I received an offer recently that I couldn’t refuse – an invitation from “legal search consultants.”
They were having a convention and asked if I wanted to drop by, and, you know, say hi.
Vague images flitted through my mind – guys in suits dancing in a conga line wearing hats with silly horns.
I don’t often get invited to shindigs. I’m a therapist. Mostly, I visit my office, my dog and whoever’s sitting in the other chair. Or I sit at my desk and write columns. Ask me to a party? Hell yeah, I’m down. I’m all over it like a tall dog in a cheap suit. You looking to turn it out? Count me in.
I never say no to headhunters, conga lines and hats with silly horns.
So I went. And it was fun.
Here’s the newsflash about headhunters – they’re good peeps.
At very least, they’re more fun than lawyers. In fact, many of them were lawyers, but had to get out because they were too fun.
They can also teach you stuff you need to know – not just pointers on beer pong and naked Twister.
Behold three key lessons acquired whilst getting down with my bad self in the company of legal search consultant party animals…
FIRST: They aren’t the enemy.
I’m not sure why you thought they were the enemy. Except I used to.
As a snotty-nosed first-year at Sullivan & Cromwell, I received weekly phone calls from headhunters and I knew exactly what to do. The routine is simple – you hang up. You announce, in a snooty voice, that you aren’t interested. Then you slam down the receiver. It’s like slamming the door on a door-to-door salesman. It’s his just and inevitable fate, because he’s a little person and you’re at a top NYC law firm.
Then – in your second or third year – it dawns on you your ultimate career destiny might not lie with Sullivan & Cromwell – and the headhunter you slammed the phone on could have been your ticket out. He’s also a former second or third year – or fourth or fifth year – from a top firm. He got out – and is currently doing a whole lot better than you are.
That’s why he’s calling you, you idiot.
You hung up on him and it was fun. But now you’re stuck in hell and it’s looking like that might be your fate in life – that or unemployment. Take your pick.
The toughest-skinned headhunter takes umbrage at being treated him like a vacuum cleaner salesman. Even vacuum cleaner salesmen find it irksome.
But hey – aren’t headhunters sleazebags in it for the money?
And you’re not?
Sure – some headhunters are better than others. Some are more honest and scrupulous. I spoke to plenty of them at this convention cum erotic dance party. A few looked me in the eye and admitted they weren’t all the same. A surprising number turned serious and swore they would never place a candidate in a position they felt was “a bad fit” – even if it meant picking up a fee worth over twenty grand.
Do I believe them? Yes.
A good headhunter knows burning candidates – and clients – doesn’t make long-term sense. An unhappy candidate won’t last the six months or so required to earn a fee. If the candidate storms off in a huff, it burns bridges with the client – and damages the headhunter’s reputation. That makes it impossible to get more placements.
Additionally, all headhunters aren’t evil. Remember – they’re no longer lawyers, they only work for them.
No one bad-mouths real estate agents – or hardly anyone. But given the choice between a real estate agent and a headhunter, I’d take the headhunter any day. A real estate agent is more likely to rip you off, because he can get away with it and move onto another clueless homebuyer.
Stop bashing headhunters.
If you were a big-shot partner looking for a job, you’d already know that. You’d also have made the logical leap that these folks are out there to help you. That’s the only way they earn a living. They’re not out to waste anyone’s time.
SECOND point: They really, really hate it when you aren’t serious about exclusivity.
Why do headhunters “cold call” nasty little associates at law firms? To make money.
It works. They might call on a day the Kool-Aid’s wearing off. The day the partner smirks and yet again hands you an assignment on Friday afternoon due Monday morning. The day he hands back your brief covered in red ink and says he “expected better” even though you only put in his changes. The day you haven’t billed an hour in two months but everyone else looks busy.
On that day, you could use a supportive voice on the other end of the line, offering steady insider advice. You could use a means of escape.
At that point, you’re going to break down and send this headhunter – the one who happened to call – your resume, and agree to let him submit it to a few law firms or other places to try to get you a job.
Stop right there – at that moment in time – and think.
After you give him that permission, you shall be represented exclusively by that guy, at least for those jobs. That might not be a bad thing. But a week later, when a really nice lady headhunter you like even better calls, and you break down in tears with her and she says exactly what you need to hear and you realize she’s the best headhunter in the whole wide world…well, you’ve already gone with the other guy. It is a fait accompli.
Maybe you forgot you ever told the first guy he could send in your resume. Maybe you weren’t listening closely when he asked. Or you didn’t think he meant all twelve firms. Or you thought you could change your mind and go with the nice lady.
You can’t. It will be a major drag for the nice lady when she re-submits your resume to the firms and finds out you – more or less – lied to her, and made her look like an idiot by re-submitting a candidate already represented by her colleague.
Don’t do it. Stop, use common sense, and have lunch with a few headhunters before you decide on the one you want to use. That’s all they’re asking.
FINALLY : They don’t have any jobs for you unless you’re at the top of the market.
You already know this – you just haven’t stopped and thought it out and acknowledged it to yourself. So let’s do it. It is rather ironic – now that you realize headhunters are your friends, you won’t be meeting any any time soon.
They only want to meet you if they think they can place you. According to the consensus I was hearing from the party people singing “Dayyyyyyy-O!” and bending before the limbo pole at the convention – at this juncture in our nation’s history, there are no legal jobs out there for anyone but the upper-upper-crust.
One guy told me in serious, hushed tones: “Look, if you’re Joe Schmo, there’s no work. If you’re top of your class at Harvard or Yale, there’s work. That’s what the firms want.”
Another put it differently: “Either you got the resume or you’re S.O.L.”
(“S.O.L.” is a technical headhunting term.)
Sorry, guys. Headhunters are looking for two things. First, partners with at least a few hundred grand in portable business. (Duh.) Second, brilliant associates from top schools with superb credentials in specialized areas sought after in specialized regions of the country.
I overheard dudes from the Bay Area parleying with New England prepsters about relocating labor specialists. I listened in while gals from Houston put out the buzz to fellas from Chicago for senior oil and gas in-house types willing to travel.
Headhunters aren’t clowns you hang up on. They’re pro’s earning more than you, doing a serious job.
Trust me on one final point: Unlike your lawyer buddies – they know how to party.
This piece is part of a series of columns presented by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.
If you enjoy these columns, please check out The People’s Therapist’s new book, Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning
I can also heartily recommend my first book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy
(Both books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.)