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What An Employer Looks For in an Applicant: The Basics

Part 3;   How to Start Networking and Get a Job

  • Submissions of application materials: Make it personal. Submissions should always be addressed to an individual – not “To Whom It May Concern”.  Methods of delivery; adhere to any requirements. Don’t use first names unless you know the recipient.  Follow up in 10 days if you have not heard from the firm.  Stay professional, and remember that they have many other responsibilities on their plates besides considering your application.  Don’t be a pest.

  • Impeccably-drafted resume; avoid flourishes and designs, excessive bolding or underlining, and pay attention to the nature of personal interests listed.  It’s preferable to keep interests off unless you have particular accomplishments that set you apart.  Examples might be language fluency, international travel or managerial positions.

  • Writing sample: If you include a writing sample, make sure that it contains absolutely no inaccuracies or misspellings.

  • Transcript: include with initial submission only if required by the firm, unless you have stellar grades.

  • Cover letters:  Covers must be concise and address why you are interested in THAT firm, and how your interest and skills can BENEFIT that firm.  They will not consider you just because you need a job.  Take the time to get to know people and their needs, because the only reason they would hire you is if you can fill those needs anyway.  Thank them for their consideration – not their time.  Tell them, primarily, some things of interest that are NOT on your resume – or you can also emphasize items of significance.  Limit the use of the word “I” – employers want to know what you can do for them NOW!

  • Activities: Keep them relevant, or that show leadership and/or managerial skills.

  • Show confidence, but not arrogance. You can accomplish this by being familiar with the firm, and comfortable with who you are. Be prepared to express your goal(s) articulately and concisely.

  • You must have a reasonable understanding of what the attorney and firm does - do your homework!

  THE BIGGEST MISTAKES STUDENTS MAKE; THE SHORT LIST

  • There is no second chance to make a first impression!  Arrive prepared for the interview.  Don’t be late.   Dress appropriately; wear a suit unless otherwise instructed (professional dress shows a potential employer how you would present to a client).

  • Prepare for questions about your skills and goals and offer examples.  Don’t embellish or get defensive, as no one expects a law student or entry level attorney to have a lot of experience.

  • Tell me what you can do for me right now!  Show initiative, be prepared to discuss your strengths, but do so in the context of examples.

  • It’s not all about YOU, or what YOU want.  Focus primarily on their needs and goals, so that you can make a more informed decision about whether that firm is a fit for you. For example, ask what the ideal candidate looks like to them.

  • Don’t talk too much! Learn to listen – listen to learn!

  • GRADES: Don’t make the mistake if thinking that achieving a J.D. is enough to get a good job.  Grades will almost always matter for approximately 7-10+ years, as well as your accomplishments.

  • Be aware of verbal and non-verbal behavior – these are both important parts of your personal presence.

  • Don’t underestimating the importance of generational differences; realize that the person interviewing you is likely from a different generation and has worked many years to achieve what he/she has, including long hours and many sacrifices.  Millennials are considered to want to achieve things quickly and want work/life balance from the start.  

REMEMBER - You are smart and have the technological savvy – but THEY have the jobs.  Educate yourself about these differences, and show respect for them.

THE FOLLOWING ARE SOME QUESTIONS FOLLOWING THE PRESENTATION

1. What are small and medium sized law firms looking for in applicants?  Applicants who have the experience in the job description, and with a personality that will mesh in a smaller firm environment.

2. What is the hiring process like for small and mid-size law firms when they hire associates or law students?  Typically 1-3 interviews, where you’ll meet main partners and associates.  If the firm extends an offer, you will typically have 48 hours to 1 week to accept.

3. How can a student stand out from the rest? Personal presence and message, consistency of brand, impressively-drafted resume, LinkedIn profile, quality of developed relationships (references).

4.  If grades are not your strongest asset, what can you do to make yourself competitive? See above, plus a professional Blog can prove valuable in many ways.

5. While in law school, what are some things I can do now that will help me later in my career? Develop an online presence, and start laying groundwork with individuals and at events.  See networking tips, above.

6. What areas of law are growing and employing more lawyers? Labor and employment, IP Patent litigation (particularly with an EE or CS degree), some corporate and real estate positions are opening up. What areas of the law are tightening and hiring less? Litigation, Bankruptcy.

6. How did networking influence the job you have (or any jobs that you've had)?  I was introduced to attorney recruiting by my brother – who had used a recruiter years before.  During law school, we were not educated about the services of recruiters, so I was unfamiliar with the benefits of working with one. We had a good synergy and I joined her business.  In 2005, I incorporated Rifkin Consulting.

Another example is that a professional colleague introduced to a journalist at a renowned legal publication.  We get together regularly, have developed a really positive personal and professional relationship, and I’ve had significant opportunities to get meaningful PR exposure as a result. 

7. After meeting someone at a networking event, what is the best way to cultivate that relationship?  Pay attention to that person’s business card, and comment on it when possible.  Too often people just discard business cards, but in Asian culture this is considered disrespectful.   Send a nice note afterwards to people with whom you wish to remain in contact – calendar follow ups.  Show value. 

8. What is the #1 thing you should and should not do at a networking event?  Ask for a job.

9. Any general tips for anyone that has not been to a networking event?

  • Choose events with intention and purpose.  Your time is valuable.
  • See if you can obtain the attendance list, and research people on the list. You can make efforts to introduce yourself to targeted attendees at the event.
  • Be genuine, smile, use direct eye contact, and develop a good handshake.  Learn how to walk up to strangers and introduce yourself.  Practice how to creatively ask about them about themselves.  An example might be to avoid saying “what do you do”, but consider something a bit more personal such as “What is the nature of your business (practice”, or “What do you enjoy most about your specialty”.
  • Have a business card made that is professional and represents your brand.  This is a wonderful tool to provide to someone who asks for your contact information.  It need not include your address. Share it with intention.
  • When it’s time to move on and talk to someone else, you need a graceful way to accomplish this.  For example, “It’s really been a pleasure speaking with you.” 
  • Follow up with a short note after the event.

I hope this information has been helpful.  Please check back for additions and modifications, and visit our Professional Resources page at www.rifkinconsulting.com .