What Job Hunters Should Wear on Their Sleeves

What Job Hunters Should Wear on Their Sleeves

This is one time in life when modesty should not play a role and self-promotion pays.

Special to The National Law Journal August 1994

By Valerie A. Fontaine and Madeleine E. Seltzer

There is a tight legal market out there so, when the competition is hot, it always pays to remember the basic tenets of a job search.

Checking the obvious sources - job listings in the local and national legal press and general circulation newspapers, law school placement office listings and placement office subscription newsletters - is only the beginning. Beyond that come the efforts to stand out from the crowd. Candidates can attempt to create niches for themselves, seeking out organizations with practice areas that interest them. Martindale-Hubbell and Prentice Hall's Law and Business Directory of Corporate Counsel are useful sources of information. And it is always possible that a firm or company that has not been advertising for new employees may respond to a resourceful applicant who makes a good pitch.

The needs of the legal market are fluid these days, so it is important to keep track of changes. "Hot" practice areas change with politics, economics and technological advances. Up-to-date information increases the likelihood of aiming in the right direction.

The most important element of a successful job search is effective and relentless networking. Smart lawyers join alumni and bar associations, civil, social, charitable and political organizations - and then talk to as many people as possible, especially other lawyers.

If there is one word to describe the ideal characteristic for a job candidate in this market, it might be "flexibility". It is fine to have an ideal career goal and certainly important to pursue it, but at the same time, today's job hunters should keep an open mind about other opportunities within their skill area. Law firms are not the only employers out there; there are government agencies and public interest groups. When push comes to shove, temporary, contract or even volunteer positions can open doors and provide good experience and contacts that may bear fruit in the future.

Once opportunities have been identified, it pays to gauge whether one has the appropriate credentials or any tangential skill or interest that could prove useful. For instance, an engineering background is desirable, if not required, for some areas of intellectual property and environmental practice. Knowledge of a foreign language could be a plus, as could experience in writing or lecturing. A seemingly irrelevant skill may well help to set an applicant apart from the rest of the crowd.

Employers hire candidates with whom they are comfortable, which, quite often, means those who are most like themselves. It is worth looking through Martindale-Hubbell to get some idea of who has a background similar to one's own in terms of academics and interests. At the interview stage it is inevitable that the "like factor" will come into play. Each organization has its own particular style or culture, and a candidate, as well as a future employer, needs to assess the likelihood of a good fit. It is tempting, when scrambling for a job, to play down this aspect, but it really is a good prognosticator of future success.

When an interview has been scheduled, the research should begin in earnest. A job-seeker who turns up armed with knowledge about the firm or corporation makes a favorable impression. Size, structure, representative clients, recent major cases and/or transactions, financial condition are all accessible facts, to be found through Martindale-Hubbell, the National Association of Legal Placement Directory of Legal Employers, law school placement office files of firm resumes, annual reports and a Nexis run for press coverage. Knowing something about the interviewers themselves is an even greater plus.

The candidate should arrive with a list of references in hand, having obtained permission to use them. A file folder containing a writing sample that demonstrates research and analytical skills and a lucid writing style (no typos, please!) and a certified copy of one's law school transcript is a further indication of preparedness. And to ensure punctuality, candidates should know ahead of time whom they will be meeting, where, how to get there (where to park) and how long the journey takes. Good interviewing protocol includes being on time and, if late, calling ahead.

At the interview, candidates should be assertive without overdoing it, friendly but not overly familiar and articulate without being long-winded. It pays to indicate a willingness to work hard, to demonstrate a high energy level and to communicate a grasp of what the position entails. It also pays to be honest and to respond to direct questions with direct answers. Since interviewees are expected to do most of the talking, it is well worth taking the time to think up some appropriate topics in advance. Asking some carefully designed questions demonstrates interest in and knowledge of the potential employer, as well as intelligent assertiveness. And, at the top of the "what not to do" list: A candidate never should speak negatively of a former employer, or discuss compensation in an initial interview.

Appropriate follow-up is an essential part of job hunting. At the end of the interview, if the subject has not been raised, it is perfectly permissible to ask what the next step will be and when the candidate should expect to hear from the potential employer. Immediately after the interview, it's good form to send a thank-you note - making sure to get the names (and correct spelling) of the interviewers. If there has been no response in the time period stated by the employer, it is acceptable to make a polite telephone inquiry, but it is important not to be a nuisance.

Luck always plays a part in a job search, but following the guidelines presented here will help luck on its way.