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Headhunters. Huh. What Are They Good For?

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Ata Farhadi is a Director of associate, partner, and in-house recruiting at Lateral Link. He recruits for Am Law 200 firms, smaller boutiques, and corporations ranging from financial institutions to major entertainment and media outlets. As a Director at Lateral Link, Ata offers market analysis, résumé advice, interview strategy and related services to attorneys across the United States, Europe and Asia. Ata is also a proud alumnus of Pembroke College, Oxford, and the University of Southern California (Go Trojans!) and is always happy to hear from alumni of either school.

Quite a lot, actually.

By now, you’ve probably read an article or two on the subject, and know that headhunters are third-party recruiters, tasked with the job of exploring the market to find the best attorneys willing to move for the best firms willing to hire. The very best headhunters aren’t in it to throw mud against the wall to see what sticks, but rather it is in the headhunter’s, the firm’s, and your own interest to ensure that your transition goes as smoothly as possible, both before and after you are hired.

How exactly do headhunters help? Or, more to the point, how have we helped associates and partners like you? Here are some real-life examples from Lateral Link as proof that the best recruiters really can add value to your search.

Learning Your Value In The Market (Law Firm and In-House)

The truth is that sometimes candidates underestimate the value of their experience and credentials. They never apply for the jobs they really want, or paint an inadequate picture of their credentials and abilities when they do. The career counseling and moral support a good recruiter can offer, combined with his/her knowledge of the hiring criteria at hundreds of great employers, can really make all the difference, whether you’re looking to lateral to a firm or find the right in-house job for you.

On the law firm side, securing an interview and the job often comes down to three major things: school/GPA, the quality of your current firm, and the level of your hands-on experience. Demonstrate two out of three of these (as a valued mentor once taught me), and you may be a much better candidate than you think.

Jonathan Birenbaum, an associate, partner, and in-house recruiter in our New York office, shares the story of a litigation candidate who was convinced she did not have “the chops” for Biglaw because of her small firm background. Intimidated at the prospect of interviewing with Biglaw partners, the candidate was convinced she would have nothing to offer. Jonathan disagreed:

“All she needed was some moral support from a recruiter familiar with the hiring values of the prospective firm, and a better perspective on her talents. Coming from a small firm, she had the deposition and drafting experience often lacking in Biglaw candidates her senior, and that, in combination with extra-interview prep and interviewing well, were enough to snag her the job.”

Similar stories abound for in-house, where success can often come down not only to experience and credentials, but also to a personal background that fits well with the company’s goals and culture — a fact that some candidates miss entirely, but which a good recruiter will always help you focus on. Diana Rubin, Lateral Link’s resident in-house expert, agrees:

“I had a candidate who was well qualified for an in-house position at a large company with a strong public service mission. Although she was working at a law firm, she had a significant public service background. In addition to her law firm job, she was serving as the pro bono general counsel of a health care nonprofit, and had done significant public service work throughout college and law school, much of it in the health care space. She had also taken an alternative public service curriculum in her first year of law school. Clearly she had shown interest in public service throughout her career. Yet when I asked her in interview prep why she was qualified for the job, she mentioned none of this background. Nor had she mentioned it in her questionnaire when asked about why she was a fit for this position. After reviewing her background, she realized how all of her experience made her a true fit for the position, and was able to cite it with true conviction in her interview. She got the job and has been working there happily ever since. Preparation is everything, and teaching candidates to make the very best case for themselves is often the difference between success and failure in getting the job for which they are truly well suited.”

Enough said.

Intelligence Gathering

The most obvious way in which our recruiters have helped their candidates is by providing inside information to help candidate’s choose between potential opportunities. Such information covers a variety of issues from personalities at prospective employers to unwritten expectations concerning a candidate’s experience and career goals. Here are a few relevant examples.

Intelligence Gathering: What Firms Are REALLY Looking For

It is fair to say that the majority of job descriptions posted online are pretty accurate. If it asks for licensing experience, you better have it. If it asks for entertainment experience, don’t bother begging for a chance to break into the industry. If it says 3-5 years of work experience, you’re not going to have any luck as a 2012 grad, plain and simple.

There are a host of exceptions. Many times, recruiters are brought in on a search after HR’s initial efforts have yielded no fruit. Under such circumstances, a good recruiter will discover “what the firm is really looking for” (which may not have been in the description), and will understand why the position has been so hard to fill. In some cases, given a long enough dry spell, firms may even loosen their requirements, again, without telling the whole world, and it is then that a well-placed recruiter might call with a fantastic opportunity. Something that might otherwise have been out of reach and about which your peers may not yet have been informed, thus putting you at a distinct advantage.

In addition to these situations, there are a host of other scenarios I regularly come across where I have learned the answers to questions that are of significant benefit to prospective candidates. They assist in identifying the most suitable opportunities. For example, is the hiring firm unofficially particular about certain GPAs? What is the firm’s attitude towards future moves in-house? Does the partner prefer certain types of personalities? The list goes on…

(hidden for your protection)

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