Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Job Search Tips For Tough Times, Part One

The Job Goddess doesn't have to tell you that the job market is less than robust. That doesn't mean, however, that there are no jobs. Of course there are. There are always jobs. Let's talk about some points to keep in mind when legal employers are not breaking down your door and begging you to work for them:

Number one. Don't overly romanticize good job markets.
When times are tough it is easy to create an unrealistic picture of how things are when the job market is healthier. Don't kid yourself. The job market for law students and law school graduates is never generous. In good job markets, large law firms will reach a little further down the class, targeted mailers will work better, employers in general will be more welcoming. But no matter how good the job market is, it is not as though Skadden Arps will ever throw open its doors and say, "Aw, Prairie s***. Let ‘em all in.” (Bonus points if you can identify the film source of that quote.) The fact is, the vast majority of law students don't get jobs through on-campus interviews regardless of the job market. It's always work finding work, and you’ll be a lot happier if you anticipate that.

Number two. Make yourself useful.
If you want people to get invested in your career, make yourself useful to them. Volunteer at bar association functions. Volunteer to help a partner at a law firm by researching and writing an article for them for a share of the byline. Offer to help out lawyers who participate in your school’s clinical program. Do any of the hundreds of activities in Chapter 9 of my book, "Guerrilla Tactics For Getting The Legal Job Of Your Dreams." (It's in your career services office at school.) In general, let people see your willingness to work hard and your enthusiasm. Regardless of the job market, people are hard wired to be helpful. Give them a chance to see you at your best.

Number three. Make yourself visible.
Go to events where lawyers hang out. Bar association functions, CLEs, alumni events. I know the thought might send shivers down your spine, but remember: you are as successful as other people want you to be. The more people you talk to, the more likely it is someone will put you onto a gig – or put you onto somebody else who can help you.
When you meet people, you don’t have to worry about saying something witty or memorable. The best and easiest thing to do is to ask questions about the other person. What do you do? How do you like it? How did you choose it? Ask for advice about wherever you are in your job search. "I am trying to figure out what to do with my law degree. How did you decide?" "I'm trying to break into the Wallabadah job market. What would you do if you were me?" (Remember -- you never ask for a job, you ask for advice about getting jobs.)
The Job Goddess has spoken with students who have used very sneaky ways to make themselves visible to employers they were targeting. Going to CLEs taught by partners at firms they wanted to work for, and introducing themselves to the partners at the end of class; doing their homework at Starbucks, with a stack of law books conspicuously on the table, encouraging lawyers to strike up a conversation with them; taking menial jobs in buildings populated by law firms, wearing a suit to work every day, carrying a legal publication under their arm, and making sure they lingered in the lobby reading said publication, knowing lawyers would talk to them.
The fact is, you don't know when the next person you talk to will lead you to your next job.

Number four. Use LinkedIn.
The Job Goddess knows how badly you want to sit in front of your computer and have it spew out a job for you. So she will throw you a bone. Namely: LinkedIn. If you have not yet joined, the Job Goddess implores you sign up right now. Of all of the social networking media available, the Job Goddess likes LinkedIn the best for job search.
Give yourself a robust profile. Join every applicable group. When you want to approach employers, look them up on LinkedIn, and see if you know anyone there, or, more likely, know someone who knows someone there.
When you contact people through LinkedIn, the Job Goddess advises you to ask them for advice, not jobs. "I'm interested in the Buffalo Breath market, and I’d really appreciate your insights and advice about it. I have some specific questions..." and ask them for 10 minutes of their time to talk to you; you will learn much more talking to somebody then you will having them e-mail you, and you will be much more memorable yourself.
The Job Goddess could go on and on about LinkedIn -- and she will in upcoming blog posts. For now, suffice it to say that you need to be on LinkedIn.

Number five. Cast a wide geographic net.
The Job Goddess knows you so don't want to hear this, but it's true: when the job market is wheezing, you might have to look where you wouldn't have looked otherwise to kick start your career.
Particularly if you want a glamorous market, like New York or San Francisco, even in good times it makes sense to look at the towns over the bridges and through the tunnels. Small towns within spitting distance of big cities are often not as buffeted by a bad job market. Furthermore, you can always live in your dream city and do a reverse commute out to your job in a small town. The Job Goddess has talked to many people who talk about how satisfying it is to sit in an almost empty train and see people crammed like sardines going the other way.
Anyway, your first job is not your last job. Nobody expects you to stay in your first job more than a couple of years or so. You can always spin your first job into other jobs – in your dream city - later on. So don't put too much stress on that first gig.

Number six. There is no shame in paying the bills.
The Job Goddess is reluctant to mention this, but you need to realize that if it takes you a few months after graduation to find a job -- and it could -- you might have to do something in the meantime to keep a roof over your head. You know, retail. Waiting tables. If you shriek, "But I have a law degree!" the Job Goddess points out that she, too, has a law degree, but nevertheless spent more than a year after graduation waiting tables, delivering meals to invalids, taking on freelance writing projects, and in general doing whatever she had to do to pay bills.
Of course, your credentials are probably a lot better than the Job Goddess’s were, and your job prospects are probably a lot better. Nonetheless, she can't guarantee you'll entirely avoid menial work while your dream job ship is waiting to dock.
Anyway, remember that jobs, no matter how menial, give you the opportunity to meet new people, and you never know when the next person you meet will be your key to a great job. One of the Job Goddess’s favorite stories involves a new law school graduate who wound up working a register at Wal-Mart. Resisting the temptation to let his disappointment show -- there's nothing wrong with working the register at Wal-Mart, but it's not where most law students expect to launch their career -- he made a point of smiling and engaging in conversation with his customers. One recurring customer turned out to be a lawyer running for state attorney general. Mr. Cash Register Wal-Mart guy offers to help out on his campaign. He helps a lot, the lawyer gets elected, and names Register Guy special assistance to state attorney general. Ah, yes, the Job Goddess has a million of them… and they all wind up same way: with law students finding jobs.

The bottom line? In a tough job market, "You have to expect to do more of what you do when the job market is good," says Eric Bono of the University of Colorado Law School. More volunteering, more outreach. And, yes, you’ll face more rejection.

But remember: you will get a job. There has never been a law student who spent the rest of his life unemployed, and you won’t be the first. Just keep your feet moving in a strategic way, and good things will happen. The Job Goddess guarantees it.