What a Headhunter Can and Cannot Do for You

What a Headhunter Can and Cannot Do for You

A contingency search firm gets paid only if its candidate accepts the position and stays there for a guaranteed period. Consequently, it’s in the search consultant’s best interests to ensure there’s a good fit for both their employer client and you, the candidate.

To increase the likelihood of a successful placement and maximize the fee, your recruiter will help you polish your job search skills and assist in negotiating the best possible compensation package. The headhunter’s fee usually is a percentage of the candidate’s first year’s compensation; consequently, the better you do, the more money your recruiter earns. Therefore, although you’re not technically the recruiter’s client, your search consultant is looking out for your interests, also.

What a headhunter can do

The benefits of using a recruiter are many. A successful recruiter is expert at matching both credentials and chemistry for the best fit between candidate and employer. They know who’s looking, exactly what they’re looking for, whom to contact, and many of the specifics about the prospective employer, its business, and personalities. Headhunters often have access to job openings that aren’t publicly posted. A good recruiter also has inside information about the prospective employer’s organization and the target position. The search consultant streamlines the process for both the candidate and the client by narrowing the options to those that are a reasonable match.

The recruiter’s role is to find and present individuals who closely meet the requirements delineated by their clients. Headhunters don’t set the parameters of the search and waste everyone’s time if they submit candidates who aren’t on point in virtually all respects. It’s 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.

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

The recruiter will brief you and debrief you, assist you with polishing your résumé and interviewing skills, and facilitate the process from beginning to end. They address any 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 keeps things moving and on track.

What a headhunter cannot do

A recruiter cannot create a job opening that doesn’t exist. The search consultant’s value to their clients is based on presenting candidates who are an excellent match for the job specifications, so don’t expect them to send your résumé if it’s 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 aren’t appropriate for the position.

Similarly, headhunters have a difficult time representing candidates making a radical career transition. If you’re leaving a practice area where you have substantial 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’re better 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’re better off making a direct approach. However, once a potential employer engages a search firm to find candidates for a particular search, that employer has made the decision that it’s worth the fee. A good recruiter, with an extensive base of contacts and years of experience, saves 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 opening.

Maintaining control of your search

Another thing a legal recruiter cannot do is present you to a prospective employer that you previously contacted either directly, or indirectly, in the recent past. Within the legal search marketplace, for example, a résumé submitted for a position has a “shelf life” of six to twelve months. That means that if an employer received a job inquiry about you from any source within the past six months, it’s still “live”, and any other inquiries are rejected as duplicative. If the inquiry is over a year old, it’s usually considered dead, and that employer can be contacted again. A prior submission within six to 12 months is in a gray area and depends upon the policies of the particular employer.

If you’re involved in an active job search, you may be exploring your own sources and working with one or two recruiters (we don’t recommend more than that), as well as going through friends and other contacts. However, it’s important that you keep track of prospective employers that already have been contacted, who reached out on your behalf (even if it was you), when that contact was made, to whom, the response, and when that response was received. As your search continues, keep that list updated.

You must insist that no one sends your résumé anywhere without your specific, prior permission. In addition to avoiding double submissions, you don’t want your résumé going someplace where you 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).

Recruiters don’t 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’ll look desperate or as if you don’t 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.

Valerie Fontaine
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