Anyone looking for a new job should consider calling a reputable recruiter that specializes in their profession. For lawyers, that will be a legal headhunter. Eilene Zimmerman, in her “Career Couch” column in The New York Times, recently published an article on “Recruiting a Recruiter For Your Next Job.” It answers some basic questions about how to find a reputable recruiter and how to stay on their radar, so that you’re positioned to know about as many potential opportunities as possible. Most of what she says is right on target, but there are several questions we’re frequently that she didn’t address. Our team of legal and compliance headhunters has found that candidates typically have the following questions in mind, even if they don’t explicitly ask them:
1. Does working with a recruiter hurt my chances of getting a position?
Answer: In most cases, no, and in fact it will usually benefit you.
Explanation: Your resume has a better chance of getting into the hands of the hiring authority and reviewed by him or her, and more quickly if you go through a recruiter. A reputable recruiter has been engaged by the hiring authority and has a written contract in place with the hiring company. The recruiter has also received a detailed explanation from the hiring authority or their surrogate, specifying the exact criteria they’re seeking in candidates. These criteria are typically much more nuanced and detailed than can be included in a job description you might see online. If a headhunter discusses a specific position with you to determine your interest, it’s because they believe you might be the fit their client is seeking. Good recruiters will only send candidates who meet the client’s criteria or who are close enough they believe the client would be well-served to consider them. So the companies that engage one know that the resumes they receive from their recruiter will be on-point and relevant, and they pay closer attention to them than they do to the flood of resumes that are received in response to the company’s posting.
If a company has posted a position online, it will be inundated with off-point resumes, with a few good ones possibly buried within. These “good ones” may or may not find the hands of the hiring authority. And they almost certainly will not get into the hands of the hiring authority as quickly as those sent by the outside recruiter.
2. Will the recruiter help me find a job?
Answer: Not always, but it still behooves you to contact a headhunter when you’re interested in hearing about new opportunities. When a recruiter is engaged to help fill a position, they will call the candidates who they already know and have talked to first.
Explanation: Headhunters are engaged to help fill an existing need at the request of the employer. They cannot create jobs, so they don’t “sign up” a candidate and make it their goal to find that one person a job. Such a business model wouldn’t allow them to remain in business, so recruiters are more often than not “opening driven.” (See the next paragraph below for important exceptions.) Contacting the recruiter gets you in their database, however, and allows them to quickly find you when a position arises. Most recruiters maintain a database of candidates that is geared specifically to their speciality and can thus keep track of a huge array of candidates with vastly different types of experience, backgrounds, and preferences. So even if the recruiter doesn’t have a position for you at the time you first talk to them, one might arise in the future. It is not necessary to “check in” with the recruiter every week or so as Eilene Zimmerman proposed in her column. You are on the recruiter’s radar if they have your resume and even more so if you’ve talked or met personally. It never hurts to stay in contact with the recruiter in other ways, however, for example by referring him or her other candidates or clients, or letting them know about new openings. People want to help people who help them, so a spirit of reciprocity and generosity almost always pays off. (For more on this topic, read Adam Grant’s excellent new book: “Give and Take,” published by the Penguin Group on April 9).
Exceptions to the “opening driven” rule. There are important exceptions to the general rule that recruiters don’t start with a candidate and “market” him around until he or she finds a new position. Headhunters are sometimes “candidate driven”. For us legal recruiters, that exception applies to partners in law firms who have a portable book of business. In that case, a lawyer is not a cost center, as in a company, but rather a profit center, and law firms are in the business of making a profit. So law firms are almost always interested in hearing about partners in certain practice areas with portable business, depending on the firm’s focus and growth strategy. For this reason legal headhunters welcome the opportunity to work with partners with a book of business. We will spend many hours researching and contacting law firms to help that partner find the best platform for their book of business. In this instance a recruiter is helpful to the process because of their market knowledge – they know what firms are looking to grow in what practice areas and geographic locations – and their participation allows the partner to remain anonymous until they actually meet with the firms that have confirmed a desire to expand in the partner’s particular practice area. In addition, the legwork provided by the recruiter frees up the partner to continue billing and keeping up with his practice while engaging in the time-consuming process of exploring new firms. The recruiter can also play a helpful role to both sides during the offer process.
3. Why should I have a relationship with a recruiter in my profession, rather than just relying on online postings or my own personal network?
Answer: See the answer to the first question above. In addition, recruiters are often told by their clients, well in advance, that a search is upcoming or that they might have a future need due to a confidential situation. As players in the industry who make it their job to know who is going where and what is happening where, recruiters are also aware of upcoming vacancies independent of what their clients tell them. The candidates who are called first for these nascent openings are the candidates who the recruiter knows best – the ones who have been on their radar the longest and with whom they have had numerous communications over the years.
Explanation: It is always better to be one of the first to know about a position. Many openings are almost filled before the internal job notice is even posted. Even if you’re not interested in making a move at the present time, you should always return a recruiters’ phone call or reply to their emails. Use this as an opportunity to tell the recruiter what type of position you might be interested in in the future and in what locations, so that the recruiter will call you when and if such a position arises. They want to help you find your dream job – help them by communicating with them! And you never know what might happen with your own work situation in the future and whether you may one day need their help.