When Only the Best Will Do (Part One)
August 16, 2011 by Brenda Rodeheffer
Lawsuits related to employment issues in the United States have reached a record high. Employment laws and regulations are both ever-changing and ever-increasing creating unintentional traps for the unwary employer. In the employment arena, judicial immunity does not exist. One of the best ways for a judicial employer to avoid litigation is to hire excellent employees. An employee who fits well into your organization is less likely to develop a grievance that results in a lawsuit. This article lays out a game plan to hire the best employee for your next job opening.
The first task is to take a fresh look at the position when an opening occurs. Rather than just hiring someone, consider whether you want your staffing to continue as it is now, or whether you need a different configuration for the most effective use of your staffing dollars. For example, do you want to hire another court reporter or a court reporter who can also serve as an office manager? After what is needed has been determined, a job description should be prepared for that specific position. A job search should never be conducted until the job description has been thought out and prepared.
The job description needs to set forth the minimum educational, experience and skills qualifications. Most job descriptions also add qualifications that are not required, but are preferred. Consider whether the position is one that is exempt from the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) or non-exempt. For most court employers, this is a relatively easy task as there are few exempt positions in the court. Unless the court employee supervises several persons or is an attorney position, it is likely the position is not exempt from the FLSA.
It is also important when hiring a new employee to identify the essential functions of the job, because an employer is required to provide reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities. If an applicant with a disability can perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation, the applicant must be fairly considered alongside all other applicants. The main purpose of identifying the essential functions is not for the hiring stage, but later in case of an unforeseen medical need by an employee. If it has not been previously determined, then the essential functions of the job will have to be stated in order to decide if the employee can continue functioning in the job. The employee always has to be able to perform the essential functions and it is preferable, for both credibility and sensitivity reasons, to identify them before there is a legal or medical reason to do so.
The Indiana judiciary website is always a good, free place to post court job openings.
Once the job description has been completed, it is time to begin the actual search. Where to look for a new employee will depend on the job and the locality. For example, a paid posting was not required during the recent search for an Executive Director of the Indiana Board of Law Examiners. A press release was sufficient to obtain a remarkable roster of candidates. For most jobs, however, the employer will need to place an ad online, in a trade publication, in a newspaper, or to a government posting site. If you rarely have to seek new hires, you might save yourself dollars and time by consulting with others who have had to hire a similar employee. Cost of a classified advertisement, whether in print or online, has no relationship to the value of the advertisement. There are some job websites that will cause you to be flooded with unqualified candidates if you post a job opening. The Indiana judiciary website is always a good, free place to post court job openings.
When you do place an ad, be sure to put a deadline for submission of résumés for your own convenience. I have found it highly beneficial to require applicants to submit their résumés and cover letters by email. If you are concerned about making your email address public to the world, you can create a free email address just for the purpose of your hiring search. The benefit of accepting résumés only by email is that it allows you to keep those emails permanently on your computer, sort them into folders, and forward them to others. If you use a free online source such as “gmail” or Yahoo’s email, you can also work on your selections with complete privacy wherever you are in the world.
If you have the luxury of a large pool of applicants, organizing the applicants’ information and relevant qualifications into a spreadsheet is a great aid in making an objective comparison of the applicants. Such a spreadsheet provides in one document all the relevant information and allows the employer to make quick reference. You should leave one or more sections on the spread sheet for your special comments, positive or negative, noting things from the résumé, from recommendation letters, etc., that will jog your memory about the applicants’ specific characteristics.
Indications on the résumé that the applicant may have problems include the following: frequent job changes, unexplained gaps in employment, résumés or cover letters in which the current employer’s email or address is given as the applicant’s return address, and an indication that the applicant is just sending out résumés randomly with no real interest in the particular position.
For example, if you are advertising for a court reporter, and the applicant writes that he/she has a “goal of working in a corporate environment where there is opportunity for advancement,” you know that applicant is not right for you. The applicant is not only sending out the same résumé to every job posted, but the goal does not match your position. Other résumé “red flags” include an odd job history, an overqualified applicant, or a person who seems to be going from higher tier positions to lower tier positions. However, these are just red flags, and not items that should cause the applicant to not be considered at all. Particularly in the current economy, you may have good candidates who at other times would have been rejected as over-qualified and not a good fit, but now would happily fill the position and would be a real “steal.”
It is extremely important to pay close attention to the résumés as many applicants disqualify themselves at this stage. Following are some examples of disqualifying indicators found in résumés I have screened:
- a candidate whose educational achievements included being a “Voting Member of Student Government in College” and the “Published Author of an Article” without any further information about the publication or the article;
- someone whose name on the résumé didn’t match the name on the cover letter;
- an applicant who wrote: “Objective: I am seeking a position where I can turn fun into a career (I like my job and have fun at it, but really. . . fun as a career?);
- an attorney whose résumé proved that he was practicing law in Indiana without a license; and
- more than one attorney who listed his/her proudest accomplishment as a lawsuit in which the attorney was both a party and pro se counsel.
All of the above steps are the start of the process to prepare for the interview stage. The next contribution to this publication, Part Two, will discuss interviewing, background checks, including criminal history checks, selection and offers of employment. In the meantime, if you are hiring someone and want to place an ad on the Indiana judiciary website or need help now, give me a call!