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Overcoming Common Job Search Problems

By Chere B. Estrin and Carla S. Haney

     Job searching can make you crazy. You may be the best legal professional around with tons of relevant experience and all the right skills, but for some crazy reason you can’t find a job to save your life. Or maybe you’re new to the legal field but you’re armed with a dynamite resume and a shiny new interview suit, but you haven’t even gotten a nibble in response to the countless copies of that dynamite resume you’ve sent out. What’s going on here? And what’s a stellar legal professional to do?


     First, keep in mind that we’re in a challenging job market. There are truckloads of applicants for every available position, and every hiring manager is looking for something different. Your education, experience, and skills might exactly match the required and preferred criteria for a position, but if the hiring manager already has someone in mind for the position, you’re out of luck. Sometimes it’s not you, it’s them.


     But sometimes it’s not them, it’s you. Maybe you’re having trouble identifying jobs in the first place; maybe you’re finding and applying to them, but you’re not getting a response; or maybe you’re getting interviews but no offers. If any of these sound familiar, stay tuned; in this article, we’ll help you overcome three problems that may be impacting your job search.


Problem #1:  I Can’t Find Jobs.

     Believe it or not, there are jobs out there; the trick is finding them. As you may have heard, 80% (or more, depending upon who you ask)  of jobs are NOT posted. That means no matter how much time you spend on Monster, CareerBuilder, and Craigs List, you’ll never see 80% of the jobs that are available on any given day.

     So how do you find out about jobs if they’re not posted? The most effective way is to network. Contrary to popular belief, networking is not about shaking hands, kissing babies, and schmoozing your face off; that’s not what’s going to build a strong network of people who will help you in your job search. Networking is really about developing relationships. Think about those you’re most likely to pass on a lead to or make a recommendation for. If you’re like most people, you’re more likely to help someone who’s helped you before or someone with whom you have a relationship.


     One great way to develop your network is to volunteer. If you want to grow your legal network, volunteering with one or more professional associations is a great step in the right direction. Volunteering is also great if you’re attending an event at which you won’t know anyone. Offer to help by coming early to set up, staying late to clean up, and helping out in between. In addition to keeping yourself busy and avoiding the awkward standing around, you’ll have the opportunity to meet and get to know staff and other volunteers.


Problem #2: I’m not getting interviews.

     If you’ve applied to one or two jobs and haven’t gotten a response, you might just need to get out there a bit more. But if you’ve applied to a hundred jobs and haven’t gotten a call, it’s a good time to take a critical look at your resume. Almost everything we do in the legal field requires polish.

     Whether it’s dressing for a client meeting or formatting a document for court, the way we appear impacts how others perceive our professionalism, competence, and ability to perform. Does your resume look professional and polished? Is there a nice balance of text and white space on the page(s)? Is your resume organized in a logical manner? Are the sections easy to identify at a glance? Keep in mind that just because Elle Woods from Legally Blonde can get away with a resume that’s pink and scented doesn’t mean you can. Stick with white or off-white paper, stay away from the perfume, and give it “a little something extra” another way.


Problem #3:  I’m Not Getting Offers.

     Some candidates make it all the way through the interview process only to find that they’re “not the right fit”. If this sounds familiar, it’s likely that you need to work on your interview skills. As mentioned in a previous article, it’s important to prepare for an interview by researching the firm/company and the interviewer(s), dress for success, and answer the questions. But many candidates don’t know how to answer interview questions.

    What's going on during the interview? One candidate who was desperately trying to find a job told us that he thought telling war stories would show that he had the right experience. Unfortunately, not only did the prospective employers find the war stories long and boring, the candidate was not answering the question asked. He was sliding around it by giving what he thought was an example.


     Remember that the goal of the interview is to determine whether the candidate and the employer are a good match. With that in mind, it’s very important that the candidate sells the interviewer on that perfect match. When responding to interview questions, don’t forget to tell the interviewer exactly why you are the best candidate for the position. If the position calls for a candidate with strong legal research skills, explain how your superior legal research skills have had a positive impact on your employers’ bottom lines. If you haven’t had the opportunity to put your skills to the test in a paid position, explain those skills impacted your performance in school.

     Don't underestimate the value of continuing legal education. Keeping your skills up-to-date is as important as what you are doing in your daily responsibilities.  You may be rejected because, while you've been very busy on your current job,  your law firm simply doesn't have the latest technology or is practicing the latest hot practice area. The next employer will be reluctant to hire you. Don't be victim to your circumstances!


     If you’re still having trouble in your job search, contact your paralegal program’s Career Services Office for additional support. Often they can help by telling you about networking opportunities, reviewing your resume, and even setting up mock interviews.


Chere Estrin is the CEO of the Paralegal Knowledge Institute and President and Co-Founding member of the Organization of Legal Professionals. (OLP)  She has written 10 books about legal careers.  Carla Haney is the Career Services Manager for UC San Diego’s Paralegal Program and a freelance paralegal. 


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