You're Hired! When and how to use a headhunter

Originally posted on LinkedIn -

Lisa Unwin on 23/11/23

Why is it that women are often more unlikely than men to take a call from a headhunter*? Are women less likely to be seen as a "flight risk"? Do their career and promotion prospects suffer as a result? Do women lack ambition or are they just, perhaps, not as good at "playing the game?"

We recently shared an article entitled: "Are you too loyal to your employer?" and wrote about how important it was for women to find sponsors at work. Seeking a different take on this topic, I spoke to our co-founder, non-exec chair and experienced executive search consultant Melinda Wallman, about why, when and how to engage with headhunters or recruitment consultants.

When is the right time to engage?

You should always be thinking about your marketability - internal and external. Where is your career heading? Are you in the place that best suits you now and in the near future?

Don't wait until you are feeling dissatisfied. Instead, be open minded, proactive and positive about your future. Keep extending your network and your contact base and have your future market positioning in mind.

What are the signs that you might be ready for a move?

Are you feeling happy, successfully engaged? If so, you're likely to be in the right place. If, on the other hand, you don't feel as though you're growing and engaged, pause to ask why. It might be that you need a new focus internally - a new mentor or sponsor, the opportunity to work with different clients, or perhaps be staffed on a different type of project. If so, explore those internal opportunities. Or perhaps, this isn't the place for you long term and it might be time to think about a move.

How do you choose a recruiter or headhunter?

The same way you'd choose any professional adviser. Do you homework. Research the market. Ask the people you trust, have them refer you. Who is the best in the market for what you do? Bear in mind the answer will be different if you're looking for in-house versus private practice and will also change depending on your practice area or the type of firm you want to target.

What should I talk about?

Drill them for their knowledge and experience. Ask them what's going on in the market, particularly in your area. Where are the growth opportunities, who is on the up, where is your firm and your practice area positioned. What are the opportunities they see for someone of your background. How does your compensation compare to similarly situated lawyers at other firms.

What's your view on following a partner or partner team

That very much depends on you, the partner team and the firms involved. Will those partners be creating opportunities that could further your career in the new firm? Or, conversely, will their departure make you more valuable to your existing firm and provide a growth opportunity for you there. The question is the same whether you stay or go: "Which platform provides the best growth opportunity for me/my career and who will support me in that growth?"

Are women really more reluctant to take those calls and if so why?

Yes. Women take cold calls less frequently. Perhaps because they place more value on relationships and don't like a cold call. However, I also think they're super busy, delivering for their clients, taking on internal roles, keeping family life together. They sometimes just don't have the time to put their heads above the parapet and spend time talking about themselves and their career.

Also, I've noticed that where they have children and they are somehow making it work, they can feel a sense of loyalty to the firm who is "allowing them" to do that. As though they somehow owe them a debt of gratitude instead of expecting this as a right. This is also a factor in the gender pay gap - women don't negotiate hard because they feel grateful for any flexibility that their firm may have provided to help them balance work and family.

What about when women do leave? How easy is it for them to integrate

Surveys that I have carried out over the years have consistently shown that female lateral hires integrate more smoothly and more quickly than men. For all the reasons above, they tend to have done a lot of research, taken their time and spent a lot of the recruitment process investigating and cementing new relationships. For them, the integration process begins from the first introduction and as a result the first 100 days tend to go more smoothly.

Also, in my experience, women rarely join firms where they do not know someone already.

How do you ensure you're a good leaver?

Treat people with respect. Be courteous, leave the team in a better place than when you found it, take time to hand over properly. Explain that you're leaving the role not the people and that this is an opportunity that is right for you and your career at this point in time.

People understand that. Careers are long, you never know when you'll meet again.

Note: *The unscientific results of several conversations I've had with headhunters in the last month or so.

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