To Hire an Expert, Use a Checklist

By on January 6, 2017
To Hire an Expert, Use a Checklist

By Leida Snow –

In “The Checklist Manifesto,” noted surgeon and writer Atul Gawande forcefully explained why experts and professionals need checklists because of the complexities they face. What about when non-experts need to hire a specialist? Those over 50 may feel our life experiences ensure that we’ll approach the task rationally. But it turns out that we humans are hardwired to make faulty choices when the stakes are high. So writes Michael Lewis, chronicling the conclusions of two psychologists in “The Undoing Project.” No matter how prepared we think we are, we would all do well to keep a checklist at hand.
For example, when a retired negotiator who navigated her field brilliantly needed a divorce lawyer, someone she trusted gave her a recommendation, and she just went along. Many thousands of dollars later came the realization that she hadn’t use her industry expertise when making that important choice. She should have had a checklist.
Of course, when you face a crisis — for example, if your basement floods at 2:00 am and you need a plumber— obviously you can’t negotiate. But you can work out terms and conditions before hiring almost any other expert — accountant, lawyer, coach, doctor, or contractor.
You may know these suggestions — you may have used a version of them. What’s important is to realize that at key moments of choice, we often forget to follow what we know. That’s why we need a checklist.
1. Do some research. Find out the range of costs for what you want. Talk to others who have gone through the process. Think through what you would like versus what you need.
2. Shop around. Just because your neighbor likes her accountant, that doesn’t mean he’s right for you. Many professionals don’t charge for a first visit. Most attorneys will happily talk to you “off the clock” for a consultation. Try a few. 
3. Uncover the details of the deal. Know the rate — the attorney’s hourly charges and what might incur extra fees, the contractor’s compensation separate from materials. Pin down who will actually do the work — for example, the senior partner or paralegal. The spread in cost may be eye-popping. Work out how reachable the professional will be.
4. Set periodic check points or thresholds. Insist that you be advised once totals are at an agreed upon amount. See if you can pay installments only when specific goals have been reached.
5. Put a cap on outlays. Get an dollar estimate for the project, along with a time line. Think through what the investment is worth in terms of your time and money.
Remember, the person you’re looking to hire may be the expert, but you are the client, and the ultimate decision is up to you.
Sure it’s possible to stew over surprising charges and to fight over them once bills are received. Better to work everything out in advance. If even people with superior knowledge need checklists, the rest of us should use them too.

Journalist + Speaker + Coach. Leida’s joy is transforming ideas and presentations from clumsy to effective.

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To Hire an Expert, Use a Checklist