Key Questions To Ask About Your Future Employer

key questions to ask your future employer

The global events of the last 6 months forced the biggest experiment in work-place change that most of us have seen in our lifetimes. The pandemic broke comfortable routines, disrupting our tiring but familiar commuting journeys, has shaken the foundations of many people’s lives in many ways and no doubt will continue to do so for some time to come. 

An enforced lock-down and the resulting scramble to work from home has afforded many people time to consider what is important. Thoughts may have turned to spending time with family, where we live, and how, and with whom, we want to spend our working lives. A great unlocking of possibilities has occurred, along with hardship and anxiety for some of course. 

A recent survey of over 12,000 employees by Boston Consulting Group covering a cross-section of sectors revealed some interesting results.  The impact of working from home has been a surprising one and is likely to result in long term changes to workplace design and career options:

Given the speed and scale of the pandemic-related changes and the fact that employers had no time to prepare staff for the shift to remote work, we expected to see a decline in employee productivity. But while some respondents did report such a drop, a surprisingly large number said they have been able to maintain or even improve their productivity. The responses also reveal a significant shift in employee expectations for the future of work, with a keen appetite for flexible ways of working—and increased openness to this from managers.” BCG, August 2020

UK Law Firms, in the majority, responded quickly to move their workforce home from a traditional office setting. Many law firms furloughed up to 40% of their staff, starting with conveyancing teams as the property market ground to an inevitable halt. However, these and many other legal areas, including employment and private client, are enjoying a resurgence. Property teams are very busy servicing a thriving market driven by pent-up demand and re-appraisal of city living benefits. 

You may have been involved in a law firm re-structure or be looking for that special career move. Perhaps the reason you are here now is that your law firm managers or IT systems did not cope well and you feel that it is time to move to a more forward-thinking practice. 

To recruit and retain legal talent law firms will need to adapt quickly to a new working model: 

“Shifts in the way we work are likely to continue as employers move a growing portion of their employees to more flexible models. In fact, BCG’s recent Workplace of the Future employer survey found that companies expect about 40% of their employees to follow a remote-working model in the future.” BCG, August 2020

Whether your visit to SGR Legal to search for a new role in the legal sector is through necessity or choice,  it is an excellent time to reflect upon the fundamentals of finding fulfilment in work. 

If you are an owner or HR Manager of a law firm there are both opportunities and challenges ahead for developing the legal talent pool of your firm. A commute into the office five days a week looks very different from a new hybrid model of 1-2 days spent in the office, potentially expanding your geographic area for recruiting talent. 

A key challenge for HR Managers will be the supervisory and personal development aspect. Normally an in-person role, managers will need new skills to ensure sufficient and supportive remote supervision of their teams.  How best to develop more junior employees or trainees, for example, having lost the office-based element of tacit learning garnered from sitting across the desk from an experienced lawyer member, is a challenge. 

 “This crisis has presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvent the workplace. Things that might once have seemed impossible have proved surprisingly workable. With collaborative productivity essential to innovation, the changes will enable companies to become more competitive. And given employee desires for flexibility, the changes will also allow companies to recruit and retain the best talent. BCG, August 2020

 

What to look for in a law firm employer? 

It has become clearer to many of us over the last few months that there is more to life and work balance than the paycheck at the end of the month. 

A fulfilling work life is a vital part of the equation. To remain committed, passionate and focussed for the long term (we all want to feel that our time and expertise is well applied!) three crucial elements to look for in a satisfying job are: 

  • Purpose
  • Autonomy
  • Mastery 

The science behind this is explained in an entertaining and enlightening way in Dan Pink’s book “Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us”. 

These three elements may sound quite arbitrary at first and are never listed on someone’s wish list for a new role. Some deeper thinking about highly rewarding/memorable events, or aspects of previous roles that felt de-motivating are quite probably linked to at least one of these factors. 

 

Purpose 

Purpose is priceless

The purpose is the foundation to any happy role and career. A strong sense of purpose is hugely motivating in itself. We know why we are here and the benefits to others of applying our skills and expertise. This is a key factor in the career choice for many lawyers – advocating for and helping your clients.

In itself ‘purpose’ may not attract you to work for any particular law firm, after all, you could be helping elderly clients with wills and LPAs with most high street firms. 

However, if your sense of purpose and core values are not aligned with the law firm’s (maybe their client care is poor or charging practices heavy-handed for example) it will not bode well for a long-lived happy tenure. If you are very progression-focussed and financial success hits the other motivating buttons for you – the law firm perfect for you is out there, it’s just a matter of finding the right fit.

Key Questions to ask
  1. What would the partners of this law like to be known for?  
  2. Tell me about the client care initiatives here
  3. Does the firm participate in any corporate social responsibility projects such as charity wills week or other community activities/pro bono work not driven by the billable hour? 

 

Autonomy 

Autonomy is important to everyone working in professional services. You have trained for many years to achieve accredited status whether as a Solicitor, Cilex or Licenced Conveyancer and as such you deserve a level of trust from your employer.

A sense of Autonomy

Who has ever felt demotivated by a supervisor that you feel is there to spot mistakes but not support you? Who has ever had a line manager who doesn’t trust you with key tasks even though you were more than capable? 

Key Questions to ask
  1. What is the management culture of the firm and of my line manager? 
  2. How will I be supervised both when working in the office and remotely? 
  3. What is the firm’s attitude to mistakes? 
  4. How are team members encouraged to use their initiative? 

 

Mastery

Mastery is motivating

Feedback from clients or colleagues on a job well done is hugely motivating. The best lawyers are diligent self-starters to whom personal development and continued learning is a priority. 

Key Questions to ask
  1. How are staff inducted to the firm, and what continuing professional development can I tap into? 
  2. Are there any employee schemes to recognise great client care or other achievements? 
  3. Apart from meeting my billable hours’ targets, how else will I know if I am doing a good job? 

 

A new role is a big commitment from both parties. None of us set out to change firms or companies on a frequent basis. By asking just a few of these questions you can gain insights into the management style and culture of your prospective new employer to ensure a good fit. If you can tick the box on all the above three aspects of a role then you really have hit the jackpot. 

What is more likely is that a job will be more rewarding in one aspect than others, at different times, however, it all adds up to a pretty motivated Sunday night ready for a new week!

Our experienced team at SGR Legal are here to guide you through the process of finding that perfect role or new staff member that fit in ways beyond just the job specification.

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