How to Take Control of Your Career in a Challenging Marketplace

by Wisnik Career Enterprises, Inc.
Published in the NALP Bulletin, January 2003, Vol. 16, No. 1

The market is the toughest we have seen in the seven years that we have been placing legal recruitment professionals. Only two years ago we saw legal recruiting assistants be promoted to coordinators in 18 months and managers receive bonuses that could make a nice down payment on a house.

We all know that this market is challenging. The question is how do we manage expectations in a down market — ours as well as those who work for us? In writing this article we interviewed a number of professionals to get their insights. The goal of this article is to provide you with “how to’s” on how you can take control of your career in a tough market, no matter what level you are currently at right now.

A good perspective to have in this type of market (and those of us who have been around for a while have seen the up’s and down’s and know that there will be an “up” again) is to think of this time as a “holding pattern” in terms of career rewards. The goal is to act as your own career manager and to fill your career portfolio with new skills and experiences between now and when the economy booms again. Some recruiters resist taking on new responsibilities if they will not be directly rewarded for them. But the truth is that you own all of the new skills and experiences you acquire. By adding to your career portfolio now, you will be well positioned when the market expands again to receive the rewards you earned or to secure new options, if you choose.

Open Communication

If you currently manage a recruitment team and cannot reward your staff the way you would like, JeanMarie Campbell, Manager of Recruitment and Associate Development in Akin, Gump’s New York office advises that you “communicate openly.” “Be upfront and honest with your staff and offer them ‘creative compensation’ such as: professional development courses, internal training programs and one-on-one meetings to discuss each members career goals and how they can be achieved.” By finding other ways to reward outstanding performance you will keep them motivated and maintain their trust because they will know that you are truly looking out for their best interest.


A self-evaluation, whether your firm requires it or not, is a great way to assess your own development, as well as your staff’s, and decide where you would like to focus in the future. Susie Elitzky, Manager of Recruitment for Kirkland & Ellis’ New York office, suggests that “based on their self-evaluation, each department member should be assigned a project that will help them to fine-tune their skills in new areas they have identified as growth opportunities.” For example, if one of your staff members has not been involved in the reimbursement process another member can cross-train them and together they can develop a computerized method for tabulating and tracking expenses. If you are the manager, identify areas that you would like to be even more involved with as growth opportunities. For example, work with your webmaster to re-launch your website, collaborate with your CFO to determine the cost per hire, or strategize with your Executive Director to identify new legal markets the firm should expand into. Keep in mind that often times the areas we most need to develop are the ones that initially feel very “uncomfortable” and we instinctively want to avoid.


Growing your own professional network, whether you are a recruiting assistant or director, will help your career now and in the long run. Having placed over 120 recruitment professionals nationwide, we often hear from Hiring Partners how much they value when a candidate has a strong professional network. By having a network of contacts to call on for information and advice, in both schools and firms, this will help you to become invaluable to your firm. Morgan Smith, Manager of Recruitment and Attorney Training, in Mayer Brown’s Chicago office, “encourages recruitment professionals to get more involved locally in their City Group or nationally in NALP.” Morgan herself has seen the enormous benefits of having strong professional contacts, “having worked in four different markets over the past nine years, I’ve been able to get acclimated quickly thanks to the information and support provided by colleagues from firms and law schools.” Even networking is important for someone just starting out now in their career, like Jennifer Posner, the new Recruiting Assistant of Kelley Drye’s New York Office, “I’m really looking forward to attending the NALP Newer Professionals Forum in January/February so that I can meet recruiters from all over the country and begin establishing a network of contacts that I can call with questions.”


Mentoring can be another career development tool that results in professional growth. If you are new to the field, you may want to contact those running your City Group and schedule a lunch to learn about how they mastered the recruitment process and what advice they would give to someone starting out. By reaching out to those already established in the field, you will initiate mentoring relationships and glean knowledge that will help you to be successful. The reality today is that few people have the time or inclination to be a “full-time” mentor. We recommend that you develop a number of mentoring relationships and benefit from learning different aspects of the profession from different people.

Being a mentor is a wonderful way to master what you learned. By sharing your expertise with others you will realize how much you already know. Consider becoming a mentor to those already in your firm. For example, many firms have internship programs for high school students. If you are interested in further developing your teaching or speaking skills, you may want to present a program to members of your City Group or at a NALP program on a topic that you know well. The professional visibility you gain from sharing your knowledge with those in your field will add a whole new dimension to your career portfolio.

Work/Life Balance

Having worked with over 500 NALP members we know what a dedicated group of professionals you all are. Although you are all very concerned with your attorneys’ work-life balance issues, at times, you are too busy working and ignore your own. This might be a good time to evaluate whether or not you are spending enough of your time doing the things you want. For example, have you been thinking about volunteering for a long time? Maybe this is the time to identify an organization you would like to get involved in and pursue the cause. For some, more exercise, time with friends & family or taking a weekly class may be a goal that has been “sitting on the back burner.” With the New Year just beginning, why not make time for these activities and attain the type of balance that you desire. The truth is that by paying attention to your own needs, you will actually be able to give more to those you work with because you will be re-energized.

In trying to take more control of your career, examples of things you may want to do include the following:

  • Conduct a self-analysis
  • Update your job description and identify a list of responsibilities you would like to take on this coming year
  • Openly communicate with those in your department about what skills and experiences you would like to gain
  • Visit the research section of the NALP website frequently and choose a new area you would like to expand your knowledge in
  • Get involved in a mentoring relationship
  • Become more active in your city group
  • Present a program at one of your professional association meetings
  • Identify who you would like to add to your existing network
  • Learn one new computer program such as Power Point or Access
  • Pursue a new personal hobby

In conclusion, the current state of the market is challenging, but temporary in the scope of your whole career. Although the rewards may be limited right now, investing in your self now will definitely pay off high dividends in the future. What would you like to add to your career portfolio this year? You are the ultimate master of your career, no matter what the economy is right now, there are opportunities for growth and the rewards are probably coming soon.