What Recruiters Can and Cannot Do for You

What Recruiters Can and Cannot Do for You

A successful headhunter (and most of us don't mind that term) is expert at matching both credentials and chemistry for the best fit between candidate and employer.

The recruiter's job is to locate prospective candidates to fill the client's hiring needs. The recruiter is paid by the client, usually a percentage of the candidate's first-year compensation. A contingency recruiter gets paid only if the candidate accepts the position and stays there for a guaranteed period. Consequently, it is in the search consultant's best interests to make sure that a position is a good fit for both the client and the candidate. Moreover, the headhunter will assist the candidate in negotiating the best possible compensation package because the better you do, the more money your recruiter earns. Therefore, although you are not technically the recruiter's client, your search consultant is looking out for your interests also.


The benefits of using a recruiter are many. A recruiter knows who is looking, exactly what they are looking for, who to contact, and many of the specifics about the prospective employer, its business and personalities. A good recruiter will streamline the process for both the candidate and the client by narrowing the options to only those that are a reasonable match.

The recruiter will brief you and debrief you, assist you with polishing your resume and interviewing skills, hold your hand and facilitate the process from beginning to end. A recruiter is there to address the questions and concerns of both the candidate and the prospective employer and can intercede when it might be awkward for the parties to do so directly. The headhunter will keep things moving and on track. Headhunters often have access to job openings that are not publicly posted. A good recruiter also has inside information about the prospective employer's organization and the specific position.

The recruiter's role is to find and present the individuals who most closely meet the requirements set out by a client. Headhunters do not set the parameters of the search, and are wasting everyone's time if they submit candidates who are not on point in virtually all respects. It is important to understand that, generally speaking, the recruiter's clients will pay a fee only for outstanding candidates with the requisite experience plus the right personality and cultural fit.

The types of candidates that legal recruiters most often place are attorneys who are graduates from well-regarded law schools, who graduated at or near the top of their classes, with a stable employment history at top-tier law firms or corporations. Usually, more experienced attorneys must also have a portable book of business to bring to a new law firm. Search consultants handle lateral placement of experienced attorneys only; the positions they fill require candidates with at least a couple years of post-bar admission experience.


A recruiter cannot create a job opening that doesn't exist. Since the search consultant's reputation with clients is based on presenting only candidates who are an excellent match for the job specifications, do not expect them to send your resume if it is not almost exactly on point. No matter how much your recruiter likes you, the search firm cannot afford to risk its client relationships by submitting candidates who are not appropriate for the job.

Similarly, headhunters have a difficult time representing candidates who are making a radical career transition. If you are leaving a practice area where you have lots of expertise for something new, a prospective employer may be less than enthusiastic about paying a headhunter's fee for an unproven commodity. In that case, you would be best served by giving significant thought to your transferable skills, and approaching the employer directly. If you make a strong argument, you may convince an employer to take a risk -- but your chances are greatly improved without a recruiter's price tag attached.

Even when making a move within their area of expertise, some candidates are concerned that using a search consultant, with the attendant fee attached, would hinder them in their job search. An honest recruiter will tell you whether you would be better served by making a direct approach. However, once a potential employer has engaged a search firm to find candidates for a particular search, that employer has made the decision that its money would be well spent. A good recruiter, with an extensive base of contacts and years of expertise, can save employers lots of time and money by identifying, screening and presenting a select roster of candidates, any of whom would be a great fit for the job.


Another thing a legal recruiter cannot do is present you to a prospective employer that you already have contacted either directly, or indirectly, in the recent past. Within the legal search marketplace, for example, a resume submitted for a position has a "shelf life" of six to 12 months. That means that if an employer has received a job inquiry about you from any source within the past six months, it is still "live," and any other inquiries will be rejected as duplicative. If the inquiry is more than a year old, it usually is considered dead, and that employer can be contacted again. Within six to 12 months, it is a gray area, and it depends upon the practices of that particular employer.

If you are involved in an active job search, you may be exploring your own sources and working with one or two recruiters, as well as through friends and other contacts. You should use every resource you can, even if you are working with an excellent recruiter. However, it is important that you keep track of prospective employers that have already been contacted, information on who reached out on your behalf (even if it was you), when that contact was made, to whom, what was the response and when that response was received. As your search continues, be sure to keep that list updated.

Recruiters do not want to waste their or their clients' time duplicating efforts. Rather than increasing your chances of procuring an interview with a prospective employer by authorizing more than one contact, you will look desperate or as if you do not have control over your search. Some prospective employers will go so far as to decline to pursue a candidate who came in through several sources rather than risk a fee dispute.

Furthermore, you must insist that no one sends your resume anywhere without your specific, prior permission. In addition to avoiding double submissions, you don't want your resume going someplace where you would have a conflict of interest, know you don't want to work, or are concerned about heightened threats to your confidentiality (e.g. your supervising partner's husband works there).

Read articles in the series:

  1. Headhunters 101
  2. What Recruiters Can and Cannot Do for You
  3. How to Get Your Head Hunted
  4. Selecting a Search Firm
  5. Maximizing the Recruiter Relationship