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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

January 23, 2017
Question

Why are some jobs posted anonymously? How do I conduct my research if I don’t know who the employer is?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

When searching the legal Want Ads, jobs are posted in a variety of ways by a variety of sources. Some are detailed and descript, some are short and sweet, some identify the employer…and some don’t. For the eager candidate, an employer’s omitted identity can be frustrating – as the research and legwork to learn more and determine interest and possible contacts is compromised.

So why are some legal jobs posted anonymously? And how can a candidate learn more about an employer if this key piece of information is omitted?

The primary sources of job postings are (1) The employer, and (2) A recruiter(s)/outside agency conducting/managing the search. Each has its different drivers and reasons for keeping the identity of the employer under wraps:

Employers post anonymous jobs online or in paper publications for the following reasons:

Is conducting a replacement search on the QT and does not want the current employee to find out.

  • This happens less than it used to, but a hiring manager will conduct an uber confidential search if s/he plans to fire an employee, but wants to avoid the potential gap it will create before a new lawyer is hired. So the hiring manager will time a hiring process so there is a replacement on deck. In this situation, the job description will remain anonymous.

Has relationships with a few recruiters and does not wish to advertise a partnership with one in particular in order to avoid confrontation with the other recruiters.

  • In today’s legal profession, lawyers have relationships with multiple recruiters. Maintaining a harmonious relationship with the best/most powerful recruiters is in a lawyer’s best career interest. So in order to avoid conflict or the wrath of an angry recruiter, hiring managers may request their chosen search firm to keep their name quiet.

Does not want candidates to contact other people in the organization about the opportunity.

  • Job seekers today are more proactive than ever when it comes to gaining a competitive advantage in the legal market. This includes connecting with someone on the “inside” who can help get a resume to the top of the pile. When an employer wants to mitigate this activity, it will omit its name from the job description.

Does not want competitors to know the company is seeking to hire.

  • It’s a dog eat dog world out there and some employers are extremely sensitive about tipping their hand to their competitors (they don’t want them to know they are growing in a particular area, they don’t want to appear weak, they want to poach their people etc.). So this is one area they make keep mum. While this isn’t a common reason, it is a driver from time to time.

Desire to avoid unsolicited overtures from recruiters.

  • It is a common practice among some recruiters to solicit business from employers who are advertising for legal professionals. Some will also take the liberty of sending in resumes for the position unsolicited – without a relationship or authorization to do so. Employers who wish to avoid these scenarios frequently opt for anonymity.

Recruiters also have their reasons as well for keeping job descriptions more mysterious:

The relationship between recruiter and employer is one of non-exclusivity.

  • A relationship of “non-exclusivity” means that in addition to the recruiter, the employer is using one or more additional resources to help fill the position. This may include HR, employee referrals and other personal networks and/or other recruiters. Non-exclusive relationships between recruiters and employers signal a weaker professional partnership – and in some cases…no relationship at all. In this situation, recruiters may post a job anonymously because they do not want potential candidates to circumvent them and apply directly to the employer or through a different channel.

They do not wish to advertise their clients to their competitors.

  • As mentioned above, some recruiters troll job websites to identify companies and law firms who are actively seeking to hire. They then contact these employers to try and secure the business. Sometimes recruiters will just send in resumes with the hope that one of their candidates will be noticed (yes, the recruiting business can include a roguish element). In order to mitigate such scenarios, recruiters protect their client relationships by omitting their identity from job descriptions.

They do not want candidates to inconvenience their clients.

  • In an attempt to maximize their chances of getting noticed or securing an interview, some candidates will bypass the recruiter and contact the employer directly. This may take the form of a call, email or both. When this happens, employers can get agitated by the overture and administration required to deal with it. Recruiters who have tight relationships with their clients try to avoid this client inconvenience as best as possible.

The brand of the company/law firm is weak or tainted.

  • An internal investigation, stock dip or profits per partner plunge – whatever the event, bad press can hurt recruiting. When an employer brand is weak or tainted, recruiters may want to withhold the company/firm identity in order to preserve the opportunity to tell the employer’s story, discuss the virtues of a position, dispel preconceived notions and answer questions. This also mitigates a candidate “self select – out” scenario. If a recruiter can speak with a potential candidate real time, the odds increase that interest will increase.

Employer requests anonymity from the search firm (for one of the reasons in the employer section above).

  • Sometimes an employer does not wish to be identified and requests anonymity in the search process. Reasons can vary and include one or more of the employer’s examples above.

There is no search, but recruiters want to create an appearance of search activity and “mine” candidates.

  • This tactic is reserved for the bottom of the barrel recruiters/search firms. In this scenario, the recruiter has no active relationship with the employer, but they will “lift” a live job description from a job board or employers website and sanitize it. They will use the new job description to attract candidates that they can “shop” to companies/firms seeking the particular candidate profile – and enter their profiles in a database for future use.

So as a candidate encountering an anonymous job description, what can you do to learn the employer’s identity and conduct the research you need before applying? When an employer is intentionally unidentified, there isn’t a whole lot a job seeker can do to uncover it. With this said, there are a few strategies that could result in success:

(1) Look to see if the employer is described in a unique way. For example: “An American multinational technology company that designs, develops, and sells consumer electronics, computer software, online services and personal computers” or “manufactures and provides wearable fitness-tracking devices worldwide.” If the description is unique enough, copy the descriptive language and paste it into a Google query and see what companies arise in the search results. You can double-check your results by going to the company websites to determine if the same job description is listed.

(2) Cross check the anonymous job description with other job boards to determine whether it’s posted in multiple locations. If it is, one may include the employer’s name.

(3) Check the name/email of the person or organization that is receiving applications. Many times, the resume recipient will include the employer’s identity (determined primarily through the email address).

(4) If a search firm is posting the description, contact the firm and inquire. The recruiters may not provide you with the information immediately, but it’s worth asking.

If all of these approaches fail, my advice is to apply for the position (if the opportunity sounds compelling) and if contacted by the employer begin your research at that time. If you subsequently determine that the position isn’t right for you, politely withdraw your candidacy.

In an ideal world, everything a job seeker would want…and need to know about a job opportunity would be provided in the published job description. But this is rarely the case. Many blanks remain as an application process begins. Sometimes an employer’s identity is one such blank. Regardless, if the position speaks to you, move forward and apply. You’ll discover the mystery soon enough and can then plot your course from there.

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