Stop! What You Need to Know Before Applying In-House

You’ve come to a place in your career where you are ready to make a move, so you start searching the job boards, reach out to your network and contact a recruiter to help you find the next organization where you can hang your hat. Your instincts might tell you to apply for everything and anything; that putting your resume and name out there is more important than applying for the position that fits your experience and interests, right? Wrong! This is where your recruiter’s experience and network help the most.

How We Work For Our Clients

When reviewing your resume and considering placing you—or anyone—with a client, we keep several things in mind:

  • Who is the client? For an in-house search, the hiring company is Major, Lindsey & Africa’s client. MLA in-house attorney recruiters do not represent in-house candidates as individuals in pursuing new opportunities at companies in the same way that law firm recruiters represent law firm associates and partners in their job searches. That said, it is our pleasure to advise in-house candidates and assist you informally in your career path and job search. We develop relationships with you as a candidate in hopes that we might one day be able to place you with one of our clients or that you might become a client yourself. Bear in mind, though, that this advice-giving is strictly pro bono. We do our best to give the best advice we can when we can—while primarily pursuing our paid profession of recruiting the kinds of candidates that our clients have retained us to find.

  • Are you the perfect match? Employers generally ask us with great specificity to find a lawyer to fill a given role, and finding what they are looking for is our job. We work with our clients to help them define what they want, what they need and how those two things match up with each other. We consult to help shape the “perfect” description for the need. As we search, we may look for industry experience, skill set, level of experience, personality fit—any number of things that our clients find important. While we understand that you are smart enough to do the job, that your tangential experience may almost be the same as (and transferrable to) what the client is requesting, our clients don’t always like to think outside the previously well-thought through box nor do they necessarily need to do so. And if they don’t need to think outside the box (if we can find them perfect candidates that fit squarely in the box), we will generally not try to make them do so. Think of it this way: If you own a hardware store and a customer comes in asking for a certain kind of paint, if you have that paint in stock, you sell it to your customer. You don’t attempt to convince the customer that he or she would rather have another kind of paint or a ladder instead of paint. We operate the same way: If the kind of lawyer that our client wants exists, we attempt (and generally succeed) to find it for them. Don't misunderstand, if we feel that our client is missing something truly valuable from their list of "must haves" or we feel that someone is so extraordinary that they cannot be missed, we will let them know. But given our ongoing counsel throughout the search, that is rarely necessary.

  • Do you meet all the requirements? As we already said, the client is looking for someone very specific, so if you aren’t the right fit, don’t apply. Sometimes you can tell right away that you are not right for the role; sometimes you can’t. If you are a labor and employment lawyer, for example, and the job calls for healthcare transactional experience, you aren’t a fit. Very little ambiguity there. If the job is a corporate counsel requiring three to five years of experience and you have been a general counsel for 20 years, the job is likely to be way beneath your capabilities and compensation level and too far outside of the box for what the client needs and is willing to consider. Still, we often get applications from candidates for those positions that are as far from a fit as humanly possible. (We once got an application from a Sea Captain for a job for a Port General Counsel position—unfortunately, not a fit.)

  • For what other jobs have you already applied/shown an interest? If we see you submitting your resume again and again for non-suitable role after non-suitable role, you earn a reputation as a "frequent flier." This lands you on our "no fly" list. Your applications are no longer scrutinized the same way. You become the applicant who cried wolf, and then, when an opportunity comes along for which you would actually be perfect, you may have already squandered all of your credibility since you’ve shown us that you haven’t been discerning.

How We Work For You

While the employer remains our client, in placing a candidate, we believe in cultivating a mutually supportive relationship that can result in a continued and valuable partnership throughout your career. With this in mind, you as a candidate should know that we are keeping an eye open to find you the perfect fit for your career, too, whenever and wherever possible.

  • Be patient and professional. Be assured that we as recruiters really don’t have any skin in the game as to which candidate is hired. Our job is to make the right placement for our client, whoever that may be. We want to do this as quickly and accurately as possible. If we tell you that you are not a good fit, it is because you are genuinely not a good fit. We don’t hold grudges and hope you won’t either.

  • Be cautious of how you proceed. Sometimes candidates believe it will help their case if they appeal to our colleagues or directly to a contact at the client. This is a risky move! In 95 percent of cases, you will simply be directed back to the person handling the search (because the person handling the search is being paid to handle it, after all). By going around the recruiter you are working with, you damage the relationship you’ve established with your recruiter, creating distrust and a lack of respect—and ultimately, taking the risk of alienating yourself from that entire search firm for the rest of your career (divide and conquer is NOT a good strategy here). If you have a contact at the client, talk to your recruiter about it and they will help you strategize about when/if/how you should utilize the contact.

  • Be aware that we’ve been in your shoes. Most of MLA’s legal recruiters are former practicing attorneys. We know that many of you, especially if you are out of work and have to feed your family, are willing to consider positions that are lower in responsibility, pay or scope than your previous roles. But even if you are willing to think outside the box, the client may not feel the same way. Remember that we, too, are merely trying to do our jobs and feed our families. Even if you don’t get a certain job—and remember, there can only be one "winner" per job—we will continue to put you in front of our clients over and over if we believe in you and know that you will represent yourself (and, by extension, us) well throughout the process.

Put your faith and trust in your recruiter. We have seen a lot. We know a lot. We’re working for you and for our corporate clients to make the perfect placement all around. If we believe in a candidate and know the candidate will represent him or herself well, we will absolutely keep you in mind and present you to our clients in which you are interested whenever appropriate. We want you to do well throughout your career, one in-house job at a time.

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Sonya Olds Som is a Managing Director in Major, Lindsey & Africa's Chicago office and is primarily responsible for strategizing and leading networking business development and marketing initiatives for MLA's In-House Practice Group in the Midwest. She can be reached at (312) 580-1085 and ssom@mlaglobal.com.

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