Your choice of a recruiter—and the way you manage the process—will have a profound impact on your short-term and long-term opportunities. There are many good recruiters and many benefits to using one. Below are a few pointers on handling the cold calls and selecting a good recruiter.
Do not readily give out your resume. Most law firms will give a recruiter credit for a resume submission for 6–12 months from the date the recruiter sent in the resume. Some recruiters will blast your resume to the entire AmLaw 100 to lock-in their right to a fee. If there is no matching opening, you may get labeled in a law firm’s recruiting database with an “X” or “No” next to your name. Whenever a relevant position comes open months later and you apply, a busy recruiting manager may discover the X next to your name and not dig any further. Worse yet, if there is no matching practice in that office or no office in that city, the firm will question your judgment for “engaging” a sloppy recruiter to work on your behalf.
Ask the recruiter questions. Many “recruiters” are jumping into the market for the first time. Some have no recruiting experience, no legal experience, no experience in your geographic market of interest, and/or no relationship with or knowledge of the firm they want to send your resume to. Ask the recruiter questions before you send over your resume. How many placements have they or their agency made? How many interviews have they secured? Have they or their colleagues met with the firm they want to send you into?
Research the recruiter. Take a look at the recruiter’s website. Take a look at their bio. Where are they located? Have they practiced? Have they practiced in the type of firm you’d like to join? In that practice area? If not, can they at least speak intelligently about firm life, the market in your area, or your practice? Do they say that they have “national” coverage, which is virtually impossible for an individual to do with any level of proficiency? Do they recruit in other areas besides law?
Talk to friends/colleagues about the recruiter. Ask for references. Look up the recruiter on LinkedIn; reach out to any connections you have in common.
Do not give the recruiter a blank check to send your resume to whichever firm they see fit. A firm will want to know that you have actually considered applying to it. If the recruiter cannot represent to the firm that they have discussed the opening with you and that you are specifically interested because of X, Y, and Z, then your application will not have as much credibility with the firm.
Beware of the phantom opening. Some recruiters post phantom openings on their websites, just to get your resume. Relatedly, some recruiters call about the “unadvertised opening with Cravath,” which may not actually exist. You offer your resume in response, and two weeks later the recruiter tells you that the position closed or that the firm “rejected” you. In the meantime, the recruiter has sent you to the AmLaw 100.
Be wary of claims of an “exclusive” on an opening. Some recruiters will claim to have an “exclusive.” If the opening is on the firm’s website, then there is likely no exclusive. Firms do reach out to select recruiters with unadvertised positions; a recruiter may have an exclusive or semi-exclusive on such a position. Do your diligence on the recruiter so that you do not fall victim to the phantom opening trick above.
A good recruiter can assist your search in many ways: sharing general market knowledge, sharing law firm and practice group specific information, preparing your resume and cover letter, assuring your resume gets noticed in the pile, prepping you for interviews, following up on your behalf, offering guidance in evaluating and negotiating offers, offering advice on giving notice, etc.
However, the many good recruiters out there cannot help you with a particular firm if you have already applied to that firm through a bad recruiter. To fully maximize the benefit of using a recruiter, make sure you select one who is talented, reputable, informed, and connected.