Want to land your coveted General Counsel position at a Fortune 500 company? While a number of general counsel positions are publicly advertised on the LinkedIn job portal or on sites such as goinhouse.com, the most desirable general counsel positions for leading and public companies are often part of hidden labor market. The hidden job market is a term that refers to positions that are “hidden” from view (ie, not advertised), such as an outside executive search firm conducting a confidential job search.
In accordance with Deborah Ben-Canaanpartner and senior practice leader for Major, Lindsey and the African Legal Recruitment Group, “Most open general counsel positions are not publicly posted, which means that the general counsel searches we conduct are confidential. In fact, candidates applying for these positions are often required to sign an NDA in order to participate in the interview process.”
MLA’s strategy is focused and research-intensive, Ben-Canaan explains. “In the vast majority of scenarios, candidates for general counsel are found through our long-standing relationships, industry knowledge and extensive research, rather than through public announcements.” According to Ben-Canaan, “in 2021, MLA successfully nominated 114 candidates for general counsel positions (61 in 2022), and the vast majority of these positions were not advertised.”
So how can general consultants tap into and activate the hidden job market?
The first step is to update your general counsel resume and strategically market yourself in the key areas of board leadership, corporate governance, compliance, contracts, M&A and litigation (for reference, read my previous article on effective strategies for drafting an effective general counsel resume).
You will want too update your LinkedIn profile and make sure it is optimized for keywords. Your LinkedIn profile should provide a current and comprehensive overview of your corporate professional education and executive development. If you’re in private equity or fintech, you should use these keywords in your LinkedIn headline and resume. As Ben-Canaan explains, “it’s important to have a solid online brand. You want to use it to promote your experience; use this as an opportunity to highlight what makes you stand out as a candidate and advocate; and, ultimately, give your all.” Recruiters search based on industry and specific keywords. Calling yourself a “Partner at XYZ Law Firm” doesn’t mean you’re a recruiter or that you’re a recognized expert.
I can’t stress this enough – if your LinkedIn profile is out of date or has limited scope, it can limit you and your growth trajectory, especially if you’re looking to connect with an executive search firm. You may have seen one of mine recent posts on LinkedIn where I mentioned how a client of a general legal professional got a new position after 18 years with the same employer. An executive search firm found this client through her LinkedIn profile — specifically, the position had never been advertised. When in doubt, put some effort into your LinkedIn profile and optimize it.
However, an optimized LinkedIn is only the tip of the iceberg and a matter of first impressions for Ben-Canaan. The biggest part is building professional relationships with recruiters. I used to written in my column on why job seekers shouldn’t wait for recruiters to contact you—instead, be proactive and start building relationships with recruiters who actively post open opportunities on LinkedIn. It’s also very important to have a job search strategy that includes networking with recruiters across the country—don’t limit yourself to just your geographic region.
Ben-Canaan also suggests talking to multiple recruiters, “because recruiters at different companies will have different opportunities down the road.” When it comes to engaging in conversations with legal recruiters, Ben-Canaan reminds candidates to “talk to recruiters about where your interests lie and what your career aspirations are. Having these introductory interviews and periodic check-ins with recruiters allows us to see you on our radar — and inevitably, a good role for you is more likely to come up at some point in time.”
I appreciated this insight from a legal recruiter because I advise my coaching clients to have ongoing relationships with multiple recruiters where they can check in at least every year or so to learn about new opportunities. Don’t overlook partnering with executive search firms that specialize in the industry you work in—contact them and express your interest in a general counsel role (make sure you know the size and market cap of the company you’re looking for you would be engaged in searching). Make a list of target companies you would be looking for opportunities in and be prepared to discuss it.
Another advantage Ben-Canaan mentioned is the ability to find the best fit for a role. These “deep industry relationships” matter, and MLA’s extensive network often knows the right person for the role. Don’t let your recruiting relationship dry up—you never know when a great opportunity will come your way or when a job will open up. I remind clients to always be prepared, no matter how happy they are in their current position – the market changes, the business changes and management teams change. Remember, this is about who you know and you want to stay informed.
Another heartfelt tip: reach out to other C-suite executives through your LinkedIn profile and do some searching informational interviews with them. If you are a general counsel, your LinkedIn network should be filled with other general counsels, general counsels, senior legal team members, heads of compliance, and other executives. Pay attention to the recruiters they are affiliated with.
The bottom line: keep your resume and LinkedIn up to date and proactively reach out to legal recruiters and executive search firms. Build relationships. Get into their network. Expect the unexpected.
Wendy Weiner is an attorney, career expert, and company founder A writing guru, an award-winning resume writing company. Wendy creates powerful career and personal brands for attorneys, CEOs and CSOs/Boards of Directors for their job search and digital footprint. She also writes for major publications on alternative legal careers, personal branding, LinkedIn stories, career strategy and the job search process. You can contact her by email at email@example.com her at LinkedInand follow her on Twitter @thewritingguru.