In an effort to lighten the load and get some help on the job hunt, both law students and new lawyers reviewing the resources available to them often wonder about recruiters. Do recruiters work with law students? Who are they and what do they really do? Are they worth it? Can these people help me find a job? How do I find a recruiter who will work with me? By understanding the nature of the recruiting business, you can make an informed decision on whether a recruiter is for you, and, if a recruiter isn’t part of your job search, how you can use their strategies in your own job search.
Fiction: A legal recruiter’s job is to find the candidate a job.
Legal recruiters are paid by their clients not the candidate. While legal recruiters can build close relationships with their candidates, recruiting fees are paid by the employer when that employer hires a candidate who was introduced to the employer by a recruiter. Thus, a recruiter’s job is to find the best talent for the position the employer is seeking to fill. Recruiters are not paid to help people enter the legal field, transition to new practice areas, or find jobs for those that have been unemployed for long periods of time. Instead, they are seeking talented individuals who have done the job already in a different context, or candidates ready to move up to the next level in their same career path. Also, employers generally do not accept unsolicited résumés from recruiters. They hire them for specific jobs. While good recruiters dedicate extensive time and resources to working with candidates who are likely to meet their employer clients’ expectations, they are not an employment agency, career counselor, or coach for job seekers.
Therefore, if a recruiter attempts to charge you, as the candidate, for their services your instinct should be to decline and walk away. If you decide to inquire further, ask very detailed questions about the services you would be purchasing and then critically think about whether you actually want such a service. If résumé review and critique is offered, ask yourself if you can get the same (or even better, more personalized) service by utilizing your career services office, faculty mentors, or alumni contacts. If mailing services for résumé and cover letters are offered, ask how the mailing lists are created and how such an approach is tailored to you and your interests. Then ask yourself if mass mailing of unsolicited résumés is an effective way to conduct your job search (the answer to that question is “no”).
Fact: Legal recruiters generally do not work with law students.
There are literally tens of thousands of law students who blanket firms with their résumés every year. Firms (even small ones) generally don’t need outside assistance to find recent law school graduates to hire. Simply put, law firms do not need to pay a recruiter to recruit law students. No matter where you go to school or how great your grades are, if a recruiter is contacting you as a law student, you should be skeptical, to say the least. That said, law students who understand how recruiters work can and should incorporate recruiters’ tactics in their own job search.
Understand that recruiters should have experience in and connections to a geographic or practice area. If recruiters don’t or claim national coverage, you wouldn’t work with them as they won’t be able to speak intelligently about particular firms, the market, or the practice area. Similarly, law students must find a connection in their target market that can provide them with insider information. Start with career services. Odds are, they will have general but not necessarily specific knowledge. Work with career services to find alum in your target market or practice area who can give you detailed information about hiring practices and trends, networking opportunities, and local resources you can tap into. Once you have those connections, tap into faculty, mentor, and/or organizational connections to broaden your knowledge and maximize your job search.
Many law firms will give a recruiter credit for a hire resulting from résumé submission within a certain time frame. Thus, some unscrupulous recruiters will blast a candidate’s résumé to the entire AmLaw 100 in an attempt to lock in their right to a fee. You wouldn’t use a recruiter who does this nor should you employ this tactic in your own job hunt. It is not effective or efficient and will only lead to frustration as your hundreds of résumés are rejected or ignored.
Relationships are key. If you are working with a recruiter, you need to look at their bio to determine their recruiting experience, their legal experience, and their relationship to the firm to which they want to send your résumé. If they don’t have credibility in the market or with the employer, they won’t be able to help you and might actually hurt you in your job hunt. Likewise, your relationships are the most important aspect of your job search. Developing authentic connections with practicing attorneys is the most effective job search tool, bar none. Develop and nurture these connections. Make your connections your own “recruiters” in the market—passing along information and leads to you whenever they can, introducing you to the legal market in your geographic or practice area, and helping you establish yourself as part of the profession.
Fiction: Once you get that first job out of law school, any legal recruiters will be eager to work with you.
As discussed above, legal recruiters are paid by their clients to find and deliver candidates that are a close, if not exact match, to their requirements. The employers specify the bare minimum in terms of qualifications and experience and it is the recruiter’s job to vet candidates, only sending through those who meet or exceed requirements. Thus, if an employer requires certain minimums that you do not meet, a recruiter will not put you through as a candidate as doing so will undermine their credibility and relationship with their client. While there are always exceptions to a rule, candidates with an unconventional background or weak credentials will likely not have success working with a recruiter as the recruiter’s clients simply will not pay a fee for an introduction of a candidate who falls short of their minimum requirements.
Fact: A personal recommendation is the best way to find a recruiter you can trust.
As with any other professional or service provider, if you are looking to work with a recruiter, talk to your friends or trusted colleagues to see if they know a recruiter who has assisted them in the past. Research your recruiter. What is their firm’s recruiting philosophy? Do they follow ethical guidelines? Have they written any articles on career-related issues? The most important of all these considerations is word of mouth as it is a recruiter’s good name that makes them good.
Similarly, if a recruiter contacts you, do not readily give out your résumé without doing your investigation. Just as a competent recruiter can advance your candidacy with an employer, a recruiter who is not respected can damage your prospects as employers question your judgment for engaging a disreputable recruiter to work on your behalf.