In a tight job market, law students in need of experience will often say, “I will take any job anywhere.” While flexibility and adaptability are critical qualities, casting your net too wide results in an unfocused job search taking an incredible amount of time and that is ultimately less effective.
To hone in on your desired job, think critically about what led you to law school and what classes you enjoy. Consider where you want to gain experience and develop relationships. Take into account the types of employers that appeal to you. Of course, your interests can be diverse as well as change over time, so a job search that includes several focus areas is perfectly acceptable. Tailor application materials (i.e., résumé, cover letter, and references) to each focus area so you don’t spread you and your job search too thin. For each search, create a one- to two-sentence summary of what you are seeking. This will help you maintain your focus and help you articulate your search to those who want to help you. For example, a job search summary of “I need a job for my 1L summer where I can get some decent legal experience of any kind” doesn’t provide much direction. It will result in an unfocused search and application materials. On the other hand, “I would like to gain litigation experience in a small to mid-size firm or government agency in Multnomah County, Oregon, or the surrounding area” gives you solid search parameters that are easily articulated to your network.
Get Your Materials in Order
Once you know what you are looking for, create or update your résumé, cover letter, references, and writing sample. If you have multiple focus areas for your job search, you should create separate application materials for each. Tailor your materials to each by highlighting your experience and interest. Interested in labor and employment law but have taken only one related class? See if you can help your professor with a research project that you can later list on your résumé. Inquire with the local bar association about any upcoming related continuing legal education courses. Ask if you can help with the event (e.g., check in attendees, compile materials, or assist with the IT needs) in exchange for attendance. You also get to list the course on your résumé as well as gain an outstanding networking opportunity.
Once compiled, take your materials to the Career Services Office and see if they can spot the focus for each. If they can’t, ask for tips on how to make your materials stand out more in your focus area.
Take advantage of helpful friends and family and have them proofread your materials. Ask for letters of recommendation from previous or current supervisors, co-workers, and professional colleagues. Get some résumé-quality stationery so you are ready to send hard-copy applications when necessary.
Make the Actual Searching as Easy as Possible
Create job agents, both human and computer based, to help you keep an eye out for opportunities. Make sure your network (i.e., Career Services, professors, contacts in the legal community, and friends and family) know what you are looking for. Regularly remind them about your search. Follow up with your family whenever you see or talk to them, current professors a couple of times a semester, Career Services several times a month, and former professors and faculty contacts every six to eight weeks. Do not discount this part of the job search! Most positions are filled via word of mouth or upon recommendation. You need your entire network working for you in the job search. Make it easy for them by staying in touch.
Find out where jobs are posted and create virtual job agents. Many schools use a job-posting system like Symplicity, which allows you to create job agents based on your search criteria. In addition, search agents in LinkedIn, Indeed, and local bar websites will help you stay on top of posted positions. Instead of reading and responding to these as they arrive in your mailbox, set the search agents for a weekly report, filter them to a special e-mail folder and set aside a designated time each week to consider and apply for positions.
Stay on Top of Your Applications and Contacts
It is critical that you keep track of your applications and communications so you can remember where you have résumés outstanding, individuals with whom you have interviewed, and thank you cards that need to be sent. A spreadsheet can be very helpful in maintain and tracking this information. Create columns for employer, application submission date, response date (if any), follow up date, interview date and individuals who interviewed you, and date thank you sent. Fill out the spreadsheet right after you apply for a position and designate a time each week to update it. If a spreadsheet doesn’t work for you, try your Outlook or Google calendar or an online tool such as JibberJobber.com. Whatever tools you use, it is important that you be able to track the history and status of your job search.
An active job can create a lot of paper: resources, articles, sample résumés and cover letters, business cards of networking contacts, and contact-us-later or rejection letters. To the extent that you can maintain these items in a paperless fashion or integrate them into your organizational system, do so. If you have to maintain hard-copy paper, create a filing system to keep everything under control.
Create a maintenance schedule that blocks out a set amount of time in your calendar for job search activities and treat that time as you would any traditional work commitment. Be consistent in the amount of time you spend each week on job search activities to keep your momentum going, maintain focus, and stay on top of valuable opportunities.
Plan out your job search activities (e.g., phone calls to make, résumés to send, online applications to fill out, or informational interviews to conduct) and make a to-do list to tackle them. Your to-do list will help you make the most of your designated, weekly job search time.
Job searches are draining. Try to maintain a positive attitude by monitoring your progress and staying active in your search. Organization helps keep your job search manageable and reaching manageable goals reduces stress.
Carla J. DeVelder, a former law school associate dean with experience in student affairs and career development, is in-house counsel in the insurance industry in Omaha, Nebraska.
Vol. 42 No. 1