Q: I have been contacted by a legal recruiter who claims to have an opportunity for me. Do you have any suggestions on how I handle this?
A: A legal recruiter is many different things but above all, he or she is an information broker. The headhunter gathers facts about job opportunities and matches that with his or her knowledge of appropriate candidates. Though legal recruiters are paid by the employer and might be thought to owe allegiance to that "client," in truth most headhunters try to match the needs of the hiring law firm with the goals and ambitions of the individual candidate.
You should make the effort to know your recruiter's background, employment history, philosophy and methods of placement. How broad are his/her contacts? Does he/she specialize in any areas of placement, e.g., litigation or real estate or in-house? What are his/her geographic boundaries? How knowledgeable is the recruiter about the community and the specific opportunities he/she claims to present?
Remember it's your career, and it's under your control. The headhunter can be a valuable source of information about the community and its opportunities, but it is your responsibility to assimilate that information and direct the recruiter to act on your behalf. Control is the key word in dealing with the headhunter.
The best recruiters are a solid source of information on local hiring practices and trends, salary levels, specific firms, available job openings, and good, old-fashioned, garden-variety gossip. Knowing a recruiter whom you trust is like having a guide along on a hike through unfamiliar territory; they know the paths, the pitfalls, and the local lore.
If you're not looking to make a move at the time a recruiter calls, we suggest listening to what the recruiter has to say and then explaining that you are not currently in the job market. You might ask that he/she call you again if a particularly attractive opening arises.