In-House on the Road: Conducting a Long-Distance Job Search

Source: In the House

Real Talk | By Sonya Som

I was just rereading an excellent article by my company's founder, Bob Major, entitled,"Why Didn't I Get a Job Interview? I'm the Perfect Fit." I love Bob's writing. He always keeps it 100% real and is one of my role models for writing about the in-house recruiting world. For my "In the House" column this month, I want to do a deeper dive on this section in Bob's article:

Clients often give priority to locals and those with industry experience.

The flood of applicants for each search means clients have the luxury of picking and choosing as they please. It's Economics 101. Knowing theirs is a buyers' market, clients have come to prioritize those candidates who don't require relocation, as well as those whose industry experience aligns with their own. As to relocation, it's not about paying a moving van several thousand dollars to transport household goods, although everyone—companies, too—likes to save money. It's mainly about risk.

Clients understandably hate to invest months in recruiting someone, only to have that person not "take root" in their new locale. Whether it's the grandparents missing the kids, or the spouse who hates the weather or the new neighbors, relocations entail risk. Clients also draw a bit of comfort from hiring locally since they feel that references are more easily checked with greater reliability; they usually know someone at the company where the candidate has worked. This is especially true in highly networked places like the tech industries in Silicon Valley, Boston or Seattle, and the energy industry in Houston, Calgary or Denver. Even when a non-local candidate makes a slate presented to a client, those candidates who are local and have industry-specific experience often secure the first interviews. And, if the headhunter has done their job in presenting candidates who are all first-rate, the client will often hire from these initial people who are advantaged by interviewing first.

I want to focus on the "priority to locals." Not being a local candidate can be a tough hurdle for in-house counsel. (I am not referring so much here to GC candidates for big, public company GC searches, where companies often just want the best athlete regardless of location — though being a local can definitely give you an edge.) As with many hurdles, however, you CAN leap it. I have a few thoughts on how:

  1. Understand that it is generally NOT (just) about relocation costs. Offering to pay your own relocation costs is probably not going to help. As Bob stated, there are a lot of good, practical reasons why companies are wary of relocating people. While everyone likes to save money if they can, frankly, any company that can't or won't afford to spring for a moving van is probably not one that has a lot of long-term, upward potential for you. Concerns regarding whether a candidate truly has sufficient ties and commitments to a location are REAL. Companies have been burned many times before by people in Florida swearing that they are up for a harsh, Chicago winter, only to flee after one bad snowstorm (after another, after another, after another…). And recruiting firms have been burned when the placed candidate decided to decamp during the guarantee period of the recruiting agreement. Spouses have put their foot down at the last minute after a long interviewing process and said, "I am NOT moving there. Period." Relocated candidates often are perceived as not having their heads in the game on day one. Instead, they are worrying about Timmy's first day at a new school, the arrival of the cable guy, or where the grocery store is. There are a lot of hard and soft costs involved in recruiting and onboarding high-level candidates, especially long distance ones. Why take the risk if an ideal (or, frankly, good enough) candidate is already across the street? A hometown candidate can be fully vetted in advance through local connections and won’t be distracted by the personal transition. That candidate may also bring valuable local relationships, knowledge of the company, and ties to existing team members, opposing counsel, local judiciary, outside counsel, vendors, local politics and customs. If you are an extraordinary candidate for a unique (e.g., FIFRA lawyer) or very important (e.g., GC of a Fortune 500) position, a company will be prepared to risk it all. But if you are not, understand why they will not.

  2. Be specific in your targeting of different geographic areas. It's definitely good to be open and flexible to any great, career-advancing in-house opportunity nationwide. Indeed, I often liken being an in-house attorney seeking career advancement to being an "Army Brat"— there are likely a few moves in your future from different companies to different locations as you make your way up the ladder. There is a difference, however, between being open to any potential location and actually focusing your job search and targeting your networking on a few specific locations that make sense for you. You can't effectively network everywhere. You can't convince every employer that you have strong relationships, connections and commitments in EVERY location (and when you try that over and over in applying to different jobs via the same search firm "I've always loved Des Moines! Santa Barbara means everything to me! I'm all about that Charlotte life!," we notice). While remaining open to other opportunities that may arise, give some structure to your search and increase your chances of success by focusing your job hunting strategy on locations where you have lived, worked, or attended school, where you or your spouse have family or close friends. Target three or four cities, and then focus on no more than 20 companies per city for which you could really be a good fit. Drill down by researching those areas and organizations and cultivating strategic relationships within them. Identify the best national executive and best local legal recruiters with whom to develop a relationship. You will actually be much more invested when you are focused, and you will be much more convincing to potential recruiters, connectors, and employers.

  3. Get on the road! The best way to beat a competing local candidate (all other things being equal) is to actually become a local candidate. Yes, some people quit their jobs and actually move to the area where they want to live. Certainly, that shows commitment, and having a local address on your resume is an advantage. Unless you are independently wealthy, however, quitting a job before you have another one is pretty financially risky—the length of a job search is unpredictable and time never passes by so quickly as when you are watching your bank account balance dwindle. And the "Laws of Recruiting Attraction" (a theory to be written more about another day) state that companies are more attracted to candidates who are already employed—they appear less attainable and more desirable. Plus, the longer you are unemployed, the more desperate you will start to seem – consciously or not. This is a turnoff to connectors, employers and recruiters. And while you aren't working, your skills are (at least perceived to be) getting rusty. So, the next best thing to quitting and relocating is to demonstrate your commitment to your desired market as much as possible by actually visiting that market whenever you can.

Identify a large "tent pole" industry event in the city that you can attend (and ideally speak at) which will give you the opportunity to meet and reconnect with as many relevant local contacts as possible. Supplement this by scheduling individual meetings around the tent pole event. Use already planned personal trips as an opportunity to do a little professional networking. If you attended law school in your desired city, the career and alumni offices can be a great resource no matter how many years you've been out of school – and local alumni events are a great networking avenue. Sitting down face-to-face to express interest in living and working in a community – making the trip on your own time and on your own dime – encourages your local contacts there to share insider information with you about the state of the market, the important people to know, the important organizations to be involved in, the companies that are hiring or laying off, the companies with good reputations and the ones with not-so-good reputations, even what the hottest restaurants are. Knowledge and relationships are key to every job search, and not only will this information help you learn about more opportunities, when you do get an interview, you'll be able to impress your interviewer by name dropping like a native.

  1. Get on the ‘net! When you aren't physically on the road visiting your desired locations, remain virtually connected. Follow local news and companies in which you are interested on social media. Subscribe to local business journals that will provide you with valuable, real-time information that you can act upon via phone and email. Don't just focus on the obvious — job postings and articles about companies' hiring plans — but look for articles about companies' expansion plans, record-breaking profits, headquarters relocation to the area, new product lines, FDA approvals. All indicate that there could be a need for new in-house counsel. Connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc., with as many local contacts as possible and join relevant online groups so you can stay abreast of local news via their postings—and join in the conversations where you can intelligently add value. Sites like indeed.com and goinhouse.com can send you location specific job listings on a daily basis. You won't want to apply to them all, but reviewing them will add to your knowledge of the local market. Join local bar and other professional associations (I was a member of the Chicago Bar Association before I actually moved to Chicago) and be as active as you can—and put those associations on your resume and LinkedIn profile.

Now, with all that said, I need to offer a word of caution: Someone might suggest that you use a local friend or relative's address on your resume and pretend you live there. Don't! If and when it comes to light that you misled the employer, not only will you likely lose your job opportunity or job, you will have perhaps irreparably damaged your reputation at the company, in the market, and with the recruiting firm involved (if there is one). And remember, counselor, we have ethical rules to consider that the average job hunter who decides to "fudge" something on his or her resume doesn't.

Relocating is not impossible! People have been relocating for jobs for as long as there have been jobs. You CAN do this, if you are strategic and really set your mind to it. Now, hit the road!

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This feature originally appeared on 'In the House,' March 20, 2017. "Real Talk" is a monthly column focusing on career-development issues for in-house counsel.

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Sonya SomSonya Som is partner in Major Lindsey & Africa's Chicago/ Midwest office and is primarily responsible for strategizing and leading networking, business development and marketing initiatives for our In-House Practice Group team throughout the Midwest.

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