Headhunters / Recruiters, In-House Counsel, Job Searches

Inside Straight: Landing An In-House Job

I had lunch recently with a guy who’s looking for an in-house job. He was complaining about how tough this is: “Recruiters don’t do you any good. They’re focused almost entirely on moving lawyers between law firms; they don’t know about in-house jobs. The recruiters who get retained to do job searches for corporations are working for the corporation, not you. If you don’t match the criteria the corporation laid out, they don’t want to talk to you. How the heck does one land an in-house job?”

Surprisingly, I’d never thought about this issue. (I wasn’t looking for an in-house job — or, indeed, any job at all — when I landed in my current position.) Because I’d never considered how one obtains an in-house job, I had no idea what the answer was. So — always thinking of you (and searching for blog fodder) — I picked the brain of a headhunter-friend.

How, I asked the headhunter, should a lawyer go about looking for an in-house job?

The headhunter said three things.

First, he said, networking is the way to get in the door for in-house positions. Networking won’t automatically land you a job, but it improves the chance that you’ll get an interview.

Second, the headhunter said that even the biggest recruiting firms have only a narrow view of the market for corporate jobs. Different corporations use different recruiters to find candidates for legal jobs. Even the largest recruiting firms will be handling only a relatively few placements, which represent only a tiny percentage of the open jobs. Thus, the headhunter — the headhunter! — recommended that lawyers looking for in-house jobs not rely exclusively on a single recruiting firm.

Finally, the headhunter suggested that candidates think hard about how they can demonstrate the intangible skills that corporations are looking for in in-house lawyers. Those skills include attributes such as being (1) proactive, (2) responsive to business needs, (3) politically astute, (4) a “team player,” and (5) passionate about the business. (Frankly, many of those strike me as the same attributes that make for success in law firms. The only one that’s really different is having a passion for the business. And having a passion for the business does matter. Demonstrating artificial passion about the business may land you a job, but having an actual interest in the business will make you happier once you’re working. When you go in-house, the business in which you work will become the lens through which you view your legal world.)

My headhunting friend also noted that lawyers should understand that, by moving in-house, lawyers are changing from being a source of revenue (at a law firm) to an expense (at a company). That changes the way that lawyers are perceived. And lawyers are moving from an environment in which they can spend considerable time pondering all of the details of an issue into a fast-paced environment in which the lawyers are asked to make quick decisions based on imperfect information. In-house lawyers are not permitted to suffer from “paralysis from analysis.”

This advice strikes me as generally sound, although your approach may vary depending on the in-house position that you’re angling for. If you’re pursuing an entry-level in-house job, many corporations post those openings on their websites, screen résumés, and interview a few candidates. To score an interview in that setting, you could use an in-house contact who will cause your résumé to be plucked from the mass.

On the other hand, if you’re pursuing a higher level job, the corporation is more likely to have retained a recruiter, and the job opening may be publicized more narrowly (or, at a minimum, in different ways). In that environment, it may be a challenge even to learn that the opening exists, and your résumé may have to match the recruiter’s written specifications pretty closely for you to have any chance of being considered seriously for the job.

Last, but not least: Sorry, but we have no openings at my joint (other than the ones that are posted). I wish you the best with your job search, but I personally can’t help.

Good luck!

Mark Herrmann is the Chief Counsel – Litigation and Global Chief Compliance Officer at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link) and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide. You can reach him by email at inhouse@abovethelaw.com.

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