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August 24, 2006

Why could saying "I do my best work on what interests me" sink my employment chances like a stone?

We urge you to find your passion and follow it, but you need to carve out a contrary corollary in the early part of your career – during the job interview and in the first year or two of work. WHY?

Especially in a conversation about grades, it is human nature to say "I do well in things (classes) I like." Why might that language create a huge roadblock to employment?

Your interviewers know that every project cannot possibly engage your energy and intellect at the level you seek. They know that your assignments may be difficult, tedious, confusing, or dull. They know that your work will be new to you, and they know from their own experience that you may not “like? all of the work that you get.

As professionals, they would never tell a client “I’ll only do my best work on projects that I like.? Interviewers don’t want to think that you would say that to them once you were hired.

What can you say instead? As a student, you had some luxury to focus on classes you liked more than others, however, as a law clerk or lawyer, your know that your focus will be on doing the best job that you can for each client.

NOTE: This issue has come up in conversations with interviewers during the past two months.

August 14, 2006

Commercial Mail Merge?

This is the season for commercial mail merge vendors to begin to prey on busy law students looking for a "magic bullet" to connect them to employers recruiting in the fall. Before you shell out your hard-earned or high-interest-rate-borrowed cash, consider the following:

1. Most mail merge vendors who solicit law student business are charging you for access to 1400+ employers listed at nalpdirectory.com, which is free to law students and to grads. True, you have to create and print your letters, and stuff them into envelopes, but you really aren't going to apply to 1400 employers, are you?

2. For a nominal fee per letter, mail merge vendors promise "customized" letters, which, you might imagine would take a thoughtful approach to each individual employer based on its practice and your interests and background. You would be wrong. For about $1/letter, you should be able to get the mail-merge function done correctly and the letter in the correct envelope.

3. It is difficult to imagine how a vendor who does not know you might create a well-drafted and specifically-tailored letter that would get passed the Steel Ttrap Form Letter Detector sitting every employer's desk. One NALP employer said "I can spot form letters a mile away, and I pay less attention to them than I do to letters that were written carefully and thoughtfully to my firm."

4. We know that some of you will go right ahead and use the very well-meaning vendors. We hope that you will take the time to craft a letter that speaks for you and tells your story in a way that will be meaningful for the range of employers you will target.

Good luck.

August 11, 2006

Talking About Previous Employers

This post is a reminder that the interview is your opportunity to promote a) your skills, abilities, experiences, and potential and b) how well you will fit into the firm or organization (e.g. personality, values, goals, etc.). If you have previous work experience, "During the interview, plan on never speaking badly of your previous employer(s). Employers often feel as though they are a fraternity or sorority." Chances are good that you may be talking with someone who knows someone at one of the organization(s) you are referring to. If you have been fired, had a poor experience, and/or continue to have strong negative feelings about a previous employer, focus on what you learned, and be respectful in your comments. This may be difficult at first but after practice, this approach will certainly work in your favor. Feel free to contact the CPDC if you are having difficulty with talking about your previous work experiences.

Ref: What Color Is Your Parachute? - Richard Bolles

August 7, 2006

How YOU should conduct a behavioral interview

As more employers turn their attention to extracting information from you by way of behavior interviewing, you will find that interviews begin their questions for you with "tell me about a time when..."

Turn the tables to get the information YOU want with your own behavioral questions.

The keys to crafting behavioral questions are (1) to define your goal: what do YOU really want to know? AND (2) to ask questions that people can actually answer.

1. If you care about "lifestyle," don't ask whether the employer is a "sweatshop" -- regardless of the answer, it's a conversation killer. Ask, instead "What do partners and associates do outside of work."

2. If you have ever been screamed or barked at by a supervisor, you don't want to recreate that experience. Asking whether the employer has screamers or chair-throwers is another conversation killer because the correct answer in an interview would be "Of course not." You will get better answers by asking about the communication styles of the department chairs whose practices you are considering.

3. If you have no desire to spend a significant amount of time alone in a room with your computer, you wouldn't ask if new lawyers are bored with their work. Whatever might the answer be? "Of course not." You might, instead, ask how lawyers in various groups collaborate in their work. Do lawyers work in teams or on solo projects? How are group projects organized?

4. If you are curious about the kind of training that you might get, you could ask about the employer's training program, but, asking "Do you have a training program?" elicits either an unhelpful "yes," or an equally unhelpful and unsettling "no." Try asking what the training goals are for each year, who sets them and how new lawyers know how they are progressing.

August 5, 2006

Where is your informative signature block?

Drop everything you are doing this very minute and make sure that you have an informative signature block in all of the email that you use for job search communication. What do you need?

1. Your full first and last name.
2. Your law school.
3. Your phone number.

What triggered this? A student emailed a very reasonable and helpful question that I forwarded to the employer with my request for the employer to check up on the application. The student didn't sign the email, and without a signature -- much less a complete signature block -- the employer's correct reply to me was "What is the student's name?"

Thank you!!