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Knowing Who’s Who in the Job Search Process
By Valerie Fontaine –
Job seekers in the legal marketplace find a myriad of online and in-person resources of varying uses and value. Do-it-yourselfers might stick to Internet options such as social media, job boards, and employer listings with great success; others seeking the more human touch might reach out to one or more of the variety of professionals available to assist you. Understanding who is who among these consultants, and what each can and cannot do for you, allows you to choose wisely and maximize their services.
- Career Counselors and Coaches
Think of a career counselor or coach as your professional-life therapist and cheerleader. Their mission is to help you handle career challenges which might, but not always, involve a job change. They guide you in defining your long- and short-range career goals, including, if appropriate, the type of job to pursue and how to get it. Some coaches focus on lawyers or similar professionals, but many don’t specialize in any particular industry.
Good career coaches and counselors clearly communicate that it is not their purpose to find you a job. They don’t have access to open job listings and don’t actively assist you with job search functions. Their role is counseling only, and you pay them just like you pay a shrink – usually on an hourly or per-session basis – whether or not you land a new position.
- Outplacement Counselors
Outplacement counselors are important players in the job search process especially in tough economic times such as during the last recession. If your employment ends, whether as part of a mass layoff or single termination, they assist you with honing your job search skills such as crafting résumés and cover letters, and provide job search advice, interview coaching, and job leads, but do not affirmatively act to find you a new position. Some offer office space and computer and phone services for you to use during your job search. You hope you never need the services of an outplacement counselor, but their assistance is extremely valuable when navigating a career setback.
The outplacement firm’s fees often are paid by the downsizing employer as part of the severance package, not by the exiting employee. The cost varies by duration (from a few months to a year or more), the services provided, and whether they are delivered individually or in a group setting, in-person or online. Downsizing employers may offer outplacement benefits to protect their reputations by facilitating the lay-off process, minimizing exposure to lawsuits, and reducing unemployment insurance payments.
- Executive Marketing Firms
Executive marketing firms are like outplacement consultants in that their services can include drafting your résumé and cover letter, and providing contact lists. They, also, do not affirmatively act to find you a job beyond, perhaps, mass-mailing your résumé to their lists of contacts—sometimes for an additional fee.
These firms differ from outplacement counselors in that you may choose to use their services at any time, not just when terminated from your job. Most importantly, their fees, which can be quite hefty, ranging from $2,000-25,000 or more, are paid in advance by you, the job seeker. Some executive marketing firms also require you to pay them an additional fee if and when you land a job. The initial consultation usually consists of a sales presentation by an intake professional; you do not meet a counselor who provides the services until you’ve signed on the dotted line.
Executive marketing firms enticingly advertise that they can offer candidates the inside track to top-level jobs. They boast of access to the hidden job market and exclusive contacts with decision-makers with hiring authority. Beware, however, that not all such firms offer real value. Their contacts may be nothing more than easily available public information. Some job seekers complain of poorly drafted résumés, cover letters with typos, and outdated contact lists from such organizations. These firms do not specialize in any industry, and often have no idea how an effective résumé for a legal professional differs from that for a business executive. Talk to references (don’t just read the reference letters they show you) before agreeing to pay anything. Think twice if live references cannot be provided. At the very least, research the firm on the Internet and check with the Better Business Bureau before opening your wallet.
- Legal Search Consultants
Whether or not you are actively seeking a new position, you might receive a call from a search consultant (AKA recruiter or headhunter). The executive recruiters of the legal industry, legal search consultants conduct searches on behalf of their employer clients to fill specified job openings. It is important to know that you, the potential job seeker, are the candidate; while the prospective employer – the law firm, corporate law department, non-profit organization, or governmental entity which pays the fee – is their client. Legal search firms attempt to find the best candidate for a specific position, even if the target lawyer is not in the market for a new career opportunity, which is why you might receive a headhunter’s call seemingly out of the blue.
You don’t have to wait for a recruiter to call, however. If you are in the market for a new position, you can reach out to a search consultant to alert them to your availability. For active candidates who have highly sought-after credentials and expertise, the recruiter may have several active searches for you to consider when you call. In those cases, it may seem as if the tables are turned and the recruiter is actively trying to find a job for you rather than fill a search assignment with the appropriate candidate. But, the fact remains that the prospective employer is their client. On the other hand, if, when you call, the recruiter is not conducting a search for which you are an appropriate fit, but your background meets the criteria their clients often seek, they will keep your information in their database and contact you about future opportunities.
Although recruiters technically work for the employer-client, in the process they also provide valuable services to the candidate-attorney. Once you agree to explore opportunities through them, the search consultant assists you with polishing your résumé if necessary, briefs you about the prospective employer and open position, prepares you for interviews, and coaches you throughout the hiring process. They do not charge candidates a fee for these services because they are provided in the process of fulfilling a search on behalf of their employer client.
Note: Many lawyer recruiters belong to the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (www.nalsc.org). All reputable legal search firms, whether NALSC members or not, should adhere to the NALSC Code of Ethics® https://www.nalsc.org/code-of-ethics/ which regulates the relationships between recruiters and their clients, candidates, and other search firms.
- Campus Career Services Offices
Law school or undergraduate career services offices often are overlooked by alumni when making mid-career moves. Because of job losses during the recession, many colleges and law schools added career services staff specifically to assist their alumni. They may offer job postings for alumni, job search skills workshops or local social/networking events for you to attend, career counseling, online assistance, and mentoring programs.
If you moved out of the area since graduation, ask whether your alma maters have reciprocal agreements with career services offices at institutions closer to your current location. Although most don’t have sufficient staff to offer counseling appointments to graduates of other schools, they sometimes arrange for use of supplementary career services resources.
- Law Firm and Corporate Recruitment Personnel
Once you get your foot in the door of a potential employer, their in-house recruitment personnel also may be a valuable resource for your job search within that organization. Virtually every legal employer of any size has professionals in charge of their recruiting and hiring efforts. A single hiring partner or office manager may handle those responsibilities in a small law firm, while large organizations have recruiting departments staffed with layers of specialized professionals.
The largest law firm recruiting departments are comprised of a Chief Recruitment Officer, one or more Directors, and one or more Associate Directors, with Recruiting Managers, Recruiting Coordinators, and Administrative Assistants distributed throughout the firm’s offices. Likewise, most corporations have Human Resources or Talent Acquisition personnel who perform recruiting functions for their organizations, including their legal departments. In appropriate situations, the Chief Diversity Officer also can be a resource during the recruitment process (and after). Check the organization’s website to determine to whom you should submit your résumé, what other documentation is required, and whether there is an online portal you must use.
At minimum, employer-based recruiting professionals keep track of candidates’ progress through the hiring process. They log your résumé submission when received and screen to determine whether there is a need for a someone with your background and skills. If so, they route your materials to the appropriate lawyers in the organization for further consideration. If all goes well, the recruiting professionals arrange initial and follow-up interviews, facilitate feedback, and keep the process on track. While these recruiters work for the firm or corporation, they also can be a resource for you, answering your questions and easing you through the hiring, on-boarding, and integration process.
- Your Responsibility
Regardless of which professionals you engage to assist you in your job search, if any, you always are in charge. An active job search involves exploring your own sources as well as going through friends and every contact at your disposal, in addition to possibly working with a coach and one or two recruiters. From the outset, it is essential to keep track of all prospective employers contacted, who reached out on your behalf (even if it was you), when that contact was made and to whom, the response, and when that response was received. As your search continues, constantly update the list.
Never give anyone free rein to distribute your résumé. Insist that nothing be submitted anywhere without your specific, prior approval. In addition to avoiding double submissions, you don’t want your résumé sent where you have a conflict of interest, know you don’t want to work, or have concerns about maintaining the confidentiality of your search.
Before engaging any consultant or counselor, determine exactly what services they provide, whether those meet your current needs, any fees involved, and who is responsible for paying them. The goal is to use the appropriate professionals wisely to accomplish the best career move possible.
Valerie Fontaine is a partner in SeltzerFontaine, a legal search firm based in Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com or (310) 842-6985. The second edition of her book, “The Right Moves: Job Search and Career Development Strategies for Lawyers,” was published in 2013 by NALP.