How often has your firm made a lateral hire who makes great claims about the size of their client base (as well as the portability of their book of business) only to find out after they join your firm that the business doesn’t materialize? It always amazes us how rarely business leaders adequately assess the human networks of the candidates they’re pursuing.    

As all of us have found, it’s easy for a lateral to “talk a good game” when discussing their network and their book of business. Don’t believe anything without some verification of their human network. It’s the rare business leader who asks any probing questions about the candidate’s human network. The size and nature of the candidate’s human network will tell you volumes about the potential rainmaking ability of the lateral candidate.

From the opposing perspective, these same considerations should be forefront in your mind if you are looking to change firms within your industry. Having a robust human network and being prepared to share the strength of this network with potential employers is a significant asset that will set you apart.

Through the years, Maraia & Associates has coached many lateral hiring managers on how to best go about assessing potential lateral candidates as rainmakers. The Maraia Method® coach knows how to assess a lateral hire’s network before an offer is made so there are no hidden surprises later.  It all begins with the candidate’s human network.  We’re not suggesting that their social networks aren’t valuable, but those numbers can be gamed much more readily than human networks.  

Possible Interview Questions:

Anytime you need to assess a lateral candidate’s network you should consider asking these kinds of questions during the early stage meetings:

1.  How many people are there in your database of contacts?  

The top rainmakers almost always have 900-1000 or more. The larger the human network, the better.  If the lateral has done lots of speaking, probe further to find out who was in the audiences where he spoke. It’s not uncommon for rainmakers to have as many as 3000-5000 contacts in their database. Generally speaking, the bigger the database he’s working from the better he will do at your firm. As important as this number is there are other factors to consider.

2.  Is your database kept in electronic form or is it paper based?  

In most cases, paper-based systems for gathering this data suggest you’re not working with a rainmaker. However, simply having an electronic system isn’t a guarantee you’re hiring a rainmaker. This database should be kept all in one place rather than found piecemeal in several databases.  Maraia & Associates, Inc. continually updates its database maintenance efforts. With all our leads in one electronic database containing over 5000 contacts and notes on actions taken, it’s much easier to be systematic about reconnecting with our human network.

3.  Who is your ideal client?  

Most professionals don’t have a clear and concise answer to this question.  That is a red flag in and of itself. The best rainmakers often do know exactly who their ideal client is. This simple question allows you to better assess fit between the candidate and your firm. If the candidate is, for example, an Employee Benefits expert she might say her ideal candidate is a “senior executive of a Fortune 1000 company.” So far so good. Your follow up question will be as follows:

“How many senior executives of Fortune 1000 companies do you know who are NOT already clients? “

Why this question? You want to assess how well the candidate is able to develop her ownbook of clients without much help from others in your firm. You’re assessing the pool of prospects she can draw upon. Maraia Method® coaches have used a version of this question during our programs for many years and the average answer to this question is between 0 and 4!!  By contrast, most rainmakers will say “dozens” or “hundreds.” [Note: If you know that your firm has many connections that fits the lateral candidate’s ideal client profile her practice probably meshes well with your firm’s.] 

5.  How do you tell a great networker from a good one?  

Ask questions that gauge the KIND of networker you’re dealing with. In Chapter 16 of Mark Maraia’s book,  Relationships Are Everything, he makes the distinction between Level 1 (All take), Level 2 (Quid pro quo) and Level 3 (Does favors for others and plants lots of seeds) Networking. The best rainmakers (and best lateral hires) operate from an abundance mindset (Level 3) and have done more favors for the people in their network than the rest of the firm combined.  

6. What is your plan for contacting your network during your first 90 days at our firm?  

The rainmakers will be bursting with ideas whereas the typical professional will give you a lame answer, stutter or blank stare. Several years ago a client hired us to coach a group of 20 IP laterals being absorbed into its culture. Every one of these 20 laterals had a lateral integration plan AND was expected to work with us to implement the plan! This group generated so much trackable new business that integration was declared a success less than 4 months after arriving!

7.  Do you have a detailed business plan for your practice?  

One client wanted to move from Denver, Colorado to San Francisco, California and asked us for ideas on how to improve his portability and hire-ability. We developed a detailed plan that featured his human network and what he was going to do to build his business in California. It was so well written and conceived that he was able to generate multiple offers in his new city where he’s now been practicing for over 20 years.  

There are many other questions you can ask depending on the nature and type of business, but hopefully you get a sense of the power of human networks. Your business will make a much better lateral hiring decision if it can develop the discipline to assess the human network of lateral candidates. In fact, you might want to try these questions out on your current employees. Doing so will give you an indication of whether or not your professionals “think like rainmakers.”