Oregon State Bar Bulletin — JULY 2009

Self-Assessment, Networking Are Keys to Finding a Job
By Linda Green Pierce

You’re checking the websites of law firms and corporations around town. Maybe you’ve been pink-slipped, or you feel you’re next on the chopping block. Or perhaps you got hired right out of law school and never had to actively look for a job. Now you’re finding no posted openings anywhere.

Anyone who has been in this position has had moments of panic, of worst-case-scenario thinking such as, “I’ll never find work again.” But panic doesn’t produce a job. Remaining calm and planning carefully are imperative for landing jobs in a recession market.

True, on the surface, the market can look as if no jobs are available. But jobs are out there, because there is work out there. These are unprecedented times, but people still are getting hired.

Large law firms have been most hard-hit by what’s happened to the economy. So scoring a position at a large firm is less likely than finding a post with a small to mid-size firm or a specialty boutique.

Finding a position today requires aggressive and daily efforts as well as knowing yourself and your skill set. Those efforts may mean reaching out of your comfort zone to pursue network meetings; giving a practiced and polished one-minute pitch of your career essence (who you are, what you do, what you want to do); and asking friends and family to network for you.

So the course of action — no matter what size or type of practice you’ve been in, or for how long — is the same. First, know yourself. Second, network, network, network.

Know Yourself
Start by compiling an inventory of your career. What positions and titles have you held, and what were your daily duties in those positions? What skills did you bring to the table in order to perform these duties, and of what achievements were you most proud? You can write out your personal inventory in what some counselors call CAR statements:

• What was the Challenge you were presented with?

• What Action did you take to meet the challenge?

• What was the (presumably positive) Result of your action? The result can be money or time saved or recouped, winning the case or diminishing the loss to a client, for example.

Compiling an inventory of your duties and skills, and writing out CAR statements, are designed to show yourself and others a demonstrated broader knowledge. These duties, skills and knowledge blocks are deemed transferable to areas other than those in which you may have been working — areas in which jobs may be available.

For example, let’s say your career has been focused on real estate and doing deals. Just by virtue of your skills in negotiations and contracts, and your comfort and familiarity with regulations, doing work in energy or health-care practice areas is not a leap. That is, it may not a be leap to you, but you have to be able to help others make the leap with you, so that you’re not pigeonholed as a real estate attorney.

Lawyers at large firms in particular are more subject to being categorized as specialists, which is why defining who else you are and compiling an inventory are essential.

In addition to identifying your skill set and making an inventory, you must do an honest assessment about what you will seek as an alternative. Would you really be a public defender? Would you switch to family law? Would you really move to a bigger city? Do what you love, and the money (or recognition or satisfaction) will follow.

Ask yourself: What have you enjoyed that is the closest thing to your current experience and that you could be honestly and seriously interested in? Then ask yourself: How do I get into that? What first step do I take to get across that bridge?

Once you identify an area of interest, figure out where the jobs are hiding. The hidden job market is the one where jobs are filled by networking and which never see the light of a human resources office or Monster.com posting. They are the jobs that someone you know has landed and, even more frustrating, jobs you think would have been a great fit for you.

Reading local and regional newspapers and business journals, and the legal press at all levels, gives you business and market information. Then by networking, asking questions and being persistent, you learn where the jobs are in industries and businesses.

Yes, it’s a job to find a job. But the hidden market is where the jobs are to be found.

In coaching candidates for law positions, I have been told by some seekers that networking is not their style and that it feels uncomfortable. But in a market such as the one we are in now, you have to get out and talk to people. I have never figured out why attorneys can be acutely inquisitive in asking questions about the details of a case or deal, but can’t ask a client or contact, “What do you see happening in your field?” So I advise them to think of the project of advancing themselves as their deal or case.

Job-hunting lawyers need to have lots of conversations with lots of people. Ask, “What are the trends in your field? What is generating the work?” Read the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. Do breakfast, do lunch, do coffee. It’s important to talk to as many folks as you can to understand what is going on in the market in which you are interested.

Corporations have cut hiring budgets, but faced with the rates of law firms for hourly work, some companies will look to hire so they don’t have to pay a big firm’s private rates. These companies want experienced attorneys who are well-networked and know their way around. If you are talking to a company that has some work, and you have the right background and can show them how you can fill that role and add other value, you have an excellent opportunity to create your own position.

Sending a resume and cover letter blindly into a company usually doesn’t pay off. I’ve placed attorneys where the company ultimately learned that it had the candidate’s CV “somewhere on file,” but had no way to find it for matching with the available opportunity. My candidate got the job because I could give the employer personalized, detailed information about the candidate.

But through your networking efforts, your resume could get into the right hands via one of the company’s trusted employees you found through networking. Persistence pays here. Keep going until you hit a wall. Keep going until someone says “no.”

I know attorneys who are constantly networking. It’s just in their DNA. If they were looking for another job behind the scenes, you wouldn’t know it. Their networking is seamless. So for these lawyers, the jobs just come to them — and the work comes to them — because they are out there all the time “working it.”

Linda Green Pierce, founder and president of Northwest Legal Search Inc., has been a lawyer recruiter in Oregon since 1987.

© 2009 Linda Green Pierce

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