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You're a young associate looking to make a lateral move. Maybe you've reached out to another firm, or another firm has reached out to you. Either way, your first point of contact is going to be The Recruiter (that is, the in-house recruiter, who's different from the outside recruiter). It's important to impress the hiring partners, for sure, but the in-house recruiter has more influence on the hiring partners than you might think.
If you want to land at the firm of your dreams, here are three things to keep in mind as you interact with the all-important in-house recruiter:
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1. Be Professional.
Being professional doesn't just mean showing up on time and wearing a suit. It also means treating the recruiter with respect. The recruiter is constantly assessing whether you would be a good fit at the firm, and no one wants to deal with an employee who's arrogant and disrespectful.
If you think you can dismiss the recruiter as just support staff -- saving all your charm for the partners -- then you may as well show yourself out the door. The recruiter will report all of this back to the hiring partner and won't be afraid to throw in editorial commentary on whether you're the kind of person the firm wants in the office.
You also need to know what goes into scheduling an interview. Depending on the level you're interviewing for, you may be talking to as many as a half-dozen attorneys. That's about a day's worth of logistical planning for the recruiter, so if you're going to cancel, it'd better be because someone died. No, seriously.
2. Know the Firm's Culture.
Not all firms are created equal. Some firms demand all suits, all the time, and have rigid reporting structures. Others are khakis and polos, with a lax hierarchy. Part of your job is to research the firm's culture and represent that culture to everyone you come into contact with, including the recruiter.
How do you find out about a firm's culture? One way is to look at their client list. If it's full of Fortune 500 companies, it's probably wingtips and neckties. But if it's Silicon Valley startups, you could be wearing jeans and a North Face vest. "Culture," though, isn't just about the dress code, it's also about how formally or informally associates treat partners, each other, and everyone else at the firm.
3. Be the Person They're Willing to Fight For.
At the end of your time with the recruiter, chances are he or she will casually ask where else you're interviewing. This isn't just idle chit-chat; if the recruiter likes you, he or she wants to know what the firm has to do to pull you away from the clutches of the competitors you're going to visit later in the afternoon. Recruiters will fight for candidates that they like, and they'll urge the hiring partners to do the same.
None of this advice should be groundbreaking news. Be polite. Be an empathetic human being. Do your homework. Once you've mastered the art of being a civilized professional, you're halfway there.
Editor's Note, July 28, 2015: This post was first published in July 2014. It has since been updated.