Monday, July 2, 2012

job search woes.

The American Bar Association Journal reported last week in this article that 45% of 2011 law school graduates have not found full-time, long-term legal jobs. Compare that to the current 8.1% rate of unemployment in the United States. And, while this percentage of law school grads includes those that may be doing contract work or working at the mall to stay afloat, the numbers are still drastic considering the immense amount of law school debt taken on by these grads. What was once considered your average mortgage, is now your typical debt out of law school.

Well, I went through the same when I graduated. I won't pretend I'm the authority on finding a job, but I can tell you what I did, and what I think worked.

1. Work for free (if you can).

When I graduated, I had the good fortune of receiving an immense amount of support, not just from my parents, but from extended family as well. But, as you all well know how expenses can add up, even that wasn't enough. I worked my unpaid internship from 9am-5pm and then went off to Banana Republic where I freelanced as a stylist (aka sales associate) from 6pm-11pm. If you have the economic and psychological ability to do it, go for it.

The reason I believe in the "work for free" system is that I truly believe people will help you the most when they feel they owe  you something. And if you're giving them your time and best effort with no remuneration, they will most likely take some time to help you connect with others in the field or maybe even send your resume to their colleagues who are looking for a new employee.

Honestly, I was once of the mindset that I was a licensed attorney, and was above working for free. Then, I realized a year had passed since I had graduated and, instead of gaining valuable experience during that year, I was complaining about how there was no good paid work out there. Once I opened my eyes to what I could be doing, I moved to DC and landed a spot on the Hill, then another at a think tank, and then my first paid job as an attorney at an Embassy.

2. Create a list of possible networks...and network your butt off.

My advice isn't to go to a million networking events and push your resume off on a bunch of people you don't know. I created a list of every possible "group" I belonged to. In that list I included my undergraduate and graduate schools, my ethnic group, my sorority, professional groups, etc. I then went through and contacted everyone I could find that was in my area and also belonged to one of these groups. For every 20 or so e-mails I sent, I got about 3 responses. So don't feel discouraged if you don't hear back from everyone. Once you set up appointments to meet with these people, see #3.

3. Set up informational interviews.

Informational interviews are a great way to let people know you're looking for a job. Set up meetings with professionals in your field (I always asked them to lunch, coffee, or a quick word in their office so they know you're conscious of how busy they are). Have some questions ready for them. Ask them what their typical day-to-day work is like, what the most important subjects in their field are at the moment, and what advice they may have for you as you currently look for work. Don't ask them information about their field of work that's readily available online. You'll seem unprepared. Don't ask them for a job or push your resume on them. Although, you should have a copy of your resume ready in case they ask you for it. Send them a thank you note or e-mail that same day.

4. Check, double check, and triple check your application materials.

All these elements should be impeccable -- no typos or grammatical errors. It should  be on professional-grade resume paper with a standard font and font size.

5. Be ready to knock them out of the park with your interview skills.

People's job needs are extremely unpredictable. You may wait months before your hear a peep, and all of a sudden you get an email from a prospective employer that they need you to interview that same day (as is what happened to me -- but that's a story for another day). Always have prepared answers to expected interview questions. For example, I always got the "tell me a little about yourself" question. It took me a while to realize they didn't want to know about my dog back home, but about my experience and how I could contribute to their organization. Now I can rattle that answer off like it's my name, date of birth, and social security number. After you've got those down, make sure to research the company and your interviewer, if possible, and show them you've done your research by asking them specific questions regarding this information at the end of the interview.

These are not all the tactics, nor the best tactics, to use when looking for a job. But this is what I used, and it worked for me. I wish you all the luck in the world. Just keep swimming, and remember that every moment in your life leads to the next.