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Advice to Job Seekers

March 9, 2009

I was very fortunate to start a new job last week.  It took me two years to find a job at a firm and I learned many things along the way.  In addition to searching for a job, I was also in charge of sorting through resumes to set up interviews for my replacement and the hiring of law students.  Most of these are basic observations, but I will share them anyway:

1. Do NOT be embarrassed that you were laid off or graduated from law school and were unable to find a job – especially right now.  No one thinks there is something wrong with you.  The one thing about searching for a job when you are laid off that is helpful is that you can be as vocal as you need to be because you do not have to worry about your employer finding out.

2. Have a bunch of people edit your resume.  I used the same resume for a year and a half before one of my best friends suggested that I make drastic changes.  He had good suggestions so I listened to him.  Other people made suggestions that I skipped and I am still comfortable with those decisions.  Use your judgment.  Keep asking people until you are comfortable that your resume is the best it could possibly be.  Also keep in mind:

Your resume should read like a reverse timeline with your most recent experience first.  

If you have real experience, it is ok to move your education to the bottom of the page.If you were laid off, make sure your resume has the correct end date and does not state that you are still employed at XYZ firm if you are not.

Your resume should be easy to read and well organized.  If someone has 85 resumes on their desk and skims yours, what will he or she take away from skimming it?  Why should they interview you?

3. Network network network.  Most legal jobs are not posted on any websites, so you better get out there:

Tell anyone and everyone that you are looking for a job.  Do not be desperate about it, just conversational.  Tell your dry cleaner, your hair dresser, your doctor, the guy at the corner store who you buy coffee from everyday, etc., that you are looking for a new job.  You never know who will be the person who knows someone who is looking to hire an associate and you probably already know that you need to go beyond your law school career services office.

Follow up with former employers, former classmates and anyone else you had a good relationship with or who respected your work and you may have drifted from while you were busy.  I found the people just outside of my immediate group of friends and contacts the most helpful.

Get away from your computer and go shake hands.  You may not be running for office, but it is more difficult for people to ignore you if you are standing in front of them.  Emailing resumes is great, but we all have about a billion emails in our inboxes at any given time.  Go to events and speak to as many people as possible.  Act like a normal person, talk about normal things and just mention that you are looking for a job.  No one wants to work with a dry robot who cannot have a normal conversation. 

Be prepared to tell people exactly what you are looking for even if it is just “I’d like to find an associate position at a firm.”     

4. Be flexible. In my short legal career – I will be out of law school for 5 years in May – I have done most of the things that I thought I never wanted to do and it truly has been great!  I never thought I would work at a public interest agency and I spent 2 years at the Homeless Advocacy Project.  I was never interested in criminal law, but clerked for a judge who handled delinquency cases.  When my job at HAP ended two years ago, I said I would try anything except family law and now I work at a family law firm and I love it.   

5. Try not to be bitter.Sometimes it is emotionally difficult, but no one will want to be around you if you are bitter. You need the support of your family and friends. It can and will work out. It may not get the exact job you want, but you will end up somewhere.

6. Be constructive with your time. If you are unemployed or under employed at a part-time position, consider volunteering at a legal services agency like Philly VIP.  You will make additional contacts, be forced to leave your house and be able to show an interviewer that you are making a constructive use of your time.

This list is not exhaustive, so if you have advice for others, please share it in the comments section. 

Also, if you happen to be hiring, let me know because I know of many qualified candidates with experience ranging from 0 – 8 years from all sorts of backgrounds (large firm, small firm, clerkships, legal services agencies) and I would be more than happy to put you in contact with each other. 

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