Here’s one of my deep, dark secrets: For a few, mercifully brief weeks in the late 1990s, I worked as a legal headhunter.
Let’s just say it was an eye-opening experience.
From all that, here’s what you need to know about headhunters.
1. Headhunters DO NOT work for you. Their loyalties are to the people who pay them, i.e., the law firm or company. You may find individual headhunters who are nice people, but their loyalties are still the same, if they want to stay in the biz.
2. Headhunters are not career counselors. They don’t get paid to help you get your head together about your job search (see #1).
3. Headhunters almost without exception will not try to place you in a job you’ve never done, but know you could do, if given the chance. They find square pegs to fit square holes. Their client has given them a list of qualifications, and their job is to find as many candidates as they can with those exact qualifications. The most any headhunter will stretch is to a square peg with slightly rounded corners.
4. Headhunters will often say that they know how to revamp your resume, but that’s true maybe half the time at best. Most of their advice you can find on websites. Don’t believe them when they say that your resume must always have a professional summary or you can never use a functional resume, or whatever cast-iron rule they dole out. But if they want you to revamp your resume a certain way, and you want to work with them, go ahead and do it the way they want. Just don’t take it as gospel truth that their way is the only possible way.
5. Headhunters often, um, exaggerate. Don’t take it personally when you find out. Just walk away.
6. Never, ever, ever agree to an exclusive with a headhunter. I don’t think this happens often in the legal field, but just in case. You have everything to lose and nothing to gain from limiting your exposure during a job search.
7. Be very, very sure your resume is keyword-rich. Headhunters may forget about you within a couple weeks, but that’s OK, so long as your name comes up in a search of their database. In a Google world, you probably know what I mean by keyword-rich. But if you need help, look no further than the headhunters’ ads. The buzzwords for litigators or deal lawyers are right there. Don’t be bashful about using them.
8. Call every three or four weeks to touch base with your headhunter. You can tell them you’ve updated your resume, or about some new experience you’ve acquired, or heck even a new CLE you’ve taken. Ask what kinds of jobs they’re seeing in demand at the moment, where they think the market for employment law attorneys is going, whatever. Remind them you exist. Send them an updated resume every couple months — it keeps you fresher in their database. Just don’t ask why they haven’t found you a job yet.
9. Do not think a headhunter is the only way you can find a new job. Headhunters are mostly a third-rate weapon in your job-search arsenal, but sometimes they will have an exclusive from a client, and it’s a client you’re interested in.
10. Good headhunters will freely admit most of what I’ve just said. Good headhunters will shoot straight with you, will return your calls reasonably promptly (that means within a few days, not within a few hours), and will act in a demonstrably ethical manner. Headhunters that could also sell used cars won’t do these things.
Like I said, headhunters are tools. Double entendre fully intended.