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While I was in private practice as a corporate partner with a large law firm, I often thought about what life would be like in house. I envisioned shorter workdays, fewer (if any) weekends at the office, and a much lower stress level. I also assumed that once I was ready to make the leap, the in-house opportunities would be plentiful. Ultimately, I decided to eschew the practice of law altogether to open the Washington, D.C., office of a large legal-search firm. From my new vantage point, I look back on my previous perception of the in-house market with a wry smile. Today’s market for in-house jobs is extremely competitive. The number of applicants for each in-house position can often run into the hundreds, and employers have the luxury of being able to wait for the perfect candidate. Finding an in-house job is not so easy. Moreover, it’s obvious to me now that the grass on the in-house side of the legal fence is not necessarily all that much greener. Our firm handles hundreds of in-house searches each year, ranging from general counsel positions with Fortune 100 companies to junior lawyer positions with small, privately held companies. We speak with thousands of lawyers each month and know that today’s in-house lawyers put in longer hours than ever before, typically handle a far wider variety of issues than lawyers in private practice do, and face enormous business pressures from which law firm lawyers are often insulated. Nonetheless, judging by the number of calls and e-mails we receive each day, the desire to move in house, or for those already in house to find that next in-house job, remains high, and the job-search process can be stressful. As you ponder your next move, we can offer some advice and a few questions to consider during your search. •�It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Candidates often ask us how long it should take for them to find their next job. Although the answer obviously depends on each candidate’s qualifications and experience, a good rule of thumb is at least three to six months. In many cases, it can take even a year or more. Remember, searching for a job is a process — there will likely be several disappointments along the way, so it’s important to keep your cool and try not to get overly emotionally invested in any one job prospect, particularly at the early stages. Also, remember that unlike in the law firm universe, corporations are not constantly looking to add great legal talent. Whereas a lawyer in a law firm is the profit center, an in-house lawyer at a corporation is a cost center, and corporations are motivated to keep their legal departments as small as possible. Consequently, although you may feel your legal expertise is exceptional, if the corporation already has someone else handling those responsibilities in a capable manner, there is little upside to having two people handle the same tasks. Lastly, unlike law firms, which are very “flat” organizations, corporate legal departments are typically pyramidal. The higher the level, the fewer jobs there are available. •�Network, network, network. You are the single greatest tool for finding yourself a new job. Nobody can sell you better, and nobody will know better exactly what you are looking for. But you can’t wait for that next job to come to you — you have to go out there and let people know you’re looking. Although there is some risk of your boss or colleagues ultimately finding out, we think that the benefits to networking far outweigh those risks. So join that bar committee or volunteer at the shelter — maximize the number of people with whom you come in contact, as they are far more likely to lead to your next job than answering a classified is. If you decide to work with a legal recruiter, you should understand the advantages and limitations of doing so. For example, the vast majority of in-house searches that our firm agrees to undertake are done on an exclusive basis. This means that our firm is the only search firm being engaged to fill the position and that the company will not accept r�sum�s from any other search firm. What this means is that if a search is being handled by another search firm on an exclusive basis, we will not be able to help you get that job. Consequently, reaching out to just one search firm isn’t enough for those people looking to go in house — you need to find out who handles the in-house searches in your market and reach out to all of them. (Our advice would be very different in a law firm search, where we believe it is extremely important for a candidate to pick one recruiter to represent him.) Moreover, in the in-house context, you should know that a search firm is not a placement firm — it can only fill those in-house jobs for which it has been retained. Companies generally don’t want search firms to send on r�sum�s unless the company has already identified a new need and asked the search firm to assist it with the search. So although you may be a great candidate, a search firm is typically constrained by the number of companies that have engaged it to conduct searches for them. •�Should I quit my job and focus on looking for a new job? No. Our experience tells us that employers will value you more if you are already employed, so unless you simply can’t bear another moment at your current job, you’ve got to hang in there. Not only will you continue to draw a paycheck, but you will avoid having an employment gap on your r�sum�, and the longer the gap, the harder it can be to break back into the work force. Some people try to convince themselves that by quitting their current job, they will have more time to focus on searching for a new job. Though this may be true in theory, we know of very few people who would actually spend their entire day going through want ads or polishing up their r�sum�. •�Are you really a good fit for the jobs you’re applying for? Before spending too much time reworking your cover letter for a job that sounds interesting, you should first ask yourself whether you are a good fit for the job. Frequently, we find candidates applying for jobs that they simply aren’t qualified for. If a position calls for fluency in Spanish and experience with liquefied natural-gas financing, it’s really not a productive use of your time to say that although you lack those qualifications, you once went to Tijuana and you like to barbeque every Saturday on your gas grill. The test is quite simple: After having read the job description, can you honestly say you meet those requirements? If the answer isn’t yes, move on. Although candidates may be able to change industries, there is some danger of being pigeonholed by an employer as, for example, a “telecom” person or a “banking” person. It’s important, therefore, for your r�sum� to set forth not only your relevant industry experience but also your skills, so an employer can see that they transcend a particular industry. For example, you can talk about your experience interacting with senior executives and board members or your experience working with financial or other business data. •�Do your homework. In the event you’re lucky enough to land an interview in this competitive market, you need to turn the effort up several notches and make sure you make the most of your opportunity. Approach each interview as you would a work assignment. Before each interview, review the employer’s Web site; whenever possible, obtain the names of those with whom you’ll be meeting and read their online bios or ask for information about them. Also, check for recent news stories about the company and read the “news/press releases” section of the company’s Web site. People conducting the interviews appreciate thoughtful questions — it shows you care and are a person who takes initiative. Prepare a list of questions and spend some time memorizing them. Make sure that your questions aren’t obvious or easily answered by a quick perusal of the firm’s Web site. •�Know your interview etiquette. Although the office environment is certainly more casual than it was 30 years ago, employers do expect applicants to appear and act like professionals. Below are some questions we’ve been asked about the interview. Question: Should I wear a suit? Answer: Only if you want to have a shot at getting the job. Although it seems obvious, you would be amazed at the number of people who ask this. Unless the employer specifically tells you not to wear a suit, always wear one. And don’t ask the question, either — just asking could be harmful. (Make it a nice suit, too — for better or worse, you will be judged on your appearance.) If you have any control over the timing of the interview and you don’t normally wear a suit to work, try to schedule it for the first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, so you won’t have to wear the suit to work. If the interview does fall in the middle of the day, we recommend that you go to work in your regular attire but leave extra time for changing — your colleagues (and your boss) are very smart at putting two and two together. Too many “funerals” in a short period of time and they’ll certainly know what’s up. Question: When should I ask about telecommuting? Answer: After you’ve determined that you really don’t want the job. Again, unless the company representative brings up the topic or the company is well known for promoting telecommuting, just don’t go there, especially in the early rounds. Asking about telecommuting is tantamount to asking if you won’t have to work all the time. Trust us. Question: Should I bring extra copies of my r�sum� to the interview? Answer: Absolutely. We always recommend that candidates bring several extra copies of any materials that they previously forwarded to the employer. Don’t take it personally, either, if the interviewer doesn’t seem to have all your materials — just hand her a copy and move on. Question: Should I send a thank-you note? Answer: Yes, but keep it short and professional. Whatever you do, don’t use the thank-you note as an opportunity to remind the interviewer how funny or clever you are, and don’t make the note too personal (for instance, don’t comment on the interviewer’s children’s pictures or your shared political leanings). Simply communicate that you enjoyed meeting them and that you hope to have an opportunity to do so again soon. Though a nice thank-you note is not likely to get you a job, a bad thank-you note can definitely kill your chances. •�What to do after the interview. For many, the wait to hear after the interview can be agonizing. In our experience, when an employer is extremely interested in your candidacy, you will often get positive feedback very shortly after an interview. If you absolutely bomb out, the employer will also take quick and decisive action to let you know that you are no longer being considered. In those instances when you don’t hear anything for weeks, it’s usually not a good sign. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and we’ve had many searches where candidates are offered jobs months after they initially interviewed. The important thing is not to put all your eggs in one basket — even if you absolutely love the job that you just interviewed for, keep pursuing other opportunities while you wait to hear back from the employer. Don’t take yourself out of the game prematurely. Searching for an in-house job in today’s competitive landscape can be stressful. If you remember these tips, not only will your stress level be reduced, but your chances of bringing your search to a successful conclusion will be greatly enhanced.
Jeffrey A. Lowe is the managing partner of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Washington, D.C., office.

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