It’s the Ten Career Commandments, what?

Radical transparency Sep 9, 2021

Where my Hamilton aficionados at? Oh sure, I bet tons of you are fans, but the true aficionados (hopefully) realize that Lin-Manuel packed his musical masterpiece full of rap and hip-hop references. One of those references, in homage to the Notorious B.I.G., was the template for the song title and structure of “Ten Duel Commandments.” And now it is the template of today’s blog post, which is all about how to play the long game with a recruiter and achieve a win-win outcome.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ,9…. It’s the ten career commandments, what?

Just like Biggie, I’ve been in this game for years, and it’s taught me a lot. Most importantly, I’ve realized that to be truly successful in the long term--as both an attorney AND a recruiter--there are rules that you need to play by. Think of them as the “long game rules,” or, as the title of this post suggests: The Ten Career Commandments.

[And, since there’s no way I can expound on these rules in a way that does them justice, just know that we’ll devote separate blog posts to each one.]

Number one: Choose the right recruiter. Find someone who gives you a good vibe, who you can talk to, who you think you can trust. How do you do that? Well, that brings us to…

Number two: Read the recruiter emails you get. Otherwise, how will you know who the recruiters out there are, or have any clue how to tell us apart? Some recruiters are better than others about making our voices come through loud and clear in our emails, but just in case…

An Engagement Ring Next To An iPhone 6s
Photo by Taylor Grote / Unsplash

Number three: Talk to us. Obviously if you get emails from 50 recruiters, you don’t want to talk to all of them. It’s fine to be selective based on the emails you get, but get on the phone with SOMEONE. Hey, if you find a good recruiter on your first call, that’s fantastic--and no need to be TOO picky, it’s not like you’re marrying us. If your call is pleasant, you find that person easy to talk to, etc. then great! If not, talk to the next person. And when you settle on a recruiter to work with…

Number four: Make sure you understand what a recruiter does. Learn how we know about job openings (most of the time it’s through a database, no magic), how we get paid (by the firms), and what we do for you (at a bare minimum talk through your history, your goals, and your options, review and revise your resume, write your cover letters, and handle all communications and logistics with firms). But beyond the bare minimum…

Number five: Expect more from your recruiter. A good recruiter isn’t just a coordinator, they’re also a career coach and confidant. They should be able to ADVISE you, not just send some emails. You should feel comfortable asking that of them, and you should be able to trust them. Admittedly, trust requires that you…

Number six: Understand OUR incentives. This is important, because suspicion of motives is the death of trust. And without trust, there’s no way a recruiter can do the best job for you. Yes, recruiters are paid by law firms for placements. No, recruiters do NOT “work for” law firms. Yes, we’re incentivized to do our best for you, because a) if you leave your new job within a year, we give up some or all of our commission, and b) bad placements damage our reputations with both attorneys and firms. But for us to do our best for you, we need you to…

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski / Unsplash

Number seven: Tell us your story. I don’t need to hear about the night of your birth, but don’t hold back on things that might be relevant to your desired career path. It drives me bonkers when a candidate won’t tell me anything, because how can I possibly figure out a good move for you? And when I say tell me your story, I mean…

Number eight: Be transparent. Tell me your WHOLE story: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Case in point? If you’ve been laid off from your current firm, for the love of all that is holy, TELL ME THAT. It’s relevant for all kinds of reasons, most important of which being the seriousness of your timeline--because you do not want to be that associate removed from a firm’s website while doing a job search if you can possibly avoid it. And while we’re on the subject of good behavior…

Number nine: DON’T CHEAT. Omg, just don’t cheat on us. This has nothing to do with the fragility of our poor little hearts and everything to do with how well we can serve you. “Cheating” means working with more than one recruiter (particularly without disclosing it), and there’s no good reason to do it. In the law firm world, recruiters all have access to the same jobs and the same firms, like, 99% of the time. Exclusives are almost never a “thing.”

Alright, this is an important enough rule to get two paragraphs, and here’s why. The only thing you’ll accomplish by working with multiple recruiters is create confusion, on multiple levels. For one thing, if you’re working with me but you have some other recruiter submitting you to places I don’t know about, then I’m in the dark about a big chunk of your job search. If I’m in the dark, how can I properly guide you?

Little lights
Photo by Lucut Razvan / Unsplash

ALSO (whoa third paragraph), working with multiple recruiters creates the real danger that you’ll be submitted to the same firm multiple times--and if that happens, guess who looks like the idiot? It’s not the recruiters, I’ll tell you that much. Seriously, just don't cheat. There is NO benefit. It's just like a romantic relationship, in that if you don't like your recruiter, just break up with them and find a new one. Don't string the first one along and keep a side piece. It never ends well.

Ok, so you’ve followed rules 1-9, which means that you’ve found a recruiter you want to work with, you’ve been transparent and open and built a solid and trusting relationship, you’ve worked out a comprehensive job search plan that your sole recruiter can execute… and hopefully through all that, regardless of the outcome, it’s been a positive experience. Of course we hope you’ll be in a new job that you’re excited about. Still, at the end of the day, a recruiter can’t guarantee you a new job--I mean obviously, right? We’re not wizards. Even if the search wasn’t successful, hopefully you’ve still developed a positive relationship with someone who may be able to help you down the road, who has also give you good guidance and advice. If that’s all true, then we’ve reached…

Number ten: Refer us. It’s the only form of recompense we could ever ask of you, and honestly it’s WAY more valuable than a single commission. At the end of the day, ours is a business based on relationships and reputations, and that’s a big part of what drives us to do well by our candidates--at least, the good recruiters. It's also, not incidentally, why you can trust us.

The other part, of course, is that many of us (though sadly not all) actually CARE about you. If you find this kind of recruiter, know this: we also WANT to help you--because we like you, because it’s rewarding, because we’re wired that way, and/or because we’re all humans trying to navigate this crazy world and we may as well navigate it together.

To conclude, as Biggie said: follow these rules, and you’ll have mad bread to break up. Or, at the very least, you’ll have learned a few things and built a relationship in your network--and that’s still a win.

Photo by Nelson Ndongala / Unsplash


Julia DiPrete

Biglaw survivor. Former Assistant Dean of the Duke Law Career Center. Currently exploring the magical world of legal recruiting. Yeah, I've pretty much seen it all. And I love to write.

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