This pandemic has wreaked havoc on many aspects of many of our lives, including folks like myself being laid off from and trying to find a new job. I thought that it would be helpful to interview a recruiter to get her view on the landscape and her perspective on best practices in cultivating the candidate/recruiter relationship during these challenging times and always. I spoke with Sonya Olds Som, a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ Chicago office focusing on executive search and consulting services. Sonya concentrates primarily on conducting searches for general counsel/chief legal officer and other senior roles within corporate legal departments and law firms across industries and geographies, as well as on executing board searches and providing diversity advisory and related consulting services.

Before joining Heidrick & Struggles, Sonya was a partner at another global executive search firm. For nearly a decade, she was integrally involved with various areas of recruiting within the legal field including advising organizations on their legal recruiting needs with emphasis on diversity and inclusion, sourcing candidates, career counseling, business development and marketing. Sonya was able to leverage a broad and deep professional network throughout the legal industry to help place candidates in senior positions including general counsel in global legal departments.

Prior to that, Sonya served for a decade as a labor & employment and immigration attorney at the associate and partner levels at various national, regional, and super regional law firms, nationwide, laying her foundational knowledge of and connections within the legal industry. 

– Colin S. Levy.

Colin S. Levy

COLIN S. LEVY

WHAT ARE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS FOR A JOB HUNTER TO SET WITH A RECRUITER?

SONYA OLDS SOM

SONYA OLDS SOM

First, I think it is important to understand that there are a lot of different kinds of recruiters, both within an organization and those that work for an outside, third party agency, and they can operate very differently depending on a number of variables. I will focus all of my responses on external executive search firms that operate on an “exclusive” (meaning only one search firm has been hired to fill the position) and “retained” (meaning the search firm is guaranteed payment for some or all of its work and not just paid if the company hires one of the candidates presented) basis like the search firms that I have worked for in my career, filling permanent, senior-level positions in corporations, such as for General Counsels/Chief Legal Officers, Deputy/Divisional General Counsels, CEOs, CHROs, CFOs, and other members of the C-Suite and senior management.

Colin S. Levy

COLIN S. LEVY

WITH REGARD TO THESE SEARCH FIRMS, IT’S MOST IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT THE RECRUITERS ARE HIRED BY THE COMPANY TO FIND THEM CANDIDATES AND *NOT* HIRED BY THE CANDIDATES TO FIND THE CANDIDATES JOBS.

SONYA OLDS SOM

SONYA OLDS SOM

When exclusive/retained search firms are engaged, the corporate client is generally especially particular about the experience and cultural fit that they are seeking for a certain position. If the search firm is able to find the client exactly what they are seeking, there may be little need for flexibility in expanding the parameters  of the search with regard to the kinds of candidates that would be acceptable. It is also important to note that search firm compensation is often largely driven by commissions or bonuses for completing search assignments, and each recruiter may be handling several search assignments at any time with tight deadlines. A recruiter who is currently handling a search case load of, say, 10-20 active searches, may be scheduling dozens of interviews and conversations with candidates (and candidate references) who are being considered for one of these active searches (in addition to all of the recruiter’s other, non-search-related job duties, such as business development and participating in search firm administration). This does not leave much time to engage in a lot of additional general conversations with candidates who are not currently being considered for an active search, especially if the candidate is not likely to ever be placeable by the search firm in the foreseeable future. In any event, it is important to remember that most recruiters are not career coaches or resume writers or, at least, they are not acting in that capacity. Again, recruiters are paid by their corporate clients and not by the candidates. It can be very mutually beneficial to have a conversation(s) and develop a relationship with a recruiter(s), absolutely, but you shouldn’t feel entitled to it any more so than a recruiter would feel entitled to talk to a candidate. Depending on the recruiter’s workload and the candidate’s perceived placeability in the near or longer term, if you reach out to a recruiter seeking a meeting or call, you may be asked to send in your resume, which will be added to the firm’s shared candidate database, with a promise to attempt to keep the candidate in mind for any future, potential opportunities for which the job hunter could be a good fit  – “don’t call us. we’ll call you.” If you are being considered as an active candidate for a current search, you should expect to be treated with respect by the recruiter and to be communicated with in a prompt and transparent way, and you should treat the recruiter the same way.

Colin S. Levy

COLIN S. LEVY

During this pandemic, what has changed or not changed with regards to the job hunter/recruiter relationship?

SONYA OLDS SOM

SONYA OLDS SOM

The essential nature of the relationship remains the same. I think the primary difference is that some recruiters may be handling significantly fewer active search assignments now as once-active searches are put on hold, slowed-down, or cancelled outright due to the current economic environment. And those search assignments that remain active despite the current economy are more likely to be “mission critical,” so the requirements are likely even more particular. The positive side is that with recruiters generally less busy executing searches and not traveling as much or at all (recruiters typically spend a lot of time traveling to meet clients and candidates, do business development meetings, participate in conferences/events, etc.), there is likely more time than ever to invest in developing their candidate pipelines by having many more general conversations with candidates about their careers. Plus, in my experience, most recruiters genuinely care about trying to help candidates if they are able to do so, and recognize that job hunters need advice and counsel now more than ever.

Colin S. Levy

COLIN S. LEVY

What are some basic tips you would have for someone trying to find a suitable recruiter? 

SONYA OLDS SOM

SONYA OLDS SOM

As previously stated, as corporate recruiters (internal or external) do not represent candidates in their job searches but, rather, represent companies paying them to fill specific positions, I encourage candidates to try to cultivate relationships with recruiters from more than one search firm that are relevant to their particular job interests. You never know which search firm will have the right opportunity for you at what time, so you should cultivate as many different (reputable) recruiter relationships as makes sense for your field, industry, and location. Asking your trusted contacts who are in the jobs or kinds of jobs, locations and industries that you want which search firm (if any) placed them is a great step. When looking at job postings, pay attention to which recruiter is handling the searches in your desired role/industry/location. Even if there isn’t a current opportunity through that search firm that is appropriate, you may be able to establish a relationship with the recruiter now so that you can be considered for similar, relevant opportunities in the future.

Colin S. Levy

COLIN S. LEVY

Why should a job hunter work with a recruiter? 

SONYA OLDS SOM

SONYA OLDS SOM

With regard to corporate searches, if there is an external search firm that has been retained to conduct the search, you may not have a choice as to whether or not you will work with a recruiter. If you want to be considered for the opportunity, you will likely have to be vetted by the company’s chosen agency recruiting partner before you get to meet the hiring manager at the company. As a general matter, outside of the situation of being considered as a candidate for an active search, a conversation/relationship with a recruiter(s) can provide you with helpful info on things like compensation, the state of the job market, your resume, interview skills, etc. But, again, search firms are paid and work for their corporate clients, not by candidates, so job hunters should keep their expectations modest about if, when, and how much a recruiter will respond to them. Look at it this way: If you are or have been a law firm lawyer, consider how much time you can set aside for pro bono work. Pro bono work is good to do, it may even be helpful to your career in the long term as well, but you have to prioritize your current, billable client work.

Colin S. Levy

COLIN S. LEVY

What are some mistakes that job hunters make with a recruiter and why? 

SONYA OLDS SOM

SONYA OLDS SOM

The first, biggest mistake is not understanding the dynamics of the job hunter/recruiter relationship as described above, leading to disappointment and even anger at recruiters for not helping them find a job or advise them on their careers upon request. Similarly, it is a mistake to ignore outreach from a reputable recruiter just because you are not seeking a job at all right now or because the job the recruiter is calling/emailing you about is not one in which you are interested. Repeatedly ignoring recruiters’ outreach now could lead to them not reaching out to you when there is an opportunity that you would have liked to have heard about later. Multiple reach-outs by a job seeker to multiple recruiters at the same search firm simultaneously or within a short space of time creates duplicate work for the search firm and frustrating internal confusion. And it’s unnecessary. Search firms each have a shared database from which they all draw candidates. Similarly, sending multiple resumes/application in at around the same time to the same search firm to be considered for a lot of different jobs at roughly the same time creates unnecessary administrative burdens for the search firm when recruiters at the same search firm consider a candidate for many different opportunities pursuant to a single resume submission. Plus, applying to a lot of different positions at the same time can make you look like you are not discerning about the kind of role you want and what your value proposition is. Not communicating promptly or politely is also a mistake, for obvious reasons. Leveraging an offer to obtain a counteroffer from your current employer is ill-advised, long-term.  Being told by a particular recruiter at a search firm that you are not a good fit for a position and then reaching out to a different recruiter at the same search firm, or reaching out directly to the company, will likely come back to bite you (the original recruiter who told you “no” generally receives your email forwarded back to them by their colleague or client for handling within minutes). Typos on resumes and in communications are bad. Lying is disastrous. If you were not order of the coif or top of your class in law school, don’t say you were. It likely adds nothing and, when the lie is (almost inevitably) exposed, not only will you not get the job in question but you will likely have irreparably damaged your relationship with the search firm. Not being properly prepared  for your interview with the client reflects poorly on the search firm, and likewise makes them less likely to want to present you to a client in the future (ask the recruiter presenting you to help you prepare for your client interviews, as they are almost as invested as you are in your client interviews going well). Successfully managing your relationship with the recruiter and search firm and presenting well to the client ensures that the search firm will continue to consider you for their search assignments again and again in the future, regardless of whether you are able to be placed in a role right now.

SONYA OLDS SOM

About Sonya

Sonya Olds Som is a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ Chicago office focusing on Diversity Advisory Services.

Colin Levy

About Colin

Colin S. Levy is a legal innovation and technology thought leader and a highly experienced forward-thinking attorney.