A GC/in-house recruiter for Major, Lindsey & Africa shares her typical follow up letter to potential general counsel candidates
I greatly appreciated having the opportunity to meet with you recently, to learn more about you, your background, career path and career goals. I know that while you have been very gratified by the opportunities and success that you have enjoyed to date as a deputy general counsel, becoming a general counsel is your ultimate goal, and you feel the time is right to start actively pursuing "The Chair." I agree! I feel confident that you are well positioned on The Road to GC and am happy to do all that I can to help you reach your destination.
As we discussed, I am writing to follow up to our meeting with some thoughts and tips concerning your path that I hope might be helpful to you as you proceed on this journey. As much as I like to hear myself speak, I love to read my writing, so settle back with a beverage of your choosing, because this won’t be brief.
In contemplating this process, I think it helps in some measure if you do, indeed, think of this as a process—a marathon and not a sprint, a voyage of self discovery wherein you will learn a lot about yourself and others, forge some great relationships, and generally derive enhanced career satisfaction by rounding out your professional life in this way—and not just focus on the destination of getting another job.
All of the business development/networking-related advice that I give to candidates seeking/exploring the possibility of a new in-house position is the same advice that I give to law firm partners seeking to generate new clients within their firms—once you have mastered your craft and your substantive skills and experience are in place, it’s all about building relationships. The activities and mindset in rainmaking for a firm and in advancing your in-house career are essentially the same and, over time, should produce the same kinds of desirable results—new information and insights, new job opportunities and new client opportunities—new experiences and relationships—to the mutual benefit of you and your connections.
I know, I know: You went in-house in part so that you wouldn’t have to do business development/networking. Sorry! (Not sorry). Competition for GC roles has never been greater and developing your personal brand and network will be key to your success.
With this framework in mind, I highly recommend you focus your energy and efforts in this regard in large part on actively pursuing all of the best possible networking avenues at your disposal in order to establish your personal brand and maximize all of your existing and soon-to-be-created relationships to gain information and connections which will ultimately lead you to the next level of your career, whatever and wherever that may be.
Never has savvy, aggressive relationship building—both online through sites like LinkedIn, and in "real life," through such sources as affinity groups, bar associations, alumni organizations, trade associations (both those geared towards lawyers in certain industries, and those geared towards non-lawyers, other C-suite professionals, board members, and business people) and other networking events—been more important in securing new positions, and to making advancements in existing ones, than it is now.
There’s a business/career development book called "Never Eat Alone" and, while that is not literally possible, the concept is sound. I definitely recommend trying hard to get into the regular habit of getting out of the office at least a couple of times per week for coffees, breakfasts, lunches, drinks, and attending social, CLE and other 1-on-1 meetings or group gatherings that will give you the opportunity to increase and deepen your relationships, pick up valuable info/tips/market intelligence, and so that "Connectors" (see Malcolm Gladwell’s Book The Tipping Point and especially Chapter 2 on "Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.") will know you and you them. The more people to whom you are connected in "real life" and online, the more likely that valuable connections, information and opportunities will find their way to you, especially when you need them to do so. See also the concept of "The Strength of Weak Ties."
While the relationship between law firm recruiters and candidates tends to be a monogamous one where the recruiter acts as the proactive "agent" of the law firm candidate, the in-house market is more "free love" as the corporation is the client paying the bills for "cost center" in-house lawyers as needed while "profit center" law firm lawyers pay for themselves and really drive the process. Therefore, it is important to cultivate relationships with multiple in-house executive recruiters to ensure that they keep you top of mind when they have an in-house recruiting assignment to fill that is not being handled exclusively by Major, Lindsey & Africa, another search firm, or by the company acting on its own.
Besides connecting with other recruiting firms who may have different in-house counsel listings than those offered by MLA (in addition to local and national legal recruiting boutiques), at least one relationship should be established and maintained with someone from each of the leading Executive Search Firms apart from MLA, who are the likeliest organizations to have a GC, divisional GC, deputy GC/"heir apparent," or other senior in-house counsel search assignment in which you might be interested if an external recruiter is used), your school and employment alumni organizations, and the various local and national bar associations, other non-MLA sites to check out for positions/engage in networking activities include:
- Indeed.com (You can set up multiple job searches with various search criteria in different locations and be sent regular email alerts)
- LinkedIn (both reviewing actual job postings by companies as well as taking note of when your network – which you should always be expanding - is seeking candidate referrals in group and individual status updates. Never enter a potential black hole by “cold applying” to jobs if you can – always look for someone on the inside who might be able to assist/advise you http://mashable.com/2013/11/17/linkedin-tips-2/#!)
- Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) (both locally and nationally). www.acc.com
- InsideCounsel - which hosts its annual, national convention, called "SuperConference," in Chicago every spring and which will host its third annual "Women, Influence & Power in Law" conference in D.C. in October 2015 http://www.insidecounsel.com/events/
As is the case for all attorney candidates in this competitive market—especially for the highly-competitive and rare GC roles—networking is likely to be key to your securing your next career opportunity. To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky, applying for job postings alone is like skating to where the puck is (and everyone else is skating there, too), while building strategic relationships with key Connectors is like skating to where the puck is going to be. It really is a numbers game where relationship building is incredibly valuable with as many different kinds of strategically chosen potential employers, recruiters (both internal and external recruiters) and Connectors across as many different platforms (both in "real life" and "online," through avenues like LinkedIn and Twitter), as possible.
With specific regard to LinkedIn, it is important that attorneys not make the mistake of dismissing this tool in the same breath as Facebook (or Pinterest or Instagram or whatever else may be popular with the kids this week!). They are worlds apart. I don’t know a recruiter – internally or at a search firm – that doesn't consult LinkedIn as a primary part of their process of locating and assessing candidates. If you only use one social media platform in growing and utilizing your network for job hunting and general career advancement/enhancement purposes, make it LinkedIn.
I highly recommend that you routinely update and flesh out your LinkedIn profile (Including a professional picture; someone is 40 percent more likely to click on your profile if there is a picture. You wouldn’t go to a networking event with a bag over your head, would you?) with as many background details and skills as possible (and consider adding a connected Twitter account specifically dedicated to business as opposed to a separate, personal Twitter account – both are great sources of gathering as well as disseminating relationships and information). Remember, LinkedIn is a searchable database and the more information you put into it, the more likely and easily you can be located. You should also be joining (and engaging in) as many LinkedIn groups as possible that relate to your background and interests and connecting with as many people that you know (and the people that they know) as possible as well (especially fellow school alums, former work colleagues, HR people, industry connections and senior law firm and corporate lawyers). Also, consider seeking LinkedIn recommendations/endorsements from people with whom you have worked (and offering them in return—always remember that it is a two way street. Focus on the "give" and the "get" will follow). I know more than one GC who was located for his/her position via LinkedIn.
I do a lot of status update posting on LinkedIn because I am in a highly business development-related function in a highly business development-focused company (although, come to think of it, in terms of generating employment opportunities for yourself, so are YOU!), and I am certainly not suggesting that you start posting updates every day. However, you should occasionally post things strategically (like articles you are writing or reading, and presentations you are making or attending, interesting changes to the law in areas in which you practice (without appearing to offer legal advice), etc.) to make sure you and your profile stay top-of-mind amongst your connections and their connections. Most importantly, the profile itself should be treated as a living text, always updated and vibrant, existing as a stand-alone, great representation of who you are—like a resume/interview/elevator pitch/RFP response that is accessible 24/7 by anyone who sees it (especially potential employers/potential Connectors). Having a great LinkedIn profile and many connections and never posting a status update is like having a beautiful house that no one is ever invited over to see.
In the meantime, please also be mindful of how you can, as part of your current role, and as you are taking CLE and other courses, attending conventions, writing articles and speaking on panels, etc. (Turning confidentially to a few select, trusted relationship partners at your outside counsel law firms and other firms where you have close ties can be of great assistance in all of these endeavors and more; trust me, they are very invested in your success), continue to “check the boxes” that we know are important (to varying degrees, depending on the nature of the organization) for securing a GC role:
- Board exposure;
- Management (of attorneys, of budgets, of projects, of outside counsel);
- Compliance/governance/risk management;
- Business-side exposure (cross-functional/departmental special projects, leadership committees, "imbedded" assignments, etc.);
- Some IP exposure (as a money-making sword and/or as a defensive shield);
- International exposure;
- SEC/reporting (a must have for public companies, of course); and
- Soft skills: Managing relationships (up, down and sideways), networking, mentoring/sponsoring, speaking/writing, both internally and externally.
Please keep me posted on your progress and do not ever hesitate to use me as a sounding board as you are contemplating opportunities, regardless of whether or not they are through Major, Lindsey & Africa.
I am pleased to continue to be a resource however I can best provide continued support to you, and have every confidence that, as with every other achievement in your career thus far, this next hurdle can be successfully jumped as well in time with strategic, regular effort.
Good night and good luck!
See the full-feature article on InsideCounsel, November 6, 2014.
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Sonya Som is a Managing Director in Major, Lindsey & Africa's Chicago/Midwest office and is primarily responsible for strategizing and leading networking business development and marketing initiatives for the In-House Practice Group in the Midwest. Sonya focuses on sourcing attorney search opportunities for attorneys at all levels – from junior counsel to General Counsels -- in corporate legal departments in a wide range of industries by creating and developing relationships with General Counsel, Human Resources leaders and other C-Suite executives.