The word “sales” makes many lawyers uncomfortable, but you’re in sales every day whether you realize it or not. You sell yourself and your expertise to your firm or company, current and potential clients, colleagues, opponents, and judges. And, when searching for a new position, you are the product you want the prospective employer to buy—and at the best price.
When job hunting, you need to find a need and fill it—a sales mantra attributed to Ruth Stafford Peale, the wife of “The Power of Positive Thinking” author, Rev. Norman Vincent Peale.
Know your product
First, you must know what you’re selling before you can determine who might want or need it. What is your personal brand or Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? It’s the combination of skills, experiences, and personality that is yours alone and makes you memorable. It’s what sets you apart from all other candidates in the marketplace. It can include your strengths, accomplishments, training, credentials, attributes, connections, industry knowledge, practice specialty, client base, and cultural or language fluencies. Take the time to clearly define yourself so others don’t define you in ways that may not be complete or accurate.
To create your USP/personal branding statement, brainstorm with people who know you well. How would they describe you? Circle words on your bio and resume. Note down anything you can think of in your background that has been of value to past employers. Look at your activities outside of law. It’s possible that some of your most valuable business and leadership skills were developed through a previous career or civic and volunteer activities. Then, write a short statement and jot down some talking points to use in your sales pitch.
Find a need
Who would benefit from your product? Define and understand your target audience. Do you want to look at opportunities with law firms (small, medium, large, boutique, local, national, global), in-house law departments, non-profits, or governmental entities? Each will value different skills and attributes and have different needs and goals.
Do your market research to attempt to identify your target customers’ pain points. What problems are they attempting to solve or needs do they want to fill by making this hire? Examine the job description and, if you are working with a legal search consultant, take advantage of the recruiter’s inside knowledge. On your target firms’ or companies’ websites, study the bios, products or legal practice offerings, representative clients and matters, and the like. What are their challenges, strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in expertise? Who are their competitors? What are their reputations? How do they position themselves in the marketplace?
Take it a step further to become a value-added candidate: Can you fill a need or want they didn’t know they had? What is coming down the pike? What are their hopes, aspirations, and future goals? Can you provide something that will help the prospective employer better compete in the future?
Once an interview is set, if possible, research your interviewer’s backgrounds and positions in the firm or company and consider their relation to the position being filled. Remember that interviewers at various levels within the organization may have different needs and wants regarding the person hired for the vacant position. A smart job seeker shows how their unique selling proposition fills those particular needs, as well.
Once you’ve defined your product and are clear on what you have to offer that might be of use to your target audience, it’s time to craft your sales pitch. This might require you to change your perspective so that everything you write, say, do during your job search/sales campaign puts the needs of your customer first. To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy’s famous quote; “Ask not what your [prospective employer] can do for you—ask what you can do for your [prospective employer]. The fact that you might actually want or enjoy the job is important to your target customer only to the extent it that may make you a more productive member of their team.
From the specific customer’s point of view, make a list of your selling points. Show, not tell, the prospective employer how what you have to offer can fill their gaps or solve their problems. Don’t just list your past duties; rather, provide examples of what you can do for them by describing representative transactions or cases and quantifying your accomplishments. Relate the jobs, professional or volunteer activities, and credentials on your resume to your target job. Don’t just list everything you’ve ever done; emphasize the relevant information, tailored to each prospective employer and the position sought.
With your personal branding statement and list of selling points in hand, write your marketing materials, which are your resume, cover letter, list of representative transactions or cases and, in the case of partner-level candidates, a preliminary business development plan. Remember that all your materials must be consistent, including what you’ve posted on LinkedIn and other social media sites, as prospective employers are likely to check you out online, as well, before making any decisions regarding your candidacy. Make sure that each of your marketing pieces clearly demonstrates how your USP can add value to the target organization.
Remember, these documents are merely a request to get in the door for an interview, the sales call, when you have a chance to make your pitch either over the phone, virtually, or in person. Beforehand, practice in the mirror or with a friend so that you are thoroughly comfortable with communicating your unique selling proposition (your answer to the interviewers’ “Tell me about yourself”) and how it can meet the prospective employer’s needs.
Don’t over- or undersell yourself but remember to sell. Whether you like it or not—your job search is a sales job.