Who Does What in the Job Search Game?

Who Does What in the Job Search Game?

Making a career move can be a daunting task, but you don’t have to go it alone. There are a variety of professionals to assist you. Understanding who is who, and what each can and can’t do for you, allows you to maximize their services. Regardless of whether you engage one or more of these professionals, however, you must remain in control of your job search.

  • Career Counselors and Coaches

Career counselors or coaches help you cope with career issues which might, but not always, involve a job change. They work with you to determine 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, but many don’t specialize in any particular industry.

A good career coach won’t pretend to be able 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 – usually on an hourly or per-session basis – whether or not you land a new position.

  • Legal Search Consultants

Legal search consultants (AKA recruiters or headhunters) conduct searches on behalf of their employer clients to fill specified job openings. You, the job seeker, are the candidate; 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 particular position, whether or not the target lawyer is in the market for a new career opportunity, which is why you might receive a headhunter’s cold call.

Legal search consultants usually work on a variety of opportunities, ranging from junior-level associate to senior partner in a law firm or corporate counsel from mid-level up to and including General Counsel. They rarely handle entry-level positions, which generally are filled through on-campus recruiting, firm websites, or job board and legal newspaper postings.

Although recruiters work for the employer-client, in the process they provide services to the candidate-attorney. They assist you with polishing a résumé if necessary, brief you about the prospective employer and open position, prepare you for interviews, and coach you through the hiring process. They do not charge candidates a fee for these services which are provided in the course of fulfilling a search.

Many recruiters belong to the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (www.nalsc.org). All reputable search firms, whether NALSC members or not, should adhere to the NALSC Code of Ethics® which regulates the relationships between recruiters and their clients, candidates, and other search firms.

  • Outplacement consultants

Outplacement counselors provide services when a lawyer’s employment ends, whether as part of a mass layoff or single termination. They assist the exiting attorney with crafting résumés and cover letters, job search advice, interview skills coaching, and job leads. Their business is providing job search skills and contacts, not necessarily finding you a new position.

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. The outplacement firm’s fees are paid by the downsizing employer, not the exiting employee. Cost varies by duration (from a few months to a year), services provided, and whether they are provided individually or as a group, in-person or online.

  • Executive marketing firms

Executive marketing firms advertise exclusive contacts and access to the hidden job market. Services can include drafting your résumé and cover letter, providing contact lists, or processing mailings on your behalf. Their fees, ranging from $2,000-25,000 or more, are paid in advance by you, the job seeker. Some also require you to pay them an additional fee if and when you land a job.

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. Talk to references before agreeing to pay anything and think twice if references cannot be provided. At the very least, research them on the Internet and check with the Better Business Bureau before opening your wallet.

  • Career Services Offices

Don’t forget to contact the career services offices at your law school and undergraduate institutions. They may offer job postings for alumni, job search skills workshops or local social events for you to attend, career counseling, online assistance, and mentoring programs. Because of job losses during the recession, many colleges and law schools added career services staff especially to assist alumni.

If you moved since graduation, ask whether your alma maters have reciprocal arrangements 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 allow the use of their supplementary career services resources.

  • Law firm and Corporate Recruitment Personnel

Virtually every legal employer of any size has professionals in charge of recruiting and hiring law students, new graduates, and lateral attorneys for the organization. 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 non-lawyer 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. Check the organization’s website to determine to whom to your resume, what other documentation is required, and whether there is an online portal you must use.

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 lawyer 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 answer candidates’ questions and ease you through the hiring, on-boarding, and integration process.

  • Your Responsibility

You, the job seeker, are in charge of your search, regardless of which professionals you engage to assist you. If you’re actively seeking a new position, you should explore 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. However, it’s 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.

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.

Before engaging any consultant or counselor, know exactly what services they provide, whether those meet your current needs, any fees, 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
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