CAREER RENEWAL: When to do what.
Celia Paul and Stephen Rosen

A thermos may have the most resilient and savvy career of any inanimate object, since it keeps hot stuff hot, cold stuff cold--and what's more, knows when to do what. Are you resilient and savvy enough to know when to do what with your career? When do you use search firms or recruiters? When do you use career counselors? And when do you use neither?

Recruiters or search firms resemble brokers. They are agents of an employer. Their job is to find a candidate with specific skills and experiences needed by an employer who has retained or "hired" the recruiter. Career counselors resemble health care professionals, physicians, advisors, advocates, guides, or coaches. Their job is to help the candidate find viable career alternatives, to achieve "career health" and to nourish job satisfaction, to diagnose and heal career "ailments", to clarify career confusions, to act as a sounding board, to provide strategy and decision support.

A recruiter matches candidates to the employer's job specifications, and then delivers the "product" (you) to the buyer, your new employer. A career counselor acts on behalf of your career well-being and is an advocate for your career satisfaction. A counselor represents you, the candidate, in a collaboration to figure out what you really want, to define your range of options given who you are, and then to get you to where you want to be.

Since the recruiter is paid by the employer, recruiter's services are "free" to the candidate. That's the good news. The bad news, the golden rule, is that whoever has the gold makes the rules. Because the employer has not been able to find a candidate by usual means (ads, competitors, word-of-mouth, etc.) the employer has hired the recruiter as an agent or advocate to search for a (usually expensive) needle in a haystack. The recruiter may be handsomely paid, either on a commissioned or a retained search, as much as a third of the candidate's year-one compensation. Nevertheless, a custom search may take several months or more of screening many candidates for the opening. It is in the recruiter's interest to collect as many pertinent resumes as possible that are a potential fit to the search assignment. Thus the search firm's service does come at a cost to the candidate, the cost of being scrutinized by an agent of the employer. If well done, the screening will be scrupulously thorough.

The career counselor is compensated by the candidate much like attorneys or other advocates are: on a project, program, or hourly basis. The best legal career counselors charge hourly rates that approximate what lawyers charge.

Legal recruiters may have legal or human resource qualifications: law degrees and legal experience. The best ones are entrepreneurs who thrive on commission income proportional to their performance. Counselors come from all walks of life including law, human resources, personnel. Many have career-counseling degrees in addition to legal careers. Career counselors thrive on the satisfaction of guiding their clients into careers appropriate to clients' interests and preferences.

Who can use career counselors?

There are strong parallels between medical services and career services. If you are an attorney and have read books or articles on career management and you are confused, you probably can benefit by seeking a high-quality career counselor locally (or even online) who has experience working with attorneys and other credentialed professionals. You are familiar with clients who get their legal advice from books versus those who get their medical advice from a professional. The same holds true for career services.

If after years of "dithering", or months of reading career management books, you still have difficulty in deciding what to do next in your job search or career change, you may benefit by seeing a high-quality career counselor. If you cannot push yourself forward to what you believe to be the next step in your job search or career change, you will definitely benefit by seeing a high-quality career counselor. If you are stuck in an unhappy job or career choice, and have been frustrated at moving on, you will benefit by seeing a high-quality career counselor.

What are the hall-marks of high-quality career counseling?

Here are some questions you should ask a career counselor before you proceed:

  1. What are your resources and program?
  2. What types of individuals do you usually help (salary level, type of work, etc.)? How many attorneys or other credentialed professionals have you worked with over what period of time?
  3. Who will be doing the counseling and how long has that person been doing it? What other characteristics does that person have (legal, academic, etc.) that would suggest competence and empathy?
  4. What is the cost of your services? (Hourly rate, flat fee, extra fees for testing, research, resumes or cover letters?)
  5. Is there a time limit to your services, or do you stay with me until I make a successful career transition?
Responsible career counselors should inform you that no miracles or magic are possible; they should tell you their relevant career counseling experience; they should not require a lump sum "up front" without specifically telling you what you will be getting for it; they will usually charge what a high level professional (like a physician or attorney) would charge by the hour for their professional time with you.

Since credentialed professionals are familiar with hourly fees that can go into the mid three digits (hundreds of dollars per hour) it should be obvious that a high-quality career counselor will usually charge a relatively high fee. Not all high-fee counselors, of course, are high-quality career counselors. However, chances are fairly good that if you found a career counselor through referral by a calibrated source (a good friend or professional colleague who has personal experience with the referred career counselor) you will find the equivalent of a high hourly rate similar to those of many other professionals.

It is also possible to purchase career counseling services, in effect, "wholesale." One way is to inquire of the career counselor if it is possible to reserve a block of time you need to reach your career goal, say, five to ten hours; then to ask if the career counselor has a "package" price. Another way to secure reduced career counseling rates is to inquire if group sessions are available. Furthermore, many law schools, universities, and colleges have career specialists available; especially appropriate might be the school from which you graduated -- even if many years have elapsed. They are always looking for successful alumni/ae who will donate to the institution.

The Association of the Bar of the City of New York has an active Lawyers In Transition program and committee(212-382-6657) where you can receive referrals to career counselors who are qualified to work with attorneys.

Who can use recruiters most effectively in their job search?

Candidates who are "perfect" for the job the recruiting firm (or its client) is trying to fill.

Candidates who already have exactly the experience or other credentials the recruiter is looking for and who are currently employed.

The recruiter always represents the employer because recruiters are always compensated by the employer--not by you. "Search" is the recruiter's function of behalf of the employer. The objective is to find a candidate who fills their client's specifications, not to find you a suitable job. (Recruiters place only some 10 to 15 percent of all candidates.) One of the best indications of a high quality recruiter is that they are very clear to all parties about this financial relationship to their client, the employer. That is, they practice "integrity marketing".

A recruiter is not hired by an employer to find candidates who want a new career or a different specialty. Employers always want the best fit candidate for their opening, and that candidate is often working for the employer's competitor. Thus, the recruiter acts as a searcher, "honest broker", or intermediary.

Once you recognize and fully appreciate this, you can decide if, when, and how to use recruiters in your search.

Use recruiters if you fit the job opening like a key fits a lock.

Use recruiters when you can demonstrate directly relevant experience and skills for a specific job a recruiter is attempting to fill, and you have carefully reviewed your own contacts in the field and are sure you have exhausted your own network.

Be selective. Work with only a few, ethical, honest recruiters you trust. Be clear about what type of employer they represent. Use your network to find recruiters whom colleagues and contacts have found reliable and effective.

Be clear about the job you want. Don't allow the recruiter to pressure you into looking at jobs which are not right. If the recruiter tries to persuade you to look at different jobs which don't interest you, analyze the situation for yourself.

Here are a few questions recruiters should be asked before handing over your resume.

Who have you placed I can speak to about you?
Who are some of your clients?
To which clients will you send which version of my resume(s)?
Will you keep me posted on all developments?

Are you on "contingency" or "retainer"? (If retainer, you may get more attention since this suggests that the recruiter is the only one working for the client.)

Perhaps the recruiter doesn't represent clients with the type of jobs you want; this means you need a different recruiter. Another reason could be that the recruiter doesn't believe you are qualified for the job you want. This second reason is useful for you to explore. You may need to improve your presentation, or possibly there are significant objections you must overcome. Remember: using a recruiter is not the most effective search strategy when your background is not a good match for the job. (This is especially true when you are changing career directions.)

Through competent "exponential" interviewing--speaking to successive generations of contacts--you can gather high-quality information about the market for your skills, and your need for new skills. You should understand that the recruiter's knowledge of the job market can be extremely valuable to you. The problem is, the recruiter is not working for you. In most cases, recruiters will be friendly to you. However, often they are merely collecting archival or file resumes for future employer assignments. Also note that many display ads, often with box numbers only (called "blind" ads) are placed by recruiting firms who are looking for that needle in the haystack. The recruiter is paid on a "contingency" basis, meaning they receive their compensation (some ten to thirty percent of the first years salary) if they find the right candidate; or they may be paid on a monthly basis on retainer, which indicates a commitment from the employer.

Present yourself to the recruiter as if you are interviewing for the actual position. The recruiter is a gatekeeper whose job is to prevent unqualified applicants from reaching the employer. Don't share information that is potentially damaging. Your job is to persuade the recruiter that you are right for the position. Both sides are looking for information on which to base a very important decision. The best recruiters have developed close relationships with their clients (your potential employer!) which are based on trust. They are experienced, skillful interviewers and you should talk to them only when you are thoroughly prepared to present accurate information in a positive way. Practice and prepare for the recruiter interview as if it's the job interview.

Manage the relationship. Make sure the recruiter gets your authorization before contacting a potential employer. If the recruiter does send out your resume without your permission, terminate the relationship immediately. Ask the recruiter to furnish you a list of people and organizations your resume will be and was sent to. Keep good notes so you are clear and avoid duplications. This is particularly important if you use more than one resume. If you change your resume, take the time to be sure the recruiter destroys the old resume and is using the new one. If you decide not to work with a recruiter who has your resume, inform the recruiter in writing, and ask that no more of your resumes be sent out.

Is the recruiter listening? The best recruiters listen to what you want, and then try to match you to what they have. The worst recruiters try to push you into jobs they have you don't want.

Since recruiters fill about 10-15 percent of job openings, an efficient search strategy is to spend no more than 15 percent of your total career-transition or job-hunting time with recruiters. Devote most of your effort to exponential interviewing and other effective job-searching techniques. Note that most recruiters are hired by employers to fill jobs that the employer could not fill (a) by word of mouth, (b) by classified or display ads; therefore usually the most hard-to-fill jobs are assigned to recruiters, and these jobs are usually at a very high level (and high compensation). The American Lawyer has an annual directory of legal recruiters.


Are you your own best medical or career doctor? Can you heal yourself?
Can you improve your career well-being?

The answers depend upon you--how healthy, health-conscious, and disciplined you are. An inventory of healthy career behaviors has been compiled from the recurring attitudes and career strategies of occupationally mobile people who say they are satisfied and successful in their careers.

In interviews, persistent themes emerge from their collective wisdom. For example, they believe that their work is a worthy expression of their life and they gain pleasure from it. They enjoy stretching their talents and drawing resourcefully from their personal depths. They believe the harder they work, the luckier they get. They work hard and play hard. They lead full and balanced lives. They have a strong sense of who they are. They think about how their careers change them as people.


An inventory of "healthy" career behaviors and attitudes has been compiled from the recurring themes and strategies of successful career-changers. The following 13-item version of the Career Well-being Inventory has been adapted from the complete 47-item version found in the book, CAREER RENEWAL (Stephen Rosen & Celia Paul, Academic Press, 1998) To test your own "career health", examine each statement in the list and decide how frequently each one applies to you. Award yourself points for each item as follows: never = 0, sometimes = 1, always = 2.
  1. I intuitively develop abiding relationships with my friends and colleagues.
  2. Professional colleagues, mentors, advisors and role models were important in my life.
  3. Life is full of random events I attempt to convert to adventures.
  4. In my professional and social life, I present my truest and best self.
  5. I know what I can change, what I can't and the difference between them.
  6. I redirect my energies, instincts and desires into useful pursuits.
  7. Humility is a great virtue.
  8. The harder the work, the luckier I get.
  9. I work hard and play hard.
  10. Decisions I made at important turning points in my career were beneficial to my career.
  11. I am energetic and optimistic about my career and my life.
  12. I gain energy, pleasure and renewal from my work or career.
  13. Excellent job opportunities and offers well-suited to me have come my way as if by chance.
How to score your answers: Allot two points for each "always", one point for each "sometimes", and none for "never". If your total score is between 20 and 26 points, your "career health" is good. A score of less than 20 indicates that perhaps you should do some "career calisthenics" to exercise your less-favoured "career muscles".

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