April is Stress Awareness Month. Recruitment has often been described as one of the most stressful occupations to work in. Ardent Director Jane Gaunt and Operations Manager Kat Jones explained the stresses that surround the working lives of recruiters in the legal profession.
Describe the day to day life of a legal recruiter
Jane: Day to day life can be unpredictable. We will typically have a number of meetings in the diary with clients and candidates. A lot of the day can include finding candidates, reacting to clients and managing recruitment processes.
Kat: Inhouse recruiters spend a lot more time managing the processes, including liaising with partners and managing agents.
How does being an in house recruitment professional differ from working within a recruitment agency?
Jane: The inhouse professional typically has many more stakeholders, which can add to the stress of the role. They are likely to be working with multiple partners who are all very keen to recruit new fee earners to reduce the heavy workloads on existing team members. It all puts pressure on the in house teams. Law firms recruitment teams are recruiting at 200% compared to a normal market.
Every firm structures their recruitment function differently, but some in house recruitment teams are very small and may well be trying to recruit across a complicated international business.
After the uncertainties of 2020 when a lot of firms reduced their recruitment teams, the market bounced back in 2021 so everyone suddenly needed more recruiters. This means that there have been a lot of changes, and a lot of in house people may be relatively new to their roles.
As well as carrying out day to day recruitment partners often want a lot of market information, for example reporting on competitors salaries and bonuses to keep them abreast of the market. There is also typically a complex sign off process for each role, which will need a clear business case before recruitment can begin.
The in house role has really changed. The market is so competitive and there is so much more pressure than there has been before. I think the role of an in house recruiter is very stressful.
Kat: The role of the legal recruiter has changed and we try to be a lot more consultative with clients and candidates. We engage candidates by really understanding the client’s practice area and firm. Working within an agency, the challenge is knowing where to focus because there is so much going on. We have to deliver the best we can for individual clients and candidates.
And what are the key points of stress in legal recruitment?
Jane: Changing market conditions mean that the sheer volume of work can be stressful. Internal recruiters are relying on us more than they ever have. And I think it’s fair to say that there are not enough experienced recruiters to service the volume of roles.
How have the various lockdowns impacted on legal recruitment in the last 2 years?
Kat: We work with some great candidates, but they are all busy people and can’t always find time to speak to us in regular working hours. As a result we can end up making a lot of calls in the evening because that is when candidates are available and that can clash with our personal lives. We also work in an international profession, so working across time zones can be a challenge. Law is an always on profession and recruiters are expected to match that. And of course, sometimes candidates are considering a number of offers and that can be stressful for us to manage as recruiters.
Jane: Back at the start of lockdown in March 2020, many firms put recruitment on hold which was disconcerting for both in house and agency recruiters. Several highly regarded recruitment businesses closed down early in lockdown and in house recruiters were on furlough or made redundant. But as the market picked up early in 2021, recruitment became so much more competitive and everyone needed to recruit. I think we have got to a place where our professional knowledge is in high demand and we have had to demonstrate that more and more through on screen meetings rather than in person.
Kat: Throughout the lockdown in early 2021, no one was taking holiday and everyone was working from home. Candidates were much more available to talk to recruiters. In some ways that made things easier, but it was a challenge to keep up with the increasing volumes.
How has the move to hybrid working changed the role?
Jane: I don’t think we would have been able to deliver the volume of work if we had been going in to the office five days each week. So from that perspective hybrid working is very positive, it is very beneficial having fewer face to face meetings in the diary and making use of technology to develop relationships.
Kat: But as a lot of our business is about building relationships, and recruiters are typically quite social creatures, we certainly missed the social side of the industry over the last two years. We have recently been enjoying catching up with our clients and candidates in the city. The negative of home working of course is that we are always on. We don’t have the commute to wind down or the water cooler chat. The working from home days can be quite isolating.
What is the impact of the increasing salaries?
Jane: Every week there’s an announcement about bigger salaries and it’s a challenge keeping up with the market information. As recruiters we have to be really consultative with candidates. We know that the headlines aren’t always the reality and they may be encouraging people to have unrealistic expectations. There’s some front loading of salaries, and a balance between salaries and bonuses which isn’t reflected in the news stories.
Kat: Higher salaries have been driven by US firms. This has led to Magic Circle firms trying to keep up, and the rest of the market trying to follow. In some respects it has led to an increase in queries from potential candidates. But also many people are satisfied with their revised salaries and happy to stay with their current firms.
How can legal recruiters manage the stress of the role?
Kat: I think to go into recruitment you need to have a certain robustness. But it is a stressful environment and for me the key is about working with good people who can give you the personal support you need. Building a positive working culture is critical if recruiters are going to succeed without succumbing to the stresses of the role.
Jane: It is also about focussing on your own wellbeing. You need to have the self-discipline to know that you need some time out. Recruitment is a job that is never done and you can’t win everything. It’s about finding ways to accept that.
Kat: I had a line manager many years ago who said “Make the first call and the last call of the day count”. If you can end the day with something positive you can switch off knowing you have done a good job.