Aaron Consulting, Inc.



Career Q & A

After 30 years of nationwide attorney recruiting, I have been in contact with tens of thousands of attorneys.  With completed assignments involving junior and senior level law firm and corporate lawyers, I find few attorneys prepared to consider or make one of the most important decisions in their lifetime—the next employment opportunity.  The following advice should help attorneys minimize many of the biggest "after the fact" career frustrations following their graduation from law school.

Question:  An employer has asked me to lunch for a first interview.  Should I offer to pay when the bill comes to the table?

Answer:  No.  We use the modern rule of a dating analogy here that simply says, "Whomever asks, pays."  Saying thank you for the meal is the only common courtesy required.

Question:  Should I put my direct line work phone number on my résumé?

Answer:  When you are sending a résumé to a headhunter, absolutely!  Most headhunters prefer to make their discreet, confidential calls during business hours.  A direct line work phone number minimizes contact with those who needn't hear our voice, know our name, or reason for calling.  It's also the fastest and surest way for us to get in touch with you.  A non-direct, general company phone number often requires us to learn how to use your company's challenging automated switchboard or work through numerous, often nosy, gatekeepers.  Headhunters, certainly this one, would rather leave no message, disclose no input as to the nature of our call (beyond perhaps "It's a personal call"), than state why we are calling.

It would be helpful to us and others if you state in your voicemail message whether your voicemail box is "confidential," making us more comfortable saying at least our name and leaving a work number for you to return our call, as well as perhaps some hint as to the nature of our call.

Another equally helpful number for us to have is your cell phone number, which generally has a confidential voice mail and means for us to contact you.

Question:  As a seventh year associate at a large general practice law firm, I think it would be better to wait three years until I make partner before I make my in-house move.  What do you think?

Answer:  I have never had a single corporate client demand partnership be a factor in candidacy.  In my opinion, and that of most in-house employers I've encountered, the skills you develop as a very senior associate at a law firm make you just as qualified as a junior partner.  What makes you more marketable to many in-house employers is having an equally impressive mix of law firm and corporate employment in your background.  What surprises many former law firm, newly employed in-house attorneys is the number and quality of legal issues resolved in-house without assistance from outside counsel.  And, by keeping yourself off the market for those three years, you'll miss out on exploring key succession planning opportunities in big and small companies who prefer to promote from within rather than hire from external sources.

Question:  What are the primary differences you see in the types of skills found in those attorneys who have in-house experience versus those who don't?

Answer:  The most obvious difference comes from an almost daily focus on having only one group of business clients to serve all from one company.  The "off the meter" in-house approach permits better client rapport development and improved legal service with faster response time to client questions and, oftentimes, an opportunity for an attorney to develop a broader legal practice and participate more fully in a variety of business processes.  Also, in-house attorneys learn a faster, more proactive style of legal practice than that found in the typically "reactive, 'on-the-meter'" law firm setting.  In-house attorneys quickly learn that their clients are less concerned with "what the law books say" and "we'll call upon you when we need you" approaches.  Also, in-house attorneys have a better opportunity to focus on and understand the client's industrial business and legal trends.

Question:  Following my interview, is it acceptable to write a thank you letter on my firm’s stationery?

Answer:  Absolutely not.  Law firm or corporate stationery is viewed as “company property” and using it to follow up on an interview involving leaving your employer is an obvious misuse of that property.  Follow-up letters should only contain your personal address.  Also, by using your company’s stationery for job-seeking correspondence, you are inviting a mishap involving a prospective employer’s HR department inadvertently mailing their standard rejection letter to your current employer’s address—with your helpful assistant opening it before you do.  Yikes!

Question:  I’ve been advised that the dress code for an upcoming interview is “business casual”.  My current employer mandates formal business attire.  What is and is not “business casual?”

Answer:  For many employers, the 1990’s and dot.com era made business casual de rigueur, making it awkward to prospective employees to have an interview with them in a “suit and tie.”  However, business casual for a prospective employee is different from that of most current employees…they work there and you don’t yet!!!  So, here’s some of the do’s and don’ts.  Shoes should still have a nice shine on them.  Rubber soles (e.g. Rockports and athletic shoes) are out.  You can’t go wrong with conservatively and solid colored dress slacks/skirt and solid colored, long sleeved dress shirts/blouse.  Ties are out.  Jackets, if you really feel more comfortable wearing one or weather permitting, should also be conservative in color and appearance (no glare-producing brass buttons).  Distracting colors and patterns are out.  If you are really concerned about whether your wardrobe will match the occasion, do what I did when meeting a CEO of a telecom company giving us a lucrative General Counsel assignment…I called the manager/senior salesperson of an upscale clothing store and he was willing to evaluate my outfit in person…he gave me the thumb up and offered other suggestions.  I went in feeling comfortable and confident and got the project.  And that’s the key to business casual—if you feel comfortable and confident in your “new style” apparel, it will permit the employer and you to focus on your candidacy, not your appearance.  Conversely, it’s hard for an employer to focus on you when you wear your favorite green Dockers and “lucky” red corduroy shirt.

Question:  I received my law degree in 1982, and I noticed an in-house opening posted on your website requiring an attorney with 3-8+ years experience.  Is it worthwhile for me to apply for this opening?

Answer:  No, but yes.  It is highly unlikely you will get considered for such an opening.  When a range of experience is listed, the lower number is the minimum years of experience out of law school the company will consider, and the upper number is indicative of the top dollar figure permissible under the employer’s compensation system.  The primary reason for the upper experience range is monetary.  The secondary reason may have to do with the stratification of the department, especially in larger companies.  An example of the latter involves law firm hiring.  Although the top five law firms in the top five cities pay recent law school graduates over $120,000 starting salary, the majority of attorneys in this country don’t make that much money.  Hence, why do they do hire a lawyer with no experience when, for the same money, they could hire someone with five years experience?  Answer, because they want to build their organization from the ground up, year after year.  In your case, as a 1982 grad, if you don’t mind getting paid like you are eight years out of law school, you might have a chance, unless the company wants to stratify its hiring and succession of attorneys.

Question:  Why haven’t I heard back from you?  I sent my résumé two months ago.  I’m a litigator from a prestigious East Coast firm, and I’m amazed that you don’t have numerous in-house employers waiting to hire someone like me.

Answer:  It is not a productive use of a recruiter’s time to call candidates and tell them we have nothing for them.  When initiating contact with recruiters, don’t expect them to have an immediate opening to match your qualifications and interests.  It’s simply not possible to have a suitable position available for every résumé we receive at the time we receive it.  Only rarely will we receive a candidate’s résumé out of the blue (i.e., not in response to an opening we have listed in our “Current Openings” section) and have it be appropriate for an opening we are currently working on (which may not be listed in that section).  You can’t time the market and recruiters can’t control the job openings they get from companies.  Nor can we predict the locations, experience levels, practice areas, compensation level, etc. of the openings.

It is important to note that headhunters do not find jobs for candidates.  They are neither employment agencies nor outplacement firms.  Headhunters, especially those involved with the corporate marketplace, earn their revenues exclusively from filling their clients’ open assignments.  This is the nature of the industry and process, especially for recruiters focusing on in-house assignments.

We’ve found that the best time to be in our system is when you are generally happy with your current position.  People tend to make better decisions regarding their careers when this is the case.  The worst time to be contacting us is when you are unemployed and miserable.  Calling and expressing your discontent because the market isn’t going your way is of no help.

Question: Each recruiting firm I work with asks for a different length résumé—some want a one-pager, some much longer—what is the best length résumé to use?"

Answer:  It is ultimately the individual employer who dictates what is an acceptable résumé style.  Generally, employers use one of two approaches-they either want an abundance of candidates to "sift through" or a limited supply of highly qualified candidates to interview.

When employers want to review as many résumés as possible in order to fill a position, a recruiter might send the client as many as 50 potential candidates' résumés to review.  With this approach, both the employer and recruiter would prefer the one-page résumé so that they may do a light screening.  A one-page résumé answers the question "Position by position, what am I generally responsible for?"  The next stage would be to narrow down the selections, obtain more information about the favored choices, and begin the interview process, sometimes with as many as 15 candidates involved in the first round.

When employer time for interviewing is restricted, or when interview expenses are a concern, a different approach is needed--one requiring more "paper" screening up front.  In this case, two-to-five+ page résumés answer the aforementioned question as well as "Position by position, what did I specifically achieve with the responsibility I was given?"  This second question is the main focus of most first interviews.  By taking the time to answer the achievement question in a résumé, the candidate is generating a first meeting that enables the employer to fulfill the role of most second interviews, which typically focus on the personality and philosophy fit and other subjective qualities in a career. With this process, the client has fewer candidates to consider, but every one of them meets the client's objective "paper" specifications of the position. A detailed résumé demonstrates to both the recruiter and the employer that an attorney is pre-qualified for the interview. An in-person meeting will then determine whether or not personalities and philosophies mesh.

Aaron Consulting, Inc. utilizes and recommends this second approach.  For more than a decade, over 75% of our attorney recruiting assignments have been completed with five or fewer résumés for our clients to read.  This strategy permits us to provide the client with the highest quality people whose careers are uniquely suited to the employer's ideal profile of the attorney qualified for the position.  Aaron Consulting, Inc. believes it is our responsibility to both the attorney-candidate and the client to provide high-quality first meetings, rather than the traditional paper screening interviews.

A longer, detailed résumé offers an employer a precise picture of your career responsibilities and achievements in an effort to expedite the interview process.

Question: "Does it make sense to contact an attorney recruiter when I'm satisfied in my current career position?"

Answer: It makes perfect sense if you contact the appropriate recruiter, one who specializes in full-time positions that are relevant to your long-term career goals.  Companies and law firms seek bright, motivated and talented individuals who are difficult to attract.  This is one of the main reasons they choose to engage a recruiter.

Prudent attorneys examine their career positions at least once per year in contrast to the rest of the market.  You will make a higher quality career move if you seek a change while you are generally satisfied with your current position.  People have difficulty making objective decisions about their careers when they are unhappy or even unemployed.  Changes in employment made in frustration or desperation inevitably lead to lateral, possibly downward and, thus, unsatisfactory moves.  This is the fundamental difference between a career move versus a job change.

The role of the recruiter is similar to that of a trusted stockbroker.  He or she will provide you with career alternatives, subject to real time market conditions.  A headhunter can best represent your interests in a safe and confidential manner while you are happy.

By granting both the recruiter and yourself the luxury of having the time to "window shop," you will ultimately make a superior career move while "off the market".

Question: "When should a law school student or recent law school graduate contact a headhunter?"

Answer:  Near the end of each semester, especially the spring semester, our office gets dozens of inquiries from those seeking their first legal career position.  Second-year and third-year law students, those who recently graduated and those who recently passed the Bar Exam often ask us whether or not we will assist them with their pursuit of employment.  While it seems obvious that they should utilize every resource possible in their employment search, there is one very important caveat: before consulting a headhunter, PASS THE BAR. 

While law firms or corporations often hire law school graduates on the condition that they pass the Bar Exam within a predetermined period of time (usually by the following fall or spring), failure to pass may lead to termination or relegation to an inferior position with less pay and limited opportunity.  When an employer engages a headhunter, there is an additional investment of time and money which becomes squandered if the new employee is unable to practice as an attorney.  For this reason, most headhunters do not actively recruit on campuses.  This is not to say that attorney recruiters will not place recent graduates. Through recruiting firms, companies and law firms occasionally seek entry-level attorneys who have already passed the Bar Exam and who meet the employer's general requirements for professional personality and raw legal ability.

Question: "I have finally concluded that I am very unhappy in my current position. Is it better to simply quit the job I'm in now and devote all my time to finding a better one or should I remain working full-time while I search?"

Answer: Generally speaking, it is highly advantageous to remain employed while pursuing a career change. It is a generally known fact that employers tend to favor an employed candidate over an unemployed one for a variety of reasons, especially in the in-house market where position availability is tight and, thus, highly competitive. On a case-by-case basis, there will ultimately be exceptions to this rule, particularly in situations where the current employment situation has become emotionally or physically detrimental to the individual's health.

The employed candidate has a significant edge in the interview process. The interviewer perceives that he or she will tend to make a more objective decision regarding a new career opportunity that would provide them with long-term satisfaction. The unemployed candidate may appear needy or desperate and leads the interviewer to wonder about their long-term goals with the company as opposed to simply satisfying their immediate financial concerns. An individual seeking a "career opportunity" is far more attractive than one who is "just looking for a job." There is a tendency for unemployed candidates to chase one poor fitting job after another, thus adding a turnover problem to their career portfolio.

Even a miserably employed individual has a far better chance than the person who quit their job months ago and simply needs work. In this case it is beneficial to set a tolerable, realistic deadline for the amount of time the person is willing to stay in the current position. In extreme cases, where the company is engaged in illegal or unethical practices or personal harassment has surpassed an acceptable level, it may be prudent to seek the advice of an impartial attorney before contacting a headhunter.

Before simply quitting, it is advisable to make use of some of the free resources available for use in an employment search. Persons such as headhunters and law school placement directors work full-time at identifying and representing alternative employment options for their "candidates." Other free resources include classifieds listed on the Internet, and legal and business publications. By including these resources as a part of an employment game plan, a person will maintain his or her employment advantage in an interview and a paycheck, while confidentially pursuing the marketplace.

Even unhappily employed individuals are more marketable in the corporate legal sector than those who are unemployed.

Please feel free to confidentially ask your own legal career question via telephone or e-mail.  Your questions may be considered for this site.