There are endless obstacles that can potentially stand between you and your dream job. That includes legal recruitment consultants, who contrary to what I used to believe, are not careers advisers. They are indeed gatekeepers and more to the point salespeople who are often juggling conflicting interests, including their own.

On the one hand recruiters have their clients’ hiring criteria to consider whilst on the other they have to look after the needs of their candidates. Mix in the added pressure of billing targets and numerous other key performance indicators, such as the number of CVs added to their agency’s database, it’s small wonder why some legal recruiters come across as pushy cowboys who are simply in it for themselves.

Thankfully, not all recruitment consultants are as bad as the picture I’ve just painted. Many are brilliant at what they do and worth having in your network even if it’s simply to tap into their knowledge to keep up to speed with developments in the legal market. As such, if you receive an unsolicited message or LinkedIn connection request from a legal recruiter then, time permitting, it may be worth replying to discover why they’ve suddenly developed an interest in you. 

If you’re a final seat trainee solicitor and serious about making a move upon completing your training contract, or indeed already qualified, and want to explore the jobs market for lawyers it’s important to pick a good recruiter to help navigate the process. The easiest way to do this is to ask a trusted friend or colleague who has already gone through the process for recommendations. Otherwise, it really is just a case of searching the net or browsing through job adverts.

Recruitment agencies come in all shapes and sizes. The bigger ones are likely to have more clients but may not always have such close relationships with them. What’s more, you may well find that you get passed between consultants depending on which employer has the vacancy.

By contrast, though smaller/boutique agencies represent fewer employers, they arguably work more collaboratively with their clients and candidates alike. It’s also worth noting that most consultants typically specialise in either private practice or in-house recruitment and not both. Whilst some will focus on placing senior candidates and others on junior placements. The trick here is the ensure your recruiter is a strong match for what you’re after in a new role. 

I’d therefore recommend doing your due diligence before randomly firing off your CV to all and sundry. You can do this by simply picking up the phone to an agency you’re thinking of registering with and then asking some very basic questions including the following: What type of firms do you mostly work with? Do your consultants specialise in any particular practice areas? How many years’ experience do you have in recruitment and what is your background? What is the market for newly qualified (NQ) solicitors looking like?

However, remember your initial call with a recruiter cuts both ways because they’ll also be using the conversation as an opportunity to pre-screen you. As such, always present the best version of yourself and have your elevator pitch / narrative ready, including motivations for exploring new opportunities and what you’re looking for in your next role. Also, be realistic because recruiters are not magicians meaning if you give off the impression that you’re after a unicorn they’re likely to run a mile and politely fob you off.

The conversation will naturally move onto your experience so, again, be prepared to sell yourself by making reference to career highlights and key achievements. Finally, if appropriate, the recruiter will talk you through potential options, including any relevant vacancies that they’d like to put you forward for.  

A note of caution here is that, when discussing vacancies with a recruiter, always ask them to confirm if they are ‘live’ roles that a firm is actively looking to fill or are they suggesting ‘speculative’ approaches. Unfortunately, some recruiters blur the line between these two methods, and though unsolicited application can work for some candidates, they are proving less effective in the current pandemic climate.

Also, if you decide to pursue a speculative application, you may wish to restrict this to a no-names approach to test a firm’s initial interest. Either way, set strict parameters for the recruiter in terms of which firms they are permitted to contact and on what basis (ie will a full CV or an anonymised profile be submitted?).

And for the avoidance of doubt, as well as for future reference, confirm the full list of firms being approached in an email and keep a detailed record that you can refer back to should the need arise. Also, ask the recruiter to show you the final version of your CV they’ll be circulating and again sign it off in an email and keep a copy for your records. Incidentally, a good recruiter should help you to prepare your CV or at the very least finesse it.

In the event you decide to work with more than one recruiter ensure there’s no duplication in the list of firms each one is approaching on your behalf. Take it from me, the quickest way to make a future employer lose confidence in you is to receive your CV from two competing agencies. And trust me, this happens more often than you think.

Try to be as transparent as possible with the recruiters you choose to work with. Again, this will prevent duplication and help the recruiter to gain a clearer understanding of what you’re after. Although, beware of recruiters who are simply fishing for leads. This is especially acute in the NQ jobs market where live vacancies are scarce and recruiters often find out about roles from their candidates rather than via a formal instruction from the employer.

Finally, though I risk contradicting myself, recruiters are only as good as the vacancies they’re working. So, follow the jobs, even if that means working with a recruiter who isn’t your cup of tea.

By Husnara Begum, Associate Editor & Career Coach