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I Did Everything Right…So Why Wasn’t I Hired?

Think back to your law school days. Remember outlines? That Civil Procedure exam? OCI’s? No try to remember what it was like after OCI’s.

Remember “those people” who seemed to land an interview everywhere they applied—and seemed to get a callback and offer from everyone? Were you one of those people with very polished and upgraded resumes?

Or were you one of the hardworking students who struck out—even after fixing your resume and doing everything right?—and just wondered to yourself what differentiated you from someone who received multiple offers?

The job search isn’t daunting for folks that seem to be able to sail into multiple offers—but for everyone else, it can be a very stressful situation. Having worked with a wide range of attorneys in different stages of their careers, I have learned that the “secret” to those who are good at the whole job thing consists of five simple ingredients:

They are persistent.

Even in the face of prolonged difficulties and challenges, they charge forward with unrelenting stamina and positivity. After getting knocked down, they get up and get right back on track.

Most job seekers become discouraged or give up too easily on a target role, industry, or function. They did all of their homework and set a clear goal and outlined a great plan—but fail to spend the proper amount of time to cover the diverse opportunities of the market and do not persist through the inevitable hills and valleys of a job search. Sometimes, they drop their plans because they realized that their target market or opportunity was too narrow (they set up a target that was too narrow) and are unwilling to risk switching to unfamiliar gears and having to face new competitors, communities, and contacts.

There are some great young attorneys who persisted through the great recession and are now enjoying the fruits of treading through that challenge. They understood that graduating during a slow market was not a reflection on their credentials. Although no offers were made to them, they persisted with their contacts and remained connected to opportunities they knew would open up. Rather than closing the door, they were committed to marketing themselves to a more targeted list of “dream employers” and treated the recession as an opportunity to build a convincing case for their candidacy.

Now that the market is recovering, diligently staying on the course of your goals does not require as tremendous of a sacrifice. Persistence lands attorneys into their target roles.

They are adaptable.

Persistence is one ingredient, which alone, does not make an attorney employable. Law students and graduates seeking jobs are some of the most persistent people you will ever meet—they believe in their talent, methods, and past successes. They have been trained to respect precedent and to translate past experiences into their future opportunities. Of the persistent, many resist—and even outright refuse—to change their marketing, networking or interviewing approaches and attitudes, even when things are clearly not working for them. It is important for any employable, persistent attorney to understand (as early in the stage of their job search as possible) that If what they are doing isn’t working, that they are still talented, but need to be willing to admit something’s not working and change it.

Great lawyers have graduated from law school with great experiences, strong references, and an active network. They have no problems getting meetings and engaging potential employers. After many great interviews and meetings not resulting in extended offers, some of them “drop out” of the hunt. Some will continue to persist. Those who succeed will re-targeted their networking to different people than they initially called on and re-framing discussions to focus on issues and qualities they are looking to be hired for.

They are decisive.

Job seekers (particularly new lawyers seeking their very first full time jobs) who did all of their homework—and exhibited the traits of adaptability and persistence—often refuse to narrow their options and will pursue every lead sent their way. What results is that they never fully know enough about any of their options to decide whether it is right for them. Their interviewers and employers have all the time and information to fully assess them and scrutinize their candidacy, making it a challenge for the job seeker to present themselves as a convincing candidate.

This problem is often exacerbated by the fact that a lawyer looking for a job is suddenly interested in anything and everything: be unemployed long enough and a litigator is willing to conduct due diligence and a deal lawyer is willing to file motions. While it is totally fine to experiment, at some point, a candidate must shorten the list and start excluding certain opportunities.

Successful job seekers must commit the adequate amount of time, attention, and resources to a focused set of targets before they gain traction and results.

They have a growth mentality.

In a previous post, I suggested that all attorneys act as if they were 30 years old: younger attorneys would try to exhibit a greater sense of maturity and professionalism, and older attorneys would try to exhibit a greater sense of flexibility and enthusiasm to more novel ideas.

This advice provides a similar lesson that can be applied to job seekers: those who resist the notion of paying their dues (grunt work) when reestablishing themselves with a new team will find themselves stuck. There’s nothing wrong with being stuck—the opportunity pool simply narrows. If that’s the whole reason why you are looking for another job, however, then you will have to take a risk and be willing to change and re-brand where needed. Otherwise, you will remain uncomfortably stuck.

Whether you are a lateral hire to another firm, going in-house, or a law student with prior professional experience and you know how to schmooze with executives and clients, you must be wiling to adopt a growth mentality and be humble enough to play with the beginners. Embracing the opportunity to enter int beginner’s territory as a seasoned professional not only demonstrates humility and gratitude for the opportunity, but it also gives you time to transition and adapt for longer term success.

They are disciplined.

Lawyers tend to be more disciplined then the average “reasonable person.” When I say that successful job seekers are disciplined, I mean that they are considered disciplined amongst lawyers. Job seeking attorneys have the discipline to seek advice—what sets successful seekers apart from the rest is that the whether after receiving feedback, the job seeker merely nods in agreement, or whether the job seeker follows through and corrects whatever issues caused them to miss out on early opportunities.

Once you receive great feedback, change your tactics accordingly. This takes discipline because whatever you were doing before probably worked well in the past and might even be a great system or habit—if you don’t have the discipline to reverse engineer, relearn, or change what’s not working, however, you won’t reap the reward of better results.

Think about these traits in your own job search and career: Are you disciplined? Persistent? Adaptable? Willing to grow? Decisive enough? Make sure you do everything you can to become the best type of applicant for your target employer.

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