When on a job search in a tough market, cold calls and resume blasts, more often than not, yield you no results other than the frustration of being ignored. To get past this seemingly impermeable wall, you need an insider, someone to open doors, someone to make friendly introductions, someone to help you build your own network. Job searches weren’t always this way, but today’s market is more competitive than ever and you need every advantage you can get.
When I went to law school (which wasn’t that long ago), the mentality was, for better or worse, as long as you had a pulse and could pass the tests, you were pretty much guaranteed to find at least some kind of paying job as a lawyer. The job may not have been the sexiest cutting edge save the world from the brink of extinction each day kind of work, but you could at least count on a paycheck and start the career for which you just dropped $200,000+ on schooling.
Today, I frequently see the top students coming out of law school struggling to just get an interview, or even a call back from potential employers—students who 10 years ago were pretty much guaranteed lucrative starting salaries straight out of school. The landscape of opportunities has drastically changed in the last decade, and unless you get creative, make connections, build your professional network, and make the extra effort to distinguish yourself from the pack (a pack that’s saturated with eager people also trying to distinguish themselves), you’re likely to struggle in your search.
Recently, a third year law student at one of Pennsylvania’s premier law schools, I’ll call him Randy, emailed me saying he found my professional bio on the web when searching for Lehigh Valley organizations for lawyers. Randy politely asked if I would take the time, just a few minutes, to speak with him about the job market for new lawyers in the Lehigh Valley. To be clear, Randy wasn’t directly asking me for a job; rather, he was asking me for help. Randy told me that he’d been getting nowhere by sending out resumes and working with his school’s career services office, and he wanted to pick my brain about other ways to find work in our area.
After getting Randy comfortable enough to stop calling me “Mr. Cohen” and to just use my first name, we had a very pleasant conversation about some untried avenues for him to explore. Though our brainstorming session, were able to identify the law firms and the individuals he would want to meet and speak with, and I offered to help make any introductions I could. We also discussed several other avenues for him to explore like attending local meetings of the young lawyers divisions of the local bar associations, and other events where he could make his pitch and hopefully get a foot in the door.
At the end of our conversation, Randy expressed gratitude that I took the time out of my schedule to help him out. I told Randy that when I was in his shoes, I was fortunate enough to have a more seasoned lawyer take the time to have the same conversation with me, and when I thanked that lawyer for helping, he responded that my commitment to reciprocate the favor some day when a young lawyer came to me for help would be thanks enough. At the conclusion of our conversation, Randy made the same promise to me. I bring this up to encourage and remind all of the other more seasoned professionals who may read this to take the time to answer the calls of the newly admitted to their given profession, as we too often forget that we were once “green” too not that long ago, eager to make connections in our given professions where knowing someone who’s local, experienced, and respected can make all the difference in one’s job search.
Another takeaway from my discussion with Randy was a reminder that if you don’t ask, you’ll never know; and more often than not, you have nothing to lose by asking. Be bold. Reach out to the managing partner directly, or the CEO, or to the head of a local organization to schedule a meeting or phone conference. With a little effort, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easily you can bypass the gate keepers and have direct access to the decision makers. Don’t shy away from letting the people up top know that you’re eager to meet with them and learn from them. Frequently, they are willing to at least listen, and if they cannot personally help you, they’ll likely point you in a helpful direction.