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10May/110

In-House Legal Employers Are Slow to Pull The Trigger

While we are still very far behind pre-recession hiring, hiring has improved since December.  According to the Conference Board, a research organization, the number of job openings advertised online has grown by more than 400,000, to 4.2 million, an upward trend that began in the spring of 2009.

The good news is that there are some jobs, and perhaps a rising number of them.  The bad news is that these jobs are not getting filled.  Why?

There are a couple of factors at work.  First, corporate legal departments that are in the market for new hires are generally looking for very specific types of attorneys, often in niche practices, or with the type of caliber and experience that only a very small number of applicants can fit the bill.  In short, they are looking for something as “scarce as hen’s teeth.”  No necessarily impossible, but pretty close.

The bottom line is that those corporate legal departments are having trouble finding candidates to meet these highly specific, and often next-to-impossible requirements, and once candidates are found, hiring executives are taking longer to pull the trigger.

Positions that typically took less than 90 days to fill before the recession are sometimes taking four times longer.  The reason is simple: hiring executives are holding out for better candidates.

These executives are working under the assumption that there is a large and talented pool of candidates fighting over very few in-house jobs.  While that may be true, the fact of it is that there are a lot fewer candidates these same executives are looking for than the market bears.  In other words, there are not as many “pearls” in the sea as they may think.

Yet, those making the hiring decisions are convinced otherwise.  As a result, interviews are taking longer, and candidates are asked to conduct more rounds than ever before, and wait around longer for offers.   I have seen candidates wait as long as 6-9 months before a company would pull the trigger.

Today, if a corporate legal department is interviewing a “superstar” candidate, it will nevertheless feel compelled to wait to speak to 5-6 other “superstars” before committing to anyone.  The fact is that there may not be that many out there.  The tougher the requirements, the smaller the pool, regardless of the economy.  But this is not connecting with hiring executives.

The general thought is that with all the available talent, time-to-fill would go down, but it's just the opposite. When you're still trying to find quality candidates, it's actually taking longer.

With news of the market still being down, corporate legal departments feel obligated to continue looking for better candidates.  They want the perfect candidate, when in reality there is no perfect candidate.

The result: positions are taking longer to fill, and often corporate legal departments are losing great candidates because they are not ready to pull the trigger.  When that happens, everyone seems surprised.  This may be a good market to hire, but the tougher the requirements, the smaller the pool, and the more options these “superstar” candidates have, no matter what the market.

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