In a market where job seekers continue to outnumber available positions, legal professionals know it can take more than solid credentials to get hired. But many may wonder what exactly that “more” is.
Although high-tech strategies have their place, landing a position in today’s still-struggling job market remains dependent on mastering job search fundamentals — some traditional, some new. Here’s a quick refresher on what you need to be sure you’re doing to get hired today:
Error-proof your resume. Your resume is still the first impression you’re likely to create with prospective employers or networking contacts, so make sure yours is error free, visually inviting and easy to read. This may sound like elementary advice, but it’s surprising how many job seekers still make gaffes on their resumes. Besides avoidance of typos, can a hiring manager easily grasp what you’ve done in past jobs and, more importantly, how you’ve contributed to a previous firm’s success? Don’t just summarize past job descriptions; be sure to cite specific responsibilities you had and the results you achieved.
Clean up digital dirt. Thanks to search engines and social networking sites, today’s employers can learn a lot about candidates with a few keystrokes. What are they learning about you? While you want information about your professional life to be visible, such as your profile on LinkedIn or your recent role as a moderator at an industry event, you don’t want negative hits popping up. Prevent prospective employers from uncovering the wrong types of details about you by using maximum privacy settings on social networking sites and being discrete in your online activities. If negative information is already floating around cyberspace about you, attempt to remove or hide it by taking down posts or burying it with more recent and positive notices.
Consider project work. If you lack full-time employment, temporary assignments can help you get your foot in the door. Some employers prefer temporary-to-full-time arrangements, which give them the ability to observe a candidate’s abilities firsthand before extending a permanent job offer. Also, more legal offices are assembling project teams composed of both full-time and project-based employees to provide greater flexibility in managing rising caseloads and special initiatives. Working in a temporary role allows you to keep your skills sharp, expand your network, avoid lengthy employment gaps, and possibly give you an inside track on getting hired for a full-time role.
Expand skills. With employers continuing to seek the most skilled candidates they can find, legal professionals with degrees, certifications and in-demand expertise have an edge. Whether you’re unemployed and looking for a new position or trying to find a better job, you’ll improve your marketability by obtaining certifications, or expanding your knowledge in areas such as compliance, e-discovery, litigation and legal technology.
Physically network. While it’s important to connect with other attorneys and legal professionals on sites such as LinkedIn and maybe Twitter, it’s even more critical to get out and meet people in person. Attend meetings of professional organizations and make it a point to circulate and talk to people rather than just sitting quietly in the audience. Another way to make contacts is to attend meetings hosted by alumni associations. Even if you live some distance from your alma mater, chances are it has a satellite group of alumni you can connect with. Also, make it a point to ask people in your network out for lunch or coffee and seek their input on your job search.
Emphasize versatility. Law firms continue to look favorably on well-rounded candidates. In cover letters and interviews, be sure to highlight additional skills and qualities you can bring to a role.
Ace the interview. If you’re able to land an interview, first research the prospective employer thoroughly so you can demonstrate your eagerness to work for them through the questions you ask during your meeting. Also, be prepared to answer questions about your situation if you’re unemployed. It’s not a disqualifier to have been laid off from your previous position, but firms don’t want to hire people who come across as angry, bitter or beaten down. Even if you’ve been in the job market for some time, don’t let your frustration tarnish your attitude.
The best approach for finding a job in today’s difficult economy is to keep focusing on the basics of job hunting. And don’t relent until you land the position you want.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.