Using a Professional Recruiter

Working with a Recruiter

Choosing to use a professional recruiter, or headhunter, in your job search is an individual decision. During an economic down cycle, attorneys may want to be more cautious when soliciting the help of a recruiter. When you are hired by an employer through a recruiter, you come with a fee for the employer – one which employers may be less willing to pay during difficult economic times. At the same time, in any market a good recruiter will be able to help you to identify opportunities more quickly, provide meaningful market intelligence, and navigate the job search process, including managing the timing of your search and negotiating the terms of an offer. Professional recruiters also maintain a vast network of contacts and will likely save both the employer and the candidate time in their job searching processes.

In most cases recruiters are asked by law firms and corporations to find candidates who closely match the required qualifications and experience for a position. Depending on the arrangement with a particular employer, the engagement may be non-exclusive or exclusive. In a non-exclusive engagement, the recruiter is one of several being used to locate talent for this position. In an exclusive engagement, the recruiter is the only one being used by the employer. In both cases it is the employer, not the candidate, who pays the fee.

As a general rule, most law firms look for second- to fifth-year associates coming from top law firms who have strong academic credentials and substantive experience in their practice areas.  If you fall into this category, then a recruiter will very likely be able to help you with your search and present you with an array of opportunities, the number of which will depend on the strength of the market in your practice area at the time.  Since most recruiters at established recruiting firms have relationships with most major law firms, there can be a benefit to working with only one recruiter:  Namely, the recruiter can get know you and present opportunities that are the best match for your skill set and goals; manage the timing of all of your applications, which can be beneficial if you are interviewing with multiple firms; and keep track of your applications over time, adjusting strategy as your search progresses.  Working with one recruiter also keeps your incentives aligned since the recruiter will be paid regardless of the role you take, and allows the recruiter to become a true partner in your search.  If you choose to work with a recruiter on an exclusive basis, you should find someone you like and trust.  You may also want to work with a recruiter who is considered an expert in your practice area and/or one who has deep relationships with and insights into the firms in which you are most interested.

There are times, however, when it may make sense to work with more than one recruiter. For example, if you are working with one recruiter, but another recruiter approaches you with an “exclusive” search that only that recruiter may have access to, you could consider submitting a resume through that recruiter for that specific opportunity.  In addition, if your primary goal is to go in-house, you will likely need to use more than one recruiter, in addition to using your networks and applying to jobs on your own.  This is because many companies either don’t work with outside recruiters or if they do, they work with only one or two recruiters on any particular search.  As a result, no single recruiter would be able to represent you for multiple opportunities in the way that recruiter would be able to if you were conducting a employer search.  

If you do work with more than one recruiter, make sure to keep detailed records of which recruiter you authorized to submit your materials to which employer, and on what date. These meticulous records will help to avoid your resume being submitted multiple times to the same employer. In general, once a recruiter sends your resume to an employer, your candidacy is linked to that recruiter for between six months and one year.

If you fall outside the category of a second- to fifth-year associate and are more senior or have a non-traditional background (or are wanting to re-tool into a different practice area), you could consider either using a single recruiter or more than one recruiter depending on your practice area and goals.  In that case, however, you may have more success in your search if you employ other job search methods such as networking and applying to firms directly or having a close contact (ideally someone already working at the firm) pass along your resume to the relevant hiring person.  This is because firms may not want to pay a fee for a less traditional, outside-the-box candidate, though they may be willing to consider you if introduced by other means. 

Developing the Talent Pool for a Position

Recruiters build their pool of candidates, or talent, in two ways: (1) contacting candidates identified through research or referrals via unsolicited "cold calling" or e-mailing; or (2) being contacted by candidates who are actively seeking new positions.

Even if you are not actively seeking a new position, your situation may change in the future and you may then want to use a recruiter. It is a benefit to have a short conversation with recruiters who cold call or e-mail you now, and to keep notes of these communications, including each recruiter’s name, recruiting firm, and type of opportunity. This way, you will develop a list of recruiters for your future reference. You can then add to that list with referrals from attorney friends and colleagues.

After an initial contact, most recruiters will arrange an in-person meeting before presenting a candidate to an employer. As a candidate, it can be a good idea to meet the recruiter in person (or via zoom) before authorizing him or her to submit your materials to an employer.

Use the meeting as an opportunity to learn more about the recruiter and the position, as well as the recruiter’s relationships with firms in which you may be interested. It’s also a good opportunity to build a relationship with the recruiter and to share particular skills or strengths you may want the recruiter to highlight to firms. In that meeting you should talk with the recruiter about, and agree upon, the specific employers to which the recruiter can send your materials.

You can also ask to meet with a recruiter as part of your general job search, rather than in response to a specific position. In that type of meeting you could learn more about the recruiter’s particular employer relationships, as well as the strategy the recruiter suggests for you in your job search. You could also ask the recruiter about successful searches and placements that recruiter has conducted in the past.  

Managing Your Job Search

Although you have engaged a recruiter to assist with your search, it is vital that you stay on top of your search. It is important to be clear with the recruiter about what you are looking for in your next role and to work together to craft a search strategy. As a general rule, your materials should be sent to no more than 15-20 employers at one time. Typically, a recruiter will submit you for roles where there is an active search; however, depending on your practice area, there may be times when a recruiter will suggest submitting you to a firm that might be a good fit but does not have a current opening, on a “prospective” basis.  This can also be an effective strategy since firms are always on the lookout for talented associates. If a recruiter does propose submitting to a firm on a prospective basis, make sure you understand why the recruiter is suggesting a particular firm.  You can also ask the recruiter to present you initially on an anonymous/ “no-names” basis to see if there is an interest in your candidacy before submitting your materials to the firm.  In the event that the firm says no, this then preserves your availability to submit a fresh application to the firm if/when the firm has an active search in the future.

Overall, using a recruiter is one tool among many in an effective job search.