Vol. 40 No. 4
Erin Binns is director for career planning at Marquette University Law School.
A law student walks into a bar and sits down by a lawyer. The lawyer says to the student, “I was expecting your call a few weeks ago.” That’s it. There’s no punch line to this guy-walks-into-a-bar story. Ryan, the student, had proactively sent a résumé and letter of interest to the lawyer about a month prior to happening upon him in the bar of a restaurant.
In the letter Ryan stated that he would follow up with a phone call within 7 to 10 days to set up a meeting. Ryan forgot to call. The lawyer was an acquaintance of Ryan’s father, so he was candid about how Ryan’s misstep impacted his impressions. He no longer felt comfortable advocating for Ryan with his colleagues. Demonstrated follow-through was too important to his firm and its clients.
Proactive, large-scale job searches—the kind required of every student in today’s market—must be well managed and organized. Maintaining records of your activities and progress and keeping a running to-do list allow you to avoid costly errors like forgetting a follow-up. Tracking your efforts also permits you to see a historical overview of your actions to assess and determine the next best steps.
Build an Information Tracking System
You need to design a spreadsheet that allows information about networking and job search activities to be tracked, manipulated, and updated with ease. Your method for tracking information and contacts should be personalized to fit the scope of your search. For example, you may have multiple spreadsheet pages that detail job search activities as they occur in different geographical areas or in different industry sectors. You may prefer to separate networking activities from job applications, which I recommend.
Some fairly comprehensive templates for tracking solely résumé submissions can be found online and downloaded, so you needn’t recreate the wheel but rather may want to manipulate an existing template to accommodate your needs. But résumé submissions are only part of your job search activities, a part that ebbs and flows contingent on employer hiring cycles, your target market, time of year, and so on.
Networking activities have no “off cycle.” The success of a job search is as much—or more—about the people with whom you meet as it is about the applications you send. This is especially true in a climate where self-initiated contacts and referrals are reported as major job sources. The nucleus of the information you track should be the people you meet and need to meet. A spreadsheet can serve as a quick visual as to the quantity and quality of relationships you’re cultivating and can be hugely motivating in that regard. I commonly talk with students who are certain of the magnitude of their efforts until they detail their activity in print and see in sum its smallness.
The following fields, or columns, are basic building blocks for an organizational system driven by professional contacts:
Column 1: Name and professional title. Every lawyer and professional contact you know and need to know makes this list. Include lawyers with whom you have informational meetings and job interviews, lawyers you target with cold letters and résumés, friends of the family, a high school friend’s parent, adjunct professors, and the practitioner who presented as a guest speaker in one of your classes.
Column 2: Contact information, including mailing address, telephone, and e-mail.
Column 3: General professional and personal information. This field should include a cornucopia of information that will help you connect with and remember each person. You might include links to professional biographies and Linked- In profiles. This is the place to note key points discovered when preparing for meetings and interviews, such as law school and undergraduate institutions attended, practice areas, professional accomplishments, and articles published.
David, a 2011 graduate, made it a habit to return to his general information column after every meeting and interview to add what he had learned. This included favorite sport teams, number of children, hobbies and interests, vacations taken and/or planned, and perspectives on the profession and employer. Rebecca, also a 2011 graduate, tracked similar information after meetings and interviews. “I was then able to pop that information in an e-mail, thank-you letter, or holiday card, or to bring it up in a future meeting to make it a little more personal.”
Column 4: Documents shared. List document titles and the dates you shared the documents. Include documents related to job postings and proactive measures (e.g., cold applications and informational interviews). Making note of what generation of documents each contact has seen is important as you cycle through your list in the future. Job searches aren’t linear. You will, and should, circle back to contacts throughout law school and into practice. As a 3L, to know at a glance, that a lawyer hasn’t seen your résumé since first year, second semester, gives you a reason to reach out and request another meeting to touch base.
An entry in this column may read as follows: 01/18/2012–Résumé (Resume.May.2012.pdf) with updated GPA and class rank.
Column 5: Leads. It’s important that in your web of contacts you can attribute new connections to their source of origin. After you speak with an attorney, add to the leads column the names of people she recommended you contact. These names should also be placed in the first column. Once you meet with the lead, reconnect with the recommender through an e-mail, phone call, or note thanking her for the contact and confirming you followed up with the individual(s) she recommended.
Column 6: Status. The status column is a running list of meetings, e-mails, and other contacts. This allows you to get a snapshot of where you’ve been and what you need to do next. The list should denote the purpose of the contact, the date of the contact, the outcome of the contact, and the next step. Highlight the next step in some way that a cursory review of your spreadsheet allows for a quick reminder of upcoming deadlines. Follow-through and follow-up at every stage speaks volumes about your professionalism and person. A status column might read as follows:
05/15/11: E-mailed request for informational meeting
05/25/11: Follow-up date if not heard back
05/26/11: Called. Meeting confirmed: 06/03/11, 10 a.m.
Starbucks, corner of Wisconsin Ave. and 16th
06/03/11: Meeting held–added information to notes
06/04/11: Sent written thank you
07/18/11: E-mailed congratulations re: state bar award for leadership
Received message back that offered to meet for coffee in
E-mailed confirming I would
10/15/11: Call week of October 15th to schedule coffee
Rebecca found the status column to be the most beneficial. “I used and updated the status column regularly after any communication with a contact. It really helped me to stay on top of my networking because I could notice by the last date of contact whether I had been slacking.”
Organization takes time. Today’s job market requires that you cast your net wide and establish myriad contacts. Professional relationships need to be nurtured over time and through continuous interactions. Rebecca spent at least (especially in the spring) five to seven hours every week researching attorneys, e-mailing attorneys, and updating her spreadsheet. The five to seven hours didn’t account for time spent attending informational meetings, presentations, alumni events, and bar association activities, responding to job postings, and sending out cold applications. In her third year of school, Rebecca arranged more than 35 informational meetings. David estimates that information management and networking activities combined took about eight hours a week in his last year of school, with a lot more time devoted to it during the weeks of winter and spring break.
You have a responsibility to your career to build a network of supporters and endorsers. How you manage these relationships is important. Rebecca’s efforts came to fruition after her fifth contact with the same lawyer. They had developed a rapport where the lawyer felt comfortable advocating for Rebecca’s hire at his firm even though the firm wasn’t recruiting and by strict definition she didn’t meet the firm’s criteria for class rank. His support contributed to her receiving a job offer. Start now and stay organized.