Secrets To Becoming A Successful Niche Recruiter

May 8, 2013
This article is part of a series called Fordyce Forum.

Fordyce Forum 2013 logoNote: Joe Ankus, a speaker at the upcoming Fordyce Forum 2013, will show you how to transition from generalist to niche special during his breakout presentation, “Top Five Secrets of the Niche Recruiter.” In this article, he offers a preview of his presentation. Register now at Fordyce Forum 2013.

Are you a generalist looking to narrow the scope of your practice? Are you ready to take on a more focused recruiting sector? Are you open to the possibility of being a true expert in a high demand market area? If you have said “Yes” to any of these questions, then I invite you to learn the top five secrets of the successful niche recruiter.

By way of brief background, I graduated law school in 1989 and followed the traditional attorney career path working at two of the nation’s largest law firms as an overpaid, hardworking corporate and litigation associate in both Philadelphia and Miami.

In truth, I loved the law but hated the daily grind; billing hours, reading boring documents, and arguing over the wording of a contract until I would pull the remaining hair out of my head.  As luck would have it, my phone rang (as all good recruiting stories start) and I was asked by a local recruiter if I wanted to consider joining another law firm. Without hesitation, I said “No. I want to be a recruiter like you” and my 20+ year career as a niche legal recruiter was born.

Since 1991,  I have personally been involved in the permanent placement of over 500 attorneys at all levels of experience, with salaries usually ranging from $100K to over $500K. I routinely consult with, and share strategies with some of the legal recruiting industries biggest billers. I am proud to be a judicially recognized expert in my industry, as well as being the country’s first, permanent recruiting trainer who has taught hundreds of recruiters the legal niche.

By choice, my practice was very specialized, and remains the same to this day. I almost exclusively place only permanent associate level attorneys, partner level  attorneys and corporate attorneys in South Florida. While my experience is “all legal, all the time” (with a mix of both retained and contingency searches), the top five secrets I share with you in this article are applicable for anyone who wants to transition from a general practice to a niche.

It is important to note that some of the most successful recruiters I know in the legal area are not lawyers and had no formal legal experience or training. This, for me, proves that, with knowledge and dedication, any niche is open to you.

Tip #1 — Decide what niche makes sense for you and why.

This involves a true analysis of why you want to develop a niche practice, what skills you have (or need to have) in the niche you want to develop (educational background, prior professional experience, etc.), and  your overall interest in focusing much more narrowly than your current desk practice.  Part of this involves doing a market analysis to see who and what your competition is before plunging in and making a realistic assessment of what you will be getting into.

Tip#2 Make sure your core recruiting skills are at their peak.

Think of this like being a doctor — they all graduate with a medical degree and then go on to specialize. Their core skills are already honed from their medical school and residency programs before they go on to specialize in a specific area. If you aren’t strong in the basics, then wait until you are before jumping into a niche. When you are a niche recruiter, clients expect that you have significant market knowledge that the generalist simply doesn’t have. Because of this knowledge and depth, you can command more client control and respect with candidates.

Tip#3 –Train yourself, or get training, in your niche.

This step requires the most legwork and use of your own research/networking skills. Learn the niche market you want to work in by studying all available materials anywhere you can find them. Network with others in the niche, attend and join relevant trade associations, aggressively use and review social media outlets and read relevant trade journals. While you can “learn as you go,” I recommend, if possible, a quick and comprehensive niche boot camp before you actually start to recruit in a new area. Your candidates and clients will thank you.

Tip #4 — Get a niche mentor as soon as possible.

Most people are willing to help people who ask for help. Identifying and networking with the market leaders in your proposed niche can lead to some incredible relationships and assistance. If you do approach these people for networking, be honest about your experience and intentions. Show them that you have a sincere interest in learning more about their practice, and they may provide some suggestions/tips they are comfortable sharing even with you being a potential competitor.

Tip #5 — Standardize and organize your desk to fit your niche.

Make sure your forms are customized, legally compliant, and contain all relevant information for your niche. Don’t use generic all purpose forms because you will be lacking critical information your clients will need to know and your candidates need to provide.

If you choose to take the plunge, I wish you the best of luck and success.  Feel free to visit my website at or email me at

This article is part of a series called Fordyce Forum.
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