Older but Wiser: Finding the Hidden Job Market

Older but Wiser: Finding the Hidden Job Market

Valerie Fontaine and Roberta Kass
Special to Law.com
August 31, 2009

Editor's note: This is the fifth article in a new series about job transitions for older attorneys. Links to previous articles in the series are listed following this article.

Now that you have a winning resume, you need to have somewhere to send it. Information about the vast majority of job openings passes by word of mouth, rather than through recruiters or advertisements. Therefore, you need to tap into this "hidden" job market.


Reach out to your network of friends, family, former colleagues, law school and college classmates, neighbors and acquaintances. If you have a specialty, contact the professor at your law school who teaches in that field, even if they weren't there when you attended. Or contact professors at local law schools who teach in that field. Think expansively, beyond lawyers. Include everyone you know or meet, including your accountant, your hairdresser, your doctor, parents on your kids' teams, and the person behind you in line at the grocery store. Informal networking works; you never know who knows whom.


In some cases, the contact information you have may be old. To update, do an Internet search, check the appropriate state bar Web site and alumni listings, or ask mutual friends and colleagues. Social and business networking sites like LinkedIn and Plaxo are good ways to find old connections. You can search by name or company.

It can be daunting to contact people you haven't spoken to in years, especially if you've just been laid off. When you attempt to reconnect with someone, personalize your contact with a memory you shared or a reminder of who you are. When you connect via a social networking site, you can view their contacts and request an introduction to people at firms or companies that interest you.

In this economy, the stigma of being laid off and actively in the job market has diminished. If you have profiles on social networking sites, keep them current and indicate you are "up for grabs". It may spur one of your contacts to alert you to a job opportunity.

ExecuNet reported that 73 percent of executives are finding jobs via social networks versus less than 15 percent on job boards.


Attend bar association, continuing education, alumni association, and professional, charitable, and civic organization and social events. Don't limit yourself to groups of lawyers. Get involved; don't just join. Actively participate and meet as many people as possible. Volunteer, and treat your efforts as an "audition". Let others see your work quality, energy, reliability, enthusiasm and results. People are more likely to recommend, hire or give work to lawyers they have seen in action and respect.


Offer to speak at legal, professional, or trade associations and provide articles for their publications. Consider writing a blog if you are comfortable with the medium, you have something interesting to say, and you have the motivation to update the blog consistently.

If you don't have a specialty, use this time to research and write articles or create a presentation. It's a good way to meet people and creates current activity for your resume. You might impress a prospective employer or a law firm's important client who will encourage them to interview you. Or, you might find a company at the "sweet spot" of having enough outside legal expenses to warrant bringing in an in-house counsel to manage the legal matters.


Informational interviews take networking to the next level and are NOT job interviews! It is a way to gather intelligence and expand your network in hopes of gathering leads. An informational interview can take the form of any interaction during which you ask your target about their insights regarding the current job market, a particular area of practice or potential employer, whether they have any ideas for an attorney in your situation, and their recommendations regarding whom else you should contact. It can be as low key as a brief chat in person, on the telephone, or via e-mail, or a formal in-office meeting, coffee or lunch (with you picking up the tab, of course).

• What to Ask
The cardinal rule of an informational interview is not to ask your contacts directly for a job, especially in this down economy. If you ask a contact if they have an opening for you, the answer most likely will be an awkward "no," leaving you no further along in your search.

If you ask instead for ideas, advice and/or contacts, you have gained something useful from the interaction, and not made someone uncomfortable in the process. Most people enjoy being helpful, feeling like an expert, and talking about themselves and their careers. It is important, in return, to ask whether there is anything you can do for them, such as providing information or introductions.

• Preparation
Ask for a short amount of time, and honor that limitation. Be prepared with questions, and research the person, firm and practice area beforehand so you don't waste your time or theirs. Stick to the topic, but allow for some freewheeling conversation, as you don't know what information might emerge. If the interview is with someone you do not know well, you want to be prepared with a brief introduction of your skills, desires and situation. But listen more than you talk!

• Follow Up
Follow up with a short thank you note, and if you feel it is appropriate, include your resume, noting it is provided "in case it sparks any further ideas" from the interviewer for you. Do not take your resume to the informational interview as it may make the contact feel like they have been misled regarding the purpose of the meeting. If you learn about an interesting job opening in the course of an informational interview, apply later on your own. If your contact offers to facilitate the application, you can send a resume later.

An informational interview may not yield results immediately, but each connection is a link in the chain of contacts that will help you reach your goal. And, once you have landed a new position, contact all of the people you met with along the way to inform them of your new contact data, and thank them for their advice, assistance and referrals.


The more you network and pursue informational interviews, the more chances you have to find the opportunity you seek. Follow up all of your contacts with copies of your resume and cover letter. If confidentiality is not an issue for you, ask your contacts to forward your information to anyone they deem appropriate, asking those recipients to pass it along, as well. This is similar to viral marketing on the Internet. Your perfect job could be less than six degrees of separation away.


Read other articles in the "Older but Wiser" series:

  1. Winning Strategies for Older but Wiser Job Seekers
  2. Older but Wiser: Get With the Program!
  3. Older but Wiser: Resume Strategies
  4. Older but Wiser: Crafting Your Business Plan
  5. Older but Wiser: Finding the Hidden Job Market
  6. Older but Wiser: Acing the Interview
  7. Older but Wiser: Handling Touchy Subjects
  8. Older but Wiser: Stay the Course