A recent query in to us has been from a contract manager working in-house for a large multinational, and wanting to apply for jobs where the job title is legal counsel or in-house lawyer. He was wondering how to frame his job title when the work he was doing was exactly the same as in-house legal counsel dealing with commercial contracts, but that recruiters may overlook him because the word lawyer is not in his job title.
You Say ‘In House Counsel’ and I Say ‘Contracts Manager’
Our advice to this contracts manager was to be a little bit flexible with his job title. The same advice applies to anybody applying for work, in that when you make a job application you should always try to assimilate to the role and the company you are applying to. If the business is looking for a contracts manager then wherever possible you should try and use this term on your application and CV. If the company is looking for an in-house legal counsel to deal with commercial contracts then you should, whenever possible, include those words on your CV and in your application.
Specific Sector Experience Can Be a Negative Factor
The same applies of course to all job applications – and it is particularly an issue amongst company commercial lawyers, who may have done a wide variety of types of law in lots of different sectors, but struggle to convey specifics for a particular role. Quite often someone with a high level of experience in a specific sector not related to the role they are going for will have a CV completely overlooked for a post. This is because even though the solicitor is more than capable of covering the work, the company have simply read the copious realms of information about the sector experience and decided that the candidate is a non-starter.
Job Titles Matter
Of course it’s easier said than done if your job title is contracts manager and the job is for an in-house legal counsel, because when the company you have applied to asks for a reference from the firm you have been working for, then chances are it’ll come back to say that you have been a contracts manager. However, the risks of this are outweighed by the fact that the job descriptions are really quite interchangeable in most settings and if you do not use the same terminology then it’s possible that you may not even get to the stage where anyone is asking for your references.
Misleading = Bad Idea
We would normally advocate being very careful not to mislead anybody or state an untruth on a CV or job application, but to just be flexible with the way you describe your role. For example, you could include the terms ‘commercial contracts’ alongside your description of yourself as legal counsel, so for example you could state your job title as legal counsel (commercial contracts manager), or commercial contracts manager (in-house legal counsel).
There are so many different job titles now that essentially describe the same thing, that some employers are quite aware that the work you do as a commercial contracts manager if you are a qualified solicitor is going to be very similar to if you were an in-house legal counsel working on commercial contracts, if not exactly the same.
Our advice would be not to get too caught up with the job titles, but to try and instead concentrate on your experience and tailoring it to the job you are applying for. We get a lot of job applications from in-house counsel who send us off generic lists of work they have done without actually thinking about the role they’re going for. So many are unsuccessful because although they probably have the experience, their CVs don’t reflect the experience that the company who are recruiting are looking for, and without this detail then recruiters don’t tend to put them forward and HR departments don’t tend to recruit.
One of the problems with in house legal recruitment is that very often it’s done by non-qualified lawyers who don’t really understand the work being done by commercial contracts lawyer or in-house legal counsel, so are looking for key words instead of looking at the actual experience in the round. NB I have to confess that sometimes I pick up legal CVs and don’t actually have a clue what the person applying for the role does even though I’m a qualified solicitor!
Your role as a job applicant is to make everyone’s life easy by stating all the information that a recruiter needs at the top of your CV or in your job application. Always try to provide the recruiter with a paragraph of information about yourself that is specifically relevant to the role you are applying for.