Selecting a Search Firm

Selecting a Search Firm

Finding the right recruiter can be an important step toward finding the right job. You want to make sure that you are confident in and comfortable with your search firm representative.

When choosing a recruiter with which to work, check with your network of contacts for the names of good search consultants. Also, compare information gleaned from print and Internet directories regarding their credentials and backgrounds. You want to ascertain their track record, length of search experience, breadth of their client base and reputation in the community, especially regarding integrity, responsiveness and professionalism.


1. What kinds of employers does the search firm generally represent? Do they have access to a good selection of opportunities that interest you? Determine whether they work with national, local and regional firms, "boutiques'' as well as general practice law firms and corporate law departments. Look for a recruiter who places attorneys in nonprofits, governmental agencies or educational institutions, if that is what you desire.

2. How well do they know their clients? They should be able to tell you about their clients' business, financial performance, needs, goals and culture.

3. What types of positions does the recruiting firm usually fill? Some recruiting firms specialize in associate, partner or in-house placements.

4. Does the recruiter have experience placing attorneys in your area of practice? The typical legal search is for practice areas commonly found in a business/corporate law firm. Therefore, headhunters rarely place attorneys in such areas as public interest, criminal (except white-collar defense), family law, workers' compensation or plaintiffs' personal injury, though many recruit in these specialties on occasion.

5. If location is an issue, do they have contacts in that geographic area? Choose a recruiter who specializes in searches in your target geographical area(s), or who works with affiliate recruiters in those areas.

6. How long have the search firm and the particular recruiter been in business? An established network of industry contacts is essential, as is the ability of the individual recruiter to understand how your skill set fits the job parameters.

7. Is the search firm a member of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC)? Among other things, NALSC provides educational opportunities, access to a nationwide network of reputable legal recruiting firms and a code of ethics® that member firms agree to follow. At a minimum, if the search firm is not a member of NALSC, make sure that the recruiter abides by its code of ethics.

8. Is the recruiter a member of a shared database or other professional network? If so, you might gain access to a broader share of the market. On the other hand, if confidentiality is an issue for you, establish up front that your resume will not be disseminated to other search firms without your knowledge or that it will go only to those that will not contact employers without your prior approval.

9. Will your resume be modified before it is presented to a prospective employer? The most effective resumes are tailored to the particular position for which they are submitted. If the recruiter wishes to modify your resume to address the specifics of a job opening, you may want to request the opportunity to approve any changes before it is submitted.

10. Will your resume remain confidential among yourself, the search firm and the client law firm or company? Some search firms have a clause in their client contracts that specifically prohibits the clients from contacting any third party about any resumes the recruiters submit without prior authorization from the search firm or the candidate. This means, for example, that the prospective employer cannot check references without your approval.

11. Will the recruiter provide you with references? Even though the search firm must protect the confidentiality of current candidates, they should be able to easily provide you with names of past candidates and satisfied clients. Of course, a personal recommendation from someone you trust and who has had a positive experience with a particular recruiter is very valuable.

12. Can you request to work with a specific recruiter? Personal chemistry and quality control can vary between recruiters at a given firm, so you may prefer to work with a particular individual.

Your search consultant will be your advocate in the job search process. Therefore, you may want to talk to several before making your choice. You want to spend some time getting to know your recruiter and, more importantly, making sure your recruiter knows you. It is paramount that you and your search consultant are on the same wavelength and communicate fully and honestly every step of the way. Be sure to assess whether the recruiter listens to you and really hears what you want to accomplish in making a move.


Although the larger employers often utilize multiple recruiters, many prefer to use only a short list, or will establish exclusive relationships for particular searches. Moreover, recruiters who have long experience and excellent reputations in their market segment also will have cultivated special relationships with a variety of other prospective employers. Therefore, you may decide to work with more than one search firm to maximize your chances of finding the right job.

In that event, you must make sure that they do not step on each other's toes. To prevent any double submissions, keep careful records and insist that no one send your resume to any prospective employer or other recruiters without your specific, prior approval. Do not give anyone carte blanche with your resume.

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