April, 2000

Look for a New Job While You Still
Like Your Current One

MANAGEMENT in ACTION

By Bruce T. Rubenstein

AARON WILLIAMS, president of Aaron Consulting Inc., St. Louis, has been a legal recruiter specializing in in-house placements for 20 years, a long time to stick with a profession he got into by chance after graduating from college.  

    "I lived eight long blocks from the Snelling and Snelling employment agency in St. Louis where I worked and I was always oversleeping," Williams explains.  "I'd often find myself getting out of bed with 15 minutes to get to the office.  I didn't have a car, but I was an experienced hitchhiker."

    The sight of a man in a three-piece suit hitchhiking through the middle of the business district during rush hour elicited considerable curiosity.  Most of his rides were with white-collar workers who wanted to hear his story and often told him theirs.  One was the general counsel of a title company, who said he'd recently been on a job interview.

    He described how it went and asked my opinion," says Williams.  "At that point, I'd never heard of such a thing as a lawyer interviewing for a job.  I figured they got out of law school, joined a law firm and that was the end of it.  but I didn't hesitate to tell him what I thought about his interview.  I said they were jerking his chain.  So he handed me his resume and said, 'If you can help, go ahead.'"

    That gentleman and his colleague were Williams' first legal placements, both in-house.  "Their salaries were $32,000 and $34,000 respectively," he says.  "Salaries have come a long way since 1980."

    A short time after he had made those placements, Williams created the Snelling and Snelling executive division, from which he continued placing attorneys, mostly at in-house positions.  In 1990 he bought the division and opened Aaron Consulting.

    Two decades in the business have left Williams with firm opinions on the legal industry.  For example, in regards to the temp business: "They do some things well, but I don't like the destructive aftershock of having 'disposable attorneys' in the profession.  It distracts attorneys from finding their best employer and employers from finding the most qualified attorney."

    There are approximately 1 million lawyers in the United States, and Williams would like to have a resume on file from all of them.  "Then I'd know everybody's detailed qualifications and what they're looking for," he explains.  "The biggest mistakes candidates make is waiting too long to educate the headhunter about themselves specifically enough to separate them from the rest of the field.  If we know about them, we can call them when the opportunity they're qualified for and interested in comes along."

    The best time to make a job move in Williams opinion?

    When you are the most happily employed.  "If you're generally satisfied and decide to make a move, it has to be something special," he says.  "Desperate people tend to make lousy career moves."

    Another mistake candidates make is failing to understand the headhunter's role.  "Screening 1 million lawyers down to a handful of qualified candidates means making judgments about personality," he explains, "not just paper credentials.  I've never had a corporate client call me and ask for a talented attorney with the personality of an asshole, yet every year, hundreds of attorneys call my office and present themselves like the attorneys people make lawyer jokes about.  It's such a turnoff."

    Employers make mistakes, too.  A pet peeve of Williams' is the general counsel who needs permission from a personnel executive to use his services.  "The good HR people know they don't have the resources to compete with me on serving their client," he says.

    But the worst mistake employers make, in Williams' opinion, is the compulsion to self-source hires through law firm contacts.  "That is a very inefficient and low-quality approach," he says.  "The best legal recruiters consider everyone, including people who are not on the market, and it results in the hiring of better lawyers.  Self-sourcing is cheap but you know what?  Cheap costs."