous response to it. This gives recruiters a unique, simple, reliable, much more welcome tool to screen with, and avoids bias. (If you’re serious about diversity, anonymity is crucial.)
As you provide feedback to recruiters about tryouts their candidates have submitted, the recruiter will get better at evaluating them up front.
Your recruiting method becomes part of your firm’s differentiation. As our experience in the tech world showed, good candidates will tell each other about what you’re doing.
Fix your interview process
A declined offer is the 2nd-worst evidence of a failed hiring process. You’re maximally invested, and the candidate and you end up with nothing. It’s the canary in your recruiting coal mine. (The worst outcome? Hiring an under-performer.)
A successful tryout response changes the interview dynamic for the better. Because your first impression was that the candidate can do the job, there’s now a positive confirmation bias. You’ll still verify and amplify, but you’ll spend less time at it.
Too many interviews
Because law firms typically lack clarity about the role and evaluation criteria, they conduct far too many interviews with each candidate, hoping that the resulting consensus will yield the right choice. However, too many of those interviews are not well prepared, don’t have a clear purpose, and end up being repetitive and a waste of the candidate’s time. This could easily result in the firm causing its best candidates to lose interest.
Don't schedule interviews with every partner who wants to get in on the act. Have a purpose to each interview, a concrete reason for including each interviewer, and an overall interview strategy or scheme into which each interview fits.
Division of labor
For example, certain partners or firm executives should be assigned to skill/capability validation; others to culture fit, etc., instead of having everyone try to assess all factors.
Each interviewer should have to submit a written interview plan explaining what his or her proposed interview is supposed to ascertain and accomplish, and how. If a partner won't take the time to think through and prepare for the interview, a good candidate will recognize that and correctly conclude that this position isn't important.
With these interview plans in hand, you can assemble a rational interview scheme and avoid wasting everyone's time on redundant, repetitive interviews that tell the candidate that your firm doesn't have its act together.
Remember that candidates are evaluating your firm, its leaders, its members and its atmosphere just as much as you're evaluating their capabilities and "fit." You're both trying to ascertain if you can succeed together.