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Shifting Focus Away from Credentials and Towards Skills to Land the Best Law Job

When it comes to landing the best law jobs, your pedigree may matter less than you think. It is what you did there that counts.

Employers across all industries are starting to understand that fancy credentials are not the best predictors of on-the-job success. The legal industry is particularly sensitive to credentials and pedigrees: high test scores, degrees from elite universities, rankings, top law firms…all are traditional signals of competence and expertise. But these are also signals of wealth and privilege. Particularly since the recession, legal employers started to understand that relying on signs of prestige does not provide the best proof of the grit needed to be competitive and to thrive in the legal industry. Many legal job hunters focus on touting their credentials as stand-ins for the job skills law firms and legal managers are really looking for.

Here is how I suggest that you switch up your approach:

Remember: it is most important for a candidate to have the right skills for an available position.

The candidate with the right skills gets the job. Whenever I work with law firms, they are not telling me to look for candidates that graduated from a certain school or ranked at a certain level—they want candidates who can do the work. Surveys have shown that law firms are increasing efforts to identify candidates who possess the right skills and qualities for the job.

So: focus on conveying the desired skills. You can do this by:

Being specific. When law firms are looking for the right lateral candidate, they are after an attorney who has developed a core set of skills and experiences that differentiate then from the market, potential to manage others in the future, and can grow to contribute to the business of the firm (not just the legal work) in whatever capacity that is needed. Share the specific accomplishments and attributes that show you have these.

Focus on concrete accomplishments. If you are hoping to land the litigation gig, share the types of cases and matters you worked on, and how your role in the case made a difference (not only to the client — but also to the partner and the firm). If you are trying to land a transactional gig, share the size of the deal, and communicate how your role added value to the deal (be able to answer why your involvement was valuable).

Address the needs on the job description. Take time to learn about the target position. Call a contact that can give you the inside scoop. That way, you can make sure that your answers are directly related to the job in question. This will best prepare you (and your legal recruiter, who is working on your behalf) to tell the law firm exactly how you have solved similar challenges–with excellent results.

If you focus on the above, the law firm will get a sense of your resilience, determination, resourcefulness, and grit—rather than learn about your credentials and labels (which they can glean from your resume anyway). More opportunities are opening up—be as prepared as you can be to seize them!

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