What you’ll learn in this episode:
About Diane Braverman
Diane has more than 20 years of corporate human resources experience assisting businesses with varying human resource needs. She is the founder of YourHRedge, a human resources consulting company with expertise in developing robust infrastructures, crafting comprehensive policies and procedures, employee handbook and spearheading special projects to secure continuous improvement.
Diane’s professional experience spans a broad range of industries – automotive parts and products, venture capital, hospital, marketing and public relations, architectural, real estate and more. Her professional experience is complemented by her undergraduate in business, certifications in human resources management and strengthened by specialty training in emotional intelligence and targeted selection (behavioral based interviewing).
Prior to founding YourHRedge, Diane was appointed as an operations manager for a start-up nonprofit organization to establish infrastructures achieving the goal of becoming fully operational. Additional projects included writing company policies, creating job descriptions, designing a performance management process (performance review, performance development and performance improvement).
Diane has also served for six years as a hands-on board member for a non-profit organization. As a board member, Diane played a key role in the successful merger of two local non-profit organizations with similar program and services. Succeeded in establishing a new functional organizational structure with enhanced and expanded programs, identified staffing deficiencies and opportunities, developed job descriptions, implemented pay increases for equity and consistency, and crafted a series of communications to help acclimate employees to their new work environment.
Like many other industries, professional services firms are struggling to find and retain qualified candidates in the wake of the “Great Resignation.” It’s a challenging hiring market, but that doesn’t mean employers are totally out of luck. Recruiter Diane Braverman has helped numerous professional services firms find the right talent, even when it seemed like a qualified candidate would never appear. She joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast to talk about what employers need to change to attract and keep top talent; why a flexible work environment became job seekers’ number one request; and why sometimes companies should take a chance on an imperfect candidate. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Welcome to the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst Podcast. Today I am pleased to welcome Diane Braverman. Diane is a recruiter who’s successful not only because of her personality, which facilitates understanding people, but also because she puts the experience and knowledge she gained in the corporate world to work, which enables her to see her clients’ perspectives from both sides of the desk. As we know, recruiting employees is one of the biggest challenges employers face, and recruiting candidates who have the characteristics for their positions is even more of a challenge. Today, Diane is going to tell us about her journey and give us tips about what we need to know about recruiting. Diane, welcome to the program.
Diane: Hello, Sharon. Thank you. It’s nice to be here.
Sharon: So glad to have you. Tell us about your background and how you got into recruiting.
Diane: Certainly. I have been in the human resources space for over 20 years in large corporations, and my expertise ranges primarily in employee relations. I did performance management, performance improvement, HR processes and talent acquisition. Over the past four years, recruitment has been the most requested service.
Sharon: We’ll talk more about that. It’s been such a challenge for everyone, for all employers. Tell us about what you do as a recruiter. Do you get calls from people? How does that work?
Diane: Basically, what I do is speak to the management of the firm—if it’s a law firm, I’ll speak to the managing partner—and I try to get an understanding of not only the position they’re looking for, but I also want to know about the culture of the company. I need to understand all the details of the job, if in fact the responsibilities are exactly what they want. I talk about qualifications, education and the culture, which is really their shared set of values, their goals, their attitudes, their practices. That gives me a better understanding of finding that organizational fit.
Sharon: When you ask about culture, what kinds of things do they say? I wouldn’t even know how to answer that.
Diane: For some culture, I would talk about management style. Are they a hands-on employer, meaning they need direct oversight? Do they let their staff function autonomously? Do they come to them when they really need assistance? Is it a collaborative environment, so working in teams versus working in silos? Things like that can determine what kind of culture it is and if it’s a high-stress type of job, too.
Sharon: When I think of culture, I also think of whether it’s collaborative, like you mentioned. Do they go on picnics together? Do they have Christmas dinners or holiday dinners, or is it “That’s it; you come to work”?
Diane: Unfortunately, in most cases it’s work, but I would say individual departments may do a lunch together for a camaraderie event. Sometimes doing it corporate-wide is more difficult. For managers of their particular group or department, it’s a little easier to get together and do those kinds of events. Basically, it’s team building. It’s getting to talk to each other, interact with each other separate from business, and that really goes a long way.
Sharon: I bet it does; it’s just hard to do those kinds of things when you’re meeting with the big poobah. They may say one thing, but the people working for them may say it’s something totally different.
Diane: Yeah, and if you have all the top executives attend, staff employees may feel a little intimidated. There’s that. You want them to feel relaxed and be able to freely engage. I know sometimes executives can pose a different dynamic when they’re with the group. So, I think it’s nice to do it with small departments.
Sharon: It must be very different today after Covid. Talking about professional service firms, law firms, CPA firms, even marketing firms, what do they have to offer today in order to entice people?
Diane: What I’ve noticed lately—this is post-Covid—it’s a very different talent pool right now. It’s a very different attitude. I think the number one commodity an employer needs to address is a flexible work environment. Too many people have gotten accustomed to working at home and they like it. It’s cost-effective for them; they get more work done. So, I think that is a consideration.
While I understand there are some positions you just can’t work remotely, if that’s the case, maybe try to create a hybrid. You’re in the office three days; you can go home for two days. That’s one thing I’ve noticed. I’ve even talked to candidates who will say, “No, I want completely remote.” If the employer cannot accommodate, then you move on to somebody who can.
Sharon: What really surprised me, and what shows how the world has changed, is when I’ve been looking at law firm marketing positions with large firms, five years ago, before Covid, they never would have entertained a remote person. Now the position describes, “This is a hybrid position for two days” or whenever. It’s like, “Wow, that’s fabulous!”
Diane: It’s a great opportunity to have that. I interviewed a couple of attorneys for a client, and they did ask if there is any flexibility. One of them mentioned it to me, and I thought her explanation was very good. She said, “It’s about being efficient. I could spend an hour in the car driving to work, or I can time my commute, work early in the morning, make my preparations for trial or whatever I have going on, and then when the traffic slows down, I can commute and get there more reasonably.” So, it may not be totally working from home but adjusting their hours. I think employers have to be flexible. That’s number one.
Number two, I think a lot of companies need to recognize that they need to treat all their employees with respect and consideration in giving them feedback and treating them like you’re glad they’re working for you. That’s a big thing, too, that I hear.
Sharon: Do you find resistance among management or partners, or people who will just say no? In terms of culture, do they say, “No, I need my people at their desks. I need to see them.” Is there some resistance?
Diane: Yes. There’s a lot to be said for being at your workstation and doing your work. Attorneys are very busy, and it’s not that they don’t want to take the time. It’s just that a lot of time, they don’t have the time. Let’s talk about recruitment and time. When I talk to potential employers, especially a law firm, I say, “You’ve got to be engaged in this recruitment process, because if I send you a candidate I think is a good fit and you’re too busy, that candidate is gone.”
I have a current client that lost a couple of really great candidates. They just couldn’t give the attention. That’s something I try to talk about on the front end, their commitment to following up with candidates, because they have multiple offers on the table, which is indicative of what’s going on today.
Sharon: I read in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal another article about the “Great Resignation.”
Diane: It’s interesting; you would think the “Great Resignation” would be that people are resigning. Not necessarily. I think a lot of people are staying put because they’re insecure about moving on, but we also have the baby boomer generation leaving their positions. They’re retiring, and it’s hard to replace those positions so there’s that big gap. Replacing them requires having the years of knowledge that this generation acquired working in these organization.
Sharon: The history, yes, you can’t replace that. I’m thinking about the fact that we often said to departing employees, “We will be calling you because you know what we did last year for this,” and you lose all of that. There are things that just can’t be replaced with a new person. As good as a new employee is, you can’t replace that stuff.
Diane: It’s not good or bad; it’s just different. Employers need to be really nimble at making those adjustments. It’s a whole new generation of workforce coming in. They’re highly technical. They like their technology, and employers need to make sure they have technology in their organization for a workgroup to function well and be successful.
Sharon: It seems there would be younger managers now coming on who are not so—maybe baby boomers have retired, and the new managers get it in the sense that they understand they need the latest version of Microsoft.
Diane: The generations that are in the workforce now, they want the latest technology because they’ve been working with it. It would slow them down to have anything less than that. Technology is getting stronger and stronger, and staying current is a challenge.
Sharon: It is for anybody. It is amazing in terms of how fast it changes.
Everybody puts their best foot forward when you go for an interview. How do you get behind that façade? I always feel like it’s a façade. How do you get behind it? How do you see the other side? Do you ask questions?
Diane: You’re saying what do candidates need to do to prove themselves?
Sharon: No, what do recruiters need to do? If I’m going for an interview, I’m going to show you my best side and say, “Yeah, I can do this job, no problem.” How do you get behind that? How do you penetrate that, I guess is the word?
Diane: You’re saying that candidates are very good at interviewing and they’re well-rehearsed.
Diane: There are a couple of ways you can try to challenge that. When you have interviews, you need one person to look at their résumé and challenge them on their work experience, why they left, what they did, their skillset, all the information that’s on their résumé. Then, there should be another group of people—maybe one or two, not a lot—who talk about something different, because if you keep asking the same questions from one person, you’re going to get the same answer.
It would be important to determine what competencies would be best suited for a particular position. Is it decision-making? Is it leadership? Is it adaptability? Ask questions around those competencies so they don’t get so well-rehearsed around their résumés. In this way, you can really hone in on who they are.
Sharon: That’s a good idea, the unusual question. What’s your role in terms of what I call “playing the numbers”? You’re going to LinkedIn, and you have people saying, “Call me.” Besides saying, “Are you interested? Can I talk to you? Do you have any interest in hearing about this?” what are the other things you ask before you turn somebody over?
Diane: At the first initial screening, I look for deal breakers. In a phone interview you can only garner so much information. So, I listen to how they communicate, number one. I do challenge them on their résumé. If there are inconsistencies and they can’t discuss what’s on their résumé, that’s a red flag for me. If they talk too much and can’t really answer the question, and you ask a follow-up question and they still can’t, that’s another red flag. One of the big things I notice, I ask them, “Did you research the company? Do you know the company you’re applying for?” If they say no, it puts them at a disadvantage, because they’ve already shown me they’re not interested enough to prepare for an interview.
Sharon: Do you make a note on the résumé you’re going to pass on—I’m thinking of paper, but let’s say it’s an email—do you say, “This seemed like a good candidate who has the qualifications, but here are my red flags”?
Diane: Well, if there are too many red flags, I don’t even push them forward. I take notes during the interview, and usually the interview is 20 minutes; it could be half an hour long. If there are some flags, I will note them. For example, there was this one attorney I interviewed. I thought this candidate was fabulous, great skills, great communication skills. We were almost done, and she said, “I just need to disclose this.” About six years before, she was going through a divorce. She got caught in a DUI and they suspended her license for a month, but she’s back practicing. She explained, “That was a different part of my life. I’m in a much better place, and I just want you to know that.” I sent her forward to the second interview, and the law firm still wanted to meet with her. In that case, you give people the consideration that, yes, we all make mistakes. She had a good response on where she was at, and it was the fact that she was honest.
Sharon: I was going ask you, did she win brownie points because she told you that right up front?
Diane: No, it was at the end of the interview.
Sharon: But before you passed her?
Diane: No, we would have found out anyways. When you do a background check, if you don’t disclose it on the front end, own it and talk through it versus getting to the second interview, they make you a job offer, then they find this. That doesn’t look good, and that would tend to make an employer say, “You know what? She had the opportunity to talk about this and she didn’t disclose it.”
Sharon: Yeah, those surprises are not what you want, but it seems that something like that would be—if it was six years ago, it could be different.
Diane: Today, Sharon, running a criminal record is not allowed, at least in California. A lot of states are subscribing to that. It’s a double-edged sword. The fact that they disclose it voluntarily, I have respect for that. Then I let the employer decide from that point on where they want to go. If somebody was embezzling, I wouldn’t hire them in the finance department.
Sharon: If I’m considering a potential employee, what should I ask, or what do I want to know before I get into something?
Diane: First, talk about the culture and see if it’s a consistent message. I’m sure this candidate is going to talk to more than one person, so make sure the people that are interviewing this person have a consistent communication about the culture.
I would ask how performance is evaluated. How will my performance be evaluated? What are opportunities for growth? Is there growth in this position for me, and if there is, what are the steps? You and I know about career ladders and how important they are. To have a formal career ladder, I think, sends the message to an employee that this is a place they can grow. One of the biggest reasons why people leave employers that I have heard lately—mind you, there’s a whole list of reasons why people leave—but one of them is lack of opportunity. So, asking those questions about opportunity is very helpful to retain a candidate.
Sharon: Lack of opportunity, I can see that being a big one. Or saying there is opportunity, but when you get into the position, you find out that the last person spent 20 years here before they died, and then there was opening.
Diane: That’s right. That’s why as a recruiter, you need to be honest. You want not only the company to find the right candidate, but you want the candidate to find the right company. Being honest, placing a body just to get somebody is not doing your job. As much as you want to place somebody at the company, you want to place the right person, because recruitment is very costly.
Diane: It’s become more costly. Then there’s a whole other set of things companies can do to retain them. Getting them in the door is one thing. When I talk about new hires, I always try to encourage employees to have a solid onboarding program, which can be 30 to 90 days. Actually, onboarding starts with recruitment. You really need to court these candidates because they have many people seeking them. So, you court them. You have effective onboarding. There should be a mentorship program. Once an employee comes on board, there should be somebody assigned to them to help them navigate through the internal processes, what’s required to make them feel comfortable. It really gets them to be acclimated quicker. Then there’s compensation and those other incentives, but that’s more of a recruitment tool than anything else.
Sharon: Do you think employers are paying more attention now post-Covid or because employees are so hard to find?
Diane: They’re very hard to find. I am seeing that when I post positions on a variety of sites, I used to get inundated with résumés. Literally hundreds would come in, and a lot of them were qualified. Now, less than a third of the résumés are coming in. A lot of them, I don’t even know if they read the job description; they’re just applying randomly and they’re not qualified. When I finally get a good candidate, they will say, “I’m on my second interview with two other companies.” The competition is tough.
Sharon: I know it’s been tough with lawyers. Do you see it being tougher with any particular profession?
Diane: I know the professional services are struggling big time with recruiting paralegals and lawyers. I’m having a hard time finding those types of folks who have three to five years’ experience in whatever the law firm specializes in. If a law firm specializes in litigation and I end up with contract lawyers, that’s not what they want. They want people who know how to litigate.
It’s a strange market. I’ve had clients say, “You know what? Just take down the postings for now because nothing’s coming in.” I get it. I wish I could get them more, but there’s nothing out there to help them. I talk about trying to provide incentives in terms of offering flexible time, generous paid time off, parental leave, things like that. That resonates with the younger generation, having that work/life balance. If you tout that, you can maybe attract more.
Sharon: My understanding is you do both. You sift through the résumés and contact the qualified candidates, but you also look at LinkedIn or Monster or Craigslist, whatever.
Diane: There’s a whole other subset of recruitment, and it is something I typically don’t do, and that is passive recruiting. Passive recruiting requires you to search Facebook, Instagram, all these social media sites and literally invite people who are not even looking for jobs to apply. It takes a whole other subset of skills and time to do passive recruiting.
There are some recruiting organizations—let’s say they work for law firms. They know the people; they even know their org charts. Let’s say they need an associate attorney. They locate an attorney at law firm A and call them to see if they’re interested or if they are happy in their current job. They ask, “Would you be interested?” That’s a whole other subset.
Sharon: But you raised a good point. If you’re doing more active recruiting—I mean, everything’s active, but if you are responding, let’s say, do you check references as part of your process?
Diane: I do not. That is up to the organization, the company, because there is a waiver all new hires need to sign giving permission to conduct background checks. I don’t get involved. That’s more of an internal company process.
Sharon: What is your belief about references? Do you think people just call their former best friends?
Diane: I think they do. A lot of people don’t even have current references because they move a lot, and they don’t even know where their last manager works or where they are. I don’t think references are valuable anymore. They used to be. It used to be a very integral part of the recruitment process, but I don’t think it is now. If you can find a legitimate former manager of an employee, that’s different. Managers and prior employers are instructed legally to just give basic information.
Sharon: I was thinking that, yeah. You can’t say anything. Nobody can say anything because you’re going to get sued. Do you find that employers are looking at a person’s social media? What should we know about that?
Diane: I think people need to be very careful about what they put on social media. For example, the candidate was ready to be hired, and one of the staff members at this organization decided to look at her Instagram account. She presented herself not only unprofessionally, but it was questionable. They never made her the offer based on that. So, I always caution, especially when I worked in the corporate world, the information you put out on social media is there forever. You need to be very careful. This is representing you, and many employers will check Facebook accounts.
Sharon: I’m thinking of the fact that there are professionals I work with who have two Instagrams, and they won’t tell me the other one. I don’t want to know, but if someone wants to put a picture of himself that they wouldn’t want their employer to be looking at, O.K., fine. What about that? And then they have their more professional one.
Diane: With social media, you can access anything. So, if you are in the market looking for a new job, I would be very mindful of what you put out there on social media. It’s just a rule of thumb. In the corporate world, I used to give advice to be careful what you put in emails because it’s all discoverable and traceable. It will bite you at the end of the day if you’re putting something out there that is inappropriate.
Sharon: Yes. We all think about that when, “Yeah, I’d rather make a phone call.”
Diane: Yes. If there is something really sensitive to talk about, don’t put it in an email. Just say, “Listen, let’s talk about it.”
Sharon: My last question: Do you find that employers—I’m thinking of lawyers because I know it’s such a difficult or a tight market in general, but it could be CPAs, financial people—are they willing to say, “O.K., I can’t find the right litigator, but I’ll take that contract lawyer who I really liked and teach them what they need to know”?
Diane: That’s a great point. Just recently we were looking for a certain position and a superstar came through. She was fabulous; she was above and beyond the job I was recruiting for. I called the partner and said, “Is there a position for her? She’s someone who is so capable,” and he hired her in a heartbeat.
Diane: The good news is he recognizes that talent is hard to find, and when you see it, you need to act on it. Get them engaged with the employer, develop a position and say, “Listen, this is the position today, but we have opportunities for you that we see.” I think people are excited about that.
Sharon: Yes, that’s a very good point. It’s the talent. It doesn’t matter if somebody went to Harvard or they went to a trade tech. If they’re talented, you can’t teach certain things.
Diane: That’s right. Especially if they communicate well, they have that emotional intelligence, that social skillset, they’re smart, they’re willing to learn, they have enthusiasm, I’ll take that any day, because there are many skills you can learn. Obviously, there are some credentials that are required for some positions, but the rest is what the person brings to the table.
Sharon: Yeah, I think that’s the bottom line.
Diane: That’s the bottom line.
Sharon: Diane, thank you so much for being here today. It’s always interesting to hear about the market and what we should be thinking about as an employer and an employee. Thank you very much. We greatly appreciate it.
Diane: Thank you Sharon. It was nice to be here.
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