Thursday, August 29, 2013

Recruiters, to use or not?

When it comes time to look for a new job or hire a new team member we all struggle with the question of whether or not to engage a recruiter.  They can be expensive and territorial.  But they can also have in place relationships that can quickly make that perfect match.  So, do you use one or not?

From the employer point of view, I almost always recommend using a specialized recruiter for legal department hiring.  Unless your company has a substantial legal department, most internal recruiters won't hire more than one or two lawyers in their career.  They don't know the difference between transactions done in a merger/acquisition and those done for day to day operations.  They won't pick up on the personality difference that's likely to occur in a former plaintiff side vs defense side litigator either.  As the hiring manager you'll spend more time weeding through completely unqualified candidates simply because they have the requisite number of years in practicing law and a few optimized key words in their resume.  And it's not the recruiter's fault.  It takes lawyers some time in real world practice to know there's a difference between employment law and labor law.  How would someone who's asked to pay attention once every three to five years supposed to figure it out effectively?

With a specialized recruiter, usually a former lawyer, you get someone who can ask the right questions and get to a more nuanced job description.  They also spend a lot of time cultivating their networks of qualified candidates to pull on quickly when they get a match.  This means they typically know a bit about the candidates' personality as well as their CV.  Generally this makes for a better fit.  Of course recruiters can be expensive, 20-25% placement fees are common.  However consider the lost opportunity cost of waiting months for the internal recruiter to find the right fit and it doesn't seem so expensive anymore.

From the job candidate point of view, it's a little more complicated.  Recruiters don't work for you.  They work for the company.  It doesn't matter how great you think you'd do at a certain job, if the recruiter doesn't think you're a good fit or thinks someone else fits better you won't get presented to the employer.  But if the employer has decided to use a recruiter, you're not likely to get to them otherwise.  So you are forced to work with them if you want to work for the company that hired them.  

It's actually not that bad, some of the nicest people I know are legal recruiters.  I actually make it a point to know at least one recruiter at each of the major recruiting agencies in my market.  They can give you the insight on a job before it gets posted and help you feel out personalities and fit before you waste weeks on the interview process.  However, they don't work for you.  So getting you working again is not their job.  It's yours.  Generally networking with a recruiter or working with one on a specific position is not enough.  Network with them all, and keep networking with other professionals.  You may just find that your next job isn't through a recruiter directly but through someone they know.

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