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Women vs. Men, Is There a Confidence Gap?

Today I read an article “The Confidence Gap”, espousing the premise that more women lack confidence than men.  If true, why is this and can this be overcome?  Is the stereotype true that, traditionally, women feel less confident in business situations than men?  Is it still a “man’s world”, whether women do or don’t exude confidence?

As a teen of the 60’s, I’ve seen – and experienced - great changes and significant advances for women in the workplace.  Hey – it used to be (in the olden days) that a stay-at-home mom had no legal way of even funding her own Roth IRA! 

I did not develop my business experience in the larger corporate world, so I can only speak about this from the perspective of friends who have.  These women felt strong and competent during those years, but had to learn to maneuver in a man’s world.  Did they have to adapt to how men “operated” in order to get ahead?  I am told that they often did.  However, many women today believe that they are better off, long term, if they appreciate the differences and utilize them to their advantage. 

Why would women WANT to be like men?  If equal compensation is the issue, then we have laws to deal with these issues.   Respect?  Our behavior, actions and reputation should engender respect, as this is not a “given”.  Women tend to have a sensitivity that men do not and, if not to the level of emotionality, it can be a true benefit in dealing with others in the workplace. 

Do women have to be tough to be effective?   If tough implies “strong”, “resilient”, and “stable”, I think the answer is probably yes.  However, if “tough” is interpreted as “rough”, “harsh” or “hard-hitting”, then I doubt such women will be viewed positively.  Even those of us outside the large corporate world know that there is much to be gained from strength through diplomacy, respect through integrity, resilience through a positive attitude, focus and forthrightness.

Should a woman behave differently during a job interview?  Does the generational classification of the interviewer affect the outcome when it comes to stereotypes?  I believe that we always have to have a healthy respect for, even if we don't agree withor feel in control of, the human element. 

It is important to note that I believe young women today often view this issue as a nonstarter, expecting to be treated with a certain degree of respect out of the gate.  I applaud this frame of mind so long as they behave in a way that deserves such respect.

Many folks might disagree with me, but I believe a woman has to find her confidence not only through results, but also by operating from within – and at times pushing the boundaries of - her comfort zone.  The result can engender such a level of self-respect that it actually gives her the courage to ‘lean in” and accomplish whatever she wants to.

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!


  • 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.


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 .

Choosing Between Jobs

One problem that everyone wants to have is deciding between two or more job offers.  However, this can actually be a very emotionally challenging problem.  Agonizing over two equally good jobs is difficult; it helps to “make a list” of the pros and cons of each job, but what factors should be important in choosing the right position?

As an experienced attorney recruiter, I often see how this choice plays out for attorney candidates.  When candidates are torn between positions, there are often some factors which may provide the answer.  Not all law jobs in California are created equally, so attorney candidates can use the following information to decide between the right position and a position that may just be ok.

  • Location, location, location.  Remember that the location of your job offer is just as important, if not more so, than the salary.  What looks like a large salary in Washington, D.C., or New York City will not go as far as the small salary you are offered in Topeka, Kansas.  However, if you want to work in a Wall Street firm or for an international law firm in the nation’s capital, a job in Topeka will not meet your goals.  You must decide where you want to work and narrow your choices based on your preferences.
  • Salary.  Salary is actually composed of far more than money.  In order to get a true picture of the compensation you are being offered, you must include factors such as benefits and the number of hours you are expected to work.  If a firm offers a high salary but expects 120 hours of work per week, you should take a look at the quality of life you desire.  If you have a new baby at home you'd like to see, you may be better off accepting a job with a lower salary and more time off.  Similarly, jobs with no health insurance or retirement are likely to yield a much lower standard of living, even with higher salaries, than jobs that offer these benefits. As a skilled legal recruiter, I often advise candidates to consider this point carefully.
  • Climate.  You must determine your own temperament when it comes to corporate climate.  For example, you may wish to work in a large, high-energy firm where deadlines are always looming.  On the other hand, you may wish to work in a small, laid-back firm where people take their time.  Normally, larger firms are more eager to higher new talent but there is also great competition for promotion.  A smaller firm may offer better opportunity; however, some small firms are so stagnant that upward mobility is impossible.  Consider your goals carefully before you decide on the firm in which you are interested.
  • Purpose.  You might want to consider a position in a general law firm to gain valuable experience in many areas, but some attorneys want a job in a specific field.  You may have to make a decision between your “dream job” and a more pedestrian position using the other criteria for job evaluation.

Ask a Recruiter – Part 3; Why Do You Ask Me So Many Questions?

I’ve noticed that the most informed and highly-regarded attorney recruiters want to obtain a lot of information from me.  What if I don’t want to tell them about my salary or why I want to leave my job?  Can’t they just tell me what jobs are available in the market?

Understanding several things about professional recruiters will not only answer these questions, but will also enhance your overall recruiting experience.

  • Recruiters are compensated by the law firm (client) – not the attorney candidate.
  • Reputation, integrity and information are an attorney recruiters’ most valuable assets.
  • Relationships should be established that are based on trust, candor and good communication.

Given that recruiters are compensated by the clients, it’s crucial that we carefully screen candidates for important information; examples of this would be salary, required compensation, ability to relocate, hours regularly billed, and about their evaluations.  In-depth screening helps us determine whether a candidate is a good fit for a particular job, a personality fit for a prospective employer, and helps us to assess whether a candidate will be communicative and forthcoming during the placement process.  This information should be kept in the strictest confidence (at Rifkin Consulting, we take this seriously and have a Privacy Statement on our website.  Read it here

The recruiting process frequently takes a good deal of time.  However, there are often times when we need a timely response from a candidate, such as when scheduling an interview.  If we are working with a candidate who is difficult to track down and does not show genuine interest in exploring opportunities, then it's better to know this early on so that we can direct our efforts on placements that are more likely to move forward and with candidates who are more willing.

Specific job information is rarely shared during a first call or email.  Our insider information is a valuable asset – and recruiters want to feel confident that a candidate will not utilize this information outside of the relationship for self-gain.  Sounds terrible – but it happens.  Therefore, it’s important that we first try to determine whether this job seeker is serious about a job search and willing to be loyal and work together once information is shared.  There are several ways this can be ascertained, such as if the candidate quickly sends a resume other requested materials and information that are crucial to the process.  Additionally, it’s very important for a candidate to provide a list of any submissions that have already been made, so that the recruiter can move forward in an informed manner and not duplicate efforts.  Once a candidate takes advantage of a recruiter or is dishonest, the relationship can rarely be repaired. 

We are your managers, your counselors... facilitating the process on your behalf from beginning to end.  With mutual respect,  the relationship can be rewarding, long-term and successful!

How Overqualified Attorney Candidates Can Market Themselves as a Right Fit

Part 2: How Overqualified Attorney Candidates Can Market Themselves as a Right Fit

The key is to be able to justify the employer’s consideration. An attorney candidate should be able to give the law firm a reasonable explanation for considering the adjustment.  If a candidate is confident that he/she can do so, then “presentation” is the next hurdle to overcome.

In order for a job seeker to assure potential employers that they can adjust to the role and be a good fit, they should:

  • Prepare a succinct cover letter that emphasizes why you are interested in this particular position and how your skills can benefit this specific company.
  • Work with a professional to ensure that your resume is spot-on: form, experience, skills required for the job.  This is particularly important since many companies today use online applicant tracking systems to review candidates electronically – many resumes are automatically eliminated during the screening process if they don’t contain the relevant “buzzwords”.  Caution – it’s important to sound genuine, as well as to be honest, in your representations.
  • Present your industry knowledge and transferrable skills clearly and concisely to the employer, with specific examples of situations where you were successful.  These examples should be relevant to the potential employer’s business, goals and culture.  Quantify your successes or accomplishments, where possible.  If presented with the opportunity to interview, preparation and presentation are crucial, and must be consistent with your written application. Add something here about the importance of both articulation and non-verbal communication.

Overqualified attorney candidates are up against a hurdle in the job market.  But with a little moxy, some preparation and determination, this is a hurdle that is possible to overcome. 


Part I: Understanding the Challenge

Why do hiring managers care one way or another if a job candidate is overqualified or over-educated?  I think it’s important to understand some of the reasons that employers are reluctant to hire overqualified people.  Uniquely, as an attorney recruiter, I work with both employers and attorney candidates to make the best professional match.  We assist attorneys seeking more fulfilling employment that meets their long term goals.  Employers use our services to identify, qualify, attract and engage stellar attorney talent to meet critical needs in their organizations.

Law firms are often reluctant to hire over-qualified people for several reasons.  One of these is that lateral hiring is typically based on year of law school graduation and affects track for promotion to  partnership.  Additionally, “lateral level” usually reflects compensation and experience.  It’s easy to see how adjustment of lateral level may cause colleagues to become resentful and result in conflict in the workplace.   Alternatively, candidates themselves often end up resentful, as resentment can also result from (1) working on tasks that are too simplistic or unchallenging, or (2) feeling underpaid over time.

We also see that overqualified people are often from a different generation and, therefore, may have different work ethic issues and expectations than the Millenials.  Some of our firm clients will consider a lateral adjustment of 1-2 years (based on year of graduation from law school, which is the gauge for our industry).  However, if they go much beyond that, the aforementioned issues are likely to arise and the result is discord in the workplace environment. Overqualified candidates should seriously consider these possible career pitfalls before applying. 

Part 2: Overcoming the Hurdle of Being Over-Qualified (stay tuned...)


Recently I read an article that counseled job-seekers to skip some of the traditional methods of finding a job, such as having business cards and actively networking.  Instead, this author insisted that the internet was the sole effective venue to connect with others, thereby enhancing your job potential. I strongly disagree!

We are fortunate to live and work in an age where we have the opportunity to connect both personally and electronically.  While the message may be similar, the methods of communication are very different!  Accordingly, our messages and strategies should accommodate and incorporate these differences.

I’m a firm believer that there is no substitute for meeting with someone face to face, speaking eye to eye, experiencing a handshake, experiencing one’s physicality and body language - particularly when a disagreement needs to be discussed.  Similarly, experiencing and assessing another’s social skills are often crucial to an employer’s business hiring decision.  Smart, strategic networking in your local area affords you the opportunity to make an impression that can’t be accomplished in an equal way online.

Make sure that, if you do have a business card, it’s very professional (avoid cheap paper stock, use a reputable company).  This doesn’t mean you need to spend a small fortune, especially if you are in-between jobs, but you always want to put your best foot forward.  It’s nice to be able to provide a potential employer (as well as other advocates and sources), with your contact information.

New methods of recruiting and self-marketing include a variety of online social media sources.   It’s true that you can reach a larger audience to get your name and skills “out there”, however, you will need to be strategic unless you are open to relocation.  Linkedin offers you the advantage of Search options for researching and contacting professionals that best meet your needs.  You can also ask contacts for other introductions, and post your resume and other appropriate documents on this site using Dropbox.  Pay proper attention to your profile for SEO purposes.  Always remember that the web is very impersonal, even if many people are viewing your photo as well as your profile. Should you choose to connect or respond online or by email, it’s important to remember that the written word rarely is taken as it was intended.  Therefore, a great deal of thought should go into any printed word.

Two more things to keep in mind, no matter which venue you use – find a way to set yourself apart, and try to pursue your passion in your work.  The first can be accomplished by utilizing professional coaching services and asking those you know best for honest assessments of your personality and strengths.  If you can combine your passion with your profession, the challenges of each day will certainly be minimized.  Unfortunately, too many people accept work in an area in which they have no interest – and often this is necessary.  However, you have nothing to lose by trying to pursue your passion through your work – and everything to gain!

By Diane Rifkin, Esq.
President, Rifkin Consulting
Visit me on LinkedIn

Rifkin Consulting assists attorneys with finding fulfilling employment, and works closely with employers seeking to hire stellar attorney talent to fill critical positions in their organizations.

Law firms turn to Rifkin Consulting for counsel regarding attorney retention, compensation analysis, and strategic growth to maintain a competitive edge in the legal market.


During the economic downturn of the early 2000’s, there were whispers that associate salaries would be lowered permanently because they just weren’t sustainable.  At that time, they had been bumped up by the trendsetter firms in California – particularly in Silicon Valley.  While a handful of firms lowered associate salaries, most did not – instead they just laid off scores of attorneys.  Does this have a familiar ring to it?

Fast forward…from 2008-2012 firms again realized that these high salaries were unsupportable.  Clients do not want junior associates working on their matters, preferring fewer billed hours at a higher rate to complete the job. 

What was different in this modern economic climate is that firms have been more aggressive by implementing various compensation models, including a bifurcated system offering the choice of reduced hours for lower salary.  Others have tried using the entry level years as training, at a lower salary rate, with the hope of retaining the talent who they mentored.  This was the plan at the now-defunct Howrey LLP and, although it made some sense, it never really got off the ground. 

It quickly became clear that firms were going to have to be fiscally creative, as well as responsible; many firms said goodbye to set bonuses and migrated to an elusive discretionary bonus system.  As a result, the security of a higher base compensation has become more important to attorneys.   Importantly, many firms are now operating on a merit system, which has drawn mixed reviews from attorneys at all levels. This is ironic, as almost every other profession rates employees on merit, so it seems very reasonable to use such a system.

With an uncertain economy and law firms still making decisions whether to operate leanly or ramp up, compensation at law firms is still in somewhat of a state of flux.   Firms desiring the best talent must still pay top dollar, yet must now scrutinize their bottom line(s) more than ever.

Personally, I am a believer in the merit system for both compensation and advancement.  Sometimes one must step backward in order to move ahead…and law firms (which are businesses) must continually reevaluate the model that works best for them.  It’s also more important than ever that smaller firms continue to add value to employees and clients alike, in order to justify the lower compensation that they offer attorneys.  My hope is that law firms continue trying to balance these considerations and ultimately arrive at a system that seems fair to most,  so that attorneys will once again view remaining long-term with an employer an a true opportunity for growth and career advancement.

Read more about trends in law firm compensation…" The $160,000 starting salary at large firms falling out of favor"

By Diane Rifkin, Esq.
President, Rifkin Consulting
Visit me on LinkedIn

Rifkin Consulting assists attorneys with finding fulfilling employment, and works closely with employers seeking to hire stellar attorney talent to fill critical positions in their organizations. 

Law firms turn to Rifkin Consulting for counsel regarding attorney retention, compensation analysis, and strategic growth to maintain a competitive edge in the legal market.