« April 2008 | Main | June 2008 »

May 29, 2008

The Confidential Job Search: Apply for a job without blowing your cover

Because some employers will fire you on the spot if word gets out that you are job hunting, you need to know how to conduct a covert and quiet job search.

COVER LETTERS Your cover letters should begin: “I am applying in confidence for …?

RESUMES Only when a candidate is particularly concerned about secrecy, should the word “resume? appear on a legal resume. Now is the time to add “Confidential Resume? over your name, like this:

Jane Smith
10 South Maine Street, N.W.
Anytown, MN 55555
612/555-5555 smith1465@hotmail.com

EMAIL and PHONE NUMBER Under no circumstance should you undertake a confidential job search using your employer’s email or your work phone number. Work email can be monitored (and spam-blocked), and your phone really does belong to your employer.

During the work day Now. Right now. Ramp up your networking with professional organizations and people within your targeted professional group or practice area. While your boss may become suspicious if you take a lot of time to meet with people whose work is wholly unrelated to your current practice, he should not be grumpy if you are meeting with people who do the work that you do. Sometimes you may be able to explain networking and attending CLEs with professionals in other practices if your target practice is related to your current work, or if it is related to one of your employer’s stated expansion areas.

On your own time (including breakfast and after work) If you are trying to change careers or leave your current practice area, meet with these professionals either before or after work. If your boss is particularly prone to paranoid fantasies about departing staff, do all of your networking before or after work.

Early in the interview process When you are asked for references, explain that you are applying in confidence and that you would prefer that a reference checker call the people who are on your list, and not at your current employer. Call the CPDC for help if you are asked to blow your cover with a reference check before there is an offer on the table.

Offer contingent on a reference When the prospective employer has settled on you, and only a bad reference from your current employer will tank the offer, that offer is “contingent on a reference.? This is the time to provide contact information for your current employer. This is also the time to face the music, face your employer, thank her for all of the amazing experience that you have had (with a straight face, please), to let him know that you are about to receive an offer for a position that suits your long-term career goals; and that you hope to receive an excellent reference for the work that you have done. Finally, give this required recommender a list of useful things to say about work that you have done.

What about a bad reference? Protect yourself by inoculation and prepare the interviewer for a less than stellar reference.

May 25, 2008

As reference season begins...

Whether you are asking for a reference or, as in this Q&A from spring semester email, serving as a reference, clear, direct communication between candidate and recommender is absolutely crucial.

Q. From a student: I received a call morning from a potential employer of one of my legal writing students. He hadn't warned me that they might call, and I was caught off guard because he wasn't one of my best students. I just said that he is very personable (which is true) and that he has never missed a deadline (also true). What I didn't say was that he rarely shows up for class and doesn't put much effort into his work. I didn't want to mislead the employer, but I also didn't want to ruin his chances of getting the job, so I stayed fairly tight-lipped. I talked to some friends who are also legal writing instructors, and no one really knew what to do. What should I do in that kind of situation?

A. When your potential recommender calls to tell you that she has been surprised by a reference call – and not in a good way – you promise yourself never ever to do that again. Never apply for a job without thoroughly prepping your references. That prep does three things:

(1) it allows the potential recommender to decline gracefully;
(2) it lets you know if the recommender will be unavailable; and
(3) it allows you to prep your recommender with updated information that will be useful for this particular job.

When you are the reference and you get the surprise call, you have two choices.

(1) Be honest and say that you can’t provide a good reference because you don’t know the candidate well enough to give a fair evaluation.

(2) Lie and give a glowing reference. Murphy's Law says that this will come back to haunt you. And, you'll feel sick about it.

(3) Fudge and tap dance backwards. I was once called by a friend about someone for whom I had served as a reference for a job for which she was marginally qualified. She was now applying for a job for which I believed her to be uniquely ill-suited. I fudged and tap danced, suggesting that perhaps there were qualities in one of his competitors that he admired. I urged him to inquire closely as to whether this candidate had enough of those qualities to make the job satisfying for her. Even though he “heard? my signals, he hired her anyway. It was not a good match.

It's hard to say "Ewwwwww," but it's also hard to say "Wow!" for a person for whom you're not enthusiastic. You did a great job, though, and he should thank you. Now that time has passed, though, you might want to make a teachable moment and remind the student that recommendations require timely requests.

May 21, 2008

Top tips for summer -- before resumes and cover letters

1. Develop an elevator speech -- two minutes of professional, useful information that you can share as you walk around a prospective employer's office.

2. If you are interested in BIG LAW, take the time to learn about it. Read THE AMERICAN LAWYER (the CPDC has 16 years worth of back issues), the NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL, or in DC (required reading for public and private practice: THE LEGAL TIMES).

3. If you have targeted specific cities, read the local newspapers (on paper or online). Your commitment to the new place will shine through in your conversations with interviewers if you know what's going on in town. This will also be of enormous help if you are applying for a public sector job because you will be up-to-date on hiring freezes, which may alter your search strategies.

4. Scrub your electronic persona
for anything that would embarrass your grandmother or that might not help your career if it appeared on the front page of the New York Times. The CPDC staff will gladly review your personal websites or myfacebookspace.com pages if you have questions.

5. Scrub "I'm like" from your vocabulary before you interview with anyone. "I'm like" is not a part of speech, nor is it a substitute for "I said" or "I thought." If you don't know whether this is a habit of yours, ask your friends. If you don't believe them, walk around with a tape recorder for a day. Then, imagine that you are cross examining a witness and your words were entered into the Court record for all eternity.

6. Reconnect to family, friends and former colleagues, and bring them up to date about your law school experience. This will make it easier to ask for recommendations when you need them.

7. Connect with attorneys who are doing the work you would like to do. Consider a visit to the local bar association, attend CLEs, etc.

8. Work on your interviewing skills now. Do mock interviews with your friends and ask the HARD questions. Remember, when you learned to play the piano, hit a baseball, paint a picture or bowl, you had to practice to improve. Interviewing is not magic – it’s a learned skill.

May 20, 2008

First steps in an alternative career search: GoldPASS - the University's job resource

Because most law-trained people pay scant attention to what other people do for a living (unless they are Workers' Compensation lawyers), one important early step in a search for an alternative career is to reconnect with other career paths.

The easiest way to begin is to read a lot of job descriptions very carefully, to begin to understand how functions are described and categorized. This helps you to think about those functions and how your own skills and experience can be described to meet hiring criteria in a non-law setting. These are your transferable skills.

Before the internet, the best tool for this step was to gather five weeks of classified ads from newspapers with significant amounts of white collar jobs (Washington Post, Chicago Tribune), and to read them from A to Z, except for N (for nursing) and E (for electrical engineering). You would cut out jobs that sounded interesting, and, often find that there were clusters of related jobs. Geography was less important than the actual job description, because you could often find similar jobs wherever you were living.

Today, your first source for this exercise might be Monster.com. Another resource that is uniquely available to Minnesota Grads is GoldPASS, the University's job board. You may access it with your x.500 id.

If you graduated before this internet id was issued, please call 612-301-4357, and follow the phone tree for password information. Once you are validated as a graduate, and have your password set up, you may access GoldPASS

Other resources:
NALP (alternative careers)

May 14, 2008

Working with search firms (headhunters)

Junior lawyers in large firms and at some public agencies begin to get calls from headhunters within the first year of practice. How should you react?

1. Be polite. Even if you aren't interested today, you may need these people next week.

2. If you are interested in seriously exploring a change, try to meet the search firm reps. You want to work with people who you can trust with this part of your career development. At the outset, don't expect more than a few minutes of a search consultant's time, and don't expect career counseling.

3. Pay attention to the experiences of your friends and colleagues and ask for referrals. It's easy enough to get into this business with a cell phone, a basic website and a subscription to www.martindale.com, which is vastly superior for search-firm purposes than the free web version. Established firms with strong connections to decision-makers are worth seeking out.

4. Get a clear description of the position for which you are being presented. Why is the employer adding someone at your level? How much does the headhunter know about the firm and the department? Consider these two calls:

a. "Hi George. My client is looking for a second year associate who knows about government contracts. Are you interested?"

b. "Hi Jane. I have a client with a 300-person office of a New York firm here in Washington DC. The firm just acquired a new partner in its government contracts group who came with two mid-level associates. This partner wants to add a junior associate to her sub-group, and the need is for someone who has exposure to the FARs and the DARs and to export controls. Would you like to know more about this position?"

5. Do not allow a search firm to release your resume without your prior written (or email) permission. This keeps potential headhunter fights to a minimum. What is a headhunter fight? If employers get your resume from two search firms, many will simply decline to interview you because they don't want to get into a "who referred you and who should get paid" conflagration. Your search consultant should know the time limits on her referrals. Some firms consider a referral live for a year, others limit it to six months.

6. The search firm works for the employer, not for you. So, while headhunters may not drop everything to meet you, they will go to the ends of the earth to find you when their clients need someone with your credentials and experience level.

7. One more reason to keep track of the travels of your resume: if the employer receives your credentials from one of its attorneys, search firms are out of the deal. While this may mean that you get hired without a search fee (25-30% of your first year salary), because the firm's recruiters must take time to document the timing and the source of the referral, it will certainly create more work and require awkward and, perhaps unpleasant conversations for the firm's recruiting staff.

Other considerations about lateral moves:
* credit for clerkships (you may received time-to-partnership and/or $ credit)
* expedited evaluation and review (you want to know how you are progressing in 6 months)
* "catch-up" in the firm's training programs

May 13, 2008

How to make a job description work for you

Most job postings for law firm positions are bare-bones: "entry level associate needed for busy family law practice"

When you apply for corporate, non-profit or academic positions, you usually get more to work with because there is a human resource professional who works with the department to craft a meaningful job description.

Every word is in the description for a reason. Make it work for you by mirroring every bit of its language in your resume and cover letter. When discussing something that you have yet to do, use the specific language to link the requested or required experience to something that you have done.

Read more about -- transferable skills!

May 12, 2008

Top 10 Interview Mistakes

Take a look at the top ten real-life examples of interviewing mistakes according to Career Builder:

• Candidate answered cell phone and asked the interviewer to leave her own office because it was a "private" conversation.

• Applicant told the interviewer he wouldn't be able to stay with the job long because he thought he might get an inheritance if his uncle died - and his uncle wasn't "looking too good."

• The job seeker asked the interviewer for a ride home after the interview.

• The applicant smelled his armpits on the way to the interview room.

• Candidate said she could not provide a writing sample because all of her writing had been for the CIA and it was "classified."

Visit CNN for the entire list.

May 10, 2008

Professional Sins & Commandments



1. Procrastination and Missing Deadlines

2. Failure to Follow Up with People

3. Unrealistic Expectations

4. Thinking in Isolation

5. Being Unprepared

6. Being Rude (aka “a Jerk?)

7. Being Unethical


1. Take Advantage of the Resources Offered to You

2. Treat Professionals as Essential Members of Your Team

3. Plan Ahead Plan Ahead Plan Ahead

4. Communicate Effectively

5. Be Accountable for Your Responsibilities

6. Demonstrate Professionalism in All You Do

7. Work Hard Work Hard Work Hard

8. Establish and Nurture Relationships for the Long Term

9. Ask For and Accept Feedback

10. Write Well

* Permission granted via NALP Listserv message dated 4/22/08.
Presented by Kari Anne Tuohy, KAT Consulting
University of Washington School of Law
April 1, 2008
Thank you Kari.

May 5, 2008

12 tips for taking a bar exam and 1 Post-Bar Exam Bonus Tip

1. Do not bring a cell phone or pager to the exam. If you must bring an electronic device, turn the ringer off. Failure to do this may cause you to lose your test-taking privileges as it did for some as far back as the July 2003 Illinois Bar.

2. Bring more pens and pencils than you can imagine needing.

3. If you are using a laptop, bring two of every peripheral thing that you might need.

4. Rent a nearby hotel room. If you live more than 15 minutes from the test site or you have to travel through anything resembling Minnesota's Summer Road Construction or Winter Weather, consider renting a nearby hotel room.

5. Bring two watches to keep your time, even if you remember putting a new battery into your favorite watch during the last year. If you don't know the trick of setting your watch for every test period at 12:00, your Bar Review reps will tell you about it.

6. Folks with "bad vibes." Stay away from the people who are flipping pages in The Uniform Commercial Code while walking toward the testing room. Really. By that time, it's too late.

7. Exam Graders are human #1: If you are writing the test, write legibly and follow directions. If you are told to write on one side of the paper, do it. If you are instructed to skip every other line, do so.

8. Exam Graders are human #2: If you are typing, remember that Spelchek isn't Thought Check and that at the very important level of getting your point across, grammar may matter.

9. Bar Exam Graders are one of the last two stops on the road to Bar Admission, and they can refer you back to the Character and Fitness Committee if they find something on your exam that calls your character or judgement into question. Under no circumstance should you swear at the Bar Examiners in your answer.

10. Don't Discuss. There will be people gathered during the breaks discussing the questions they just answered. Avoid these discussions. Someone whose study habits are unknown to you is not the person from whom you need a review of a Property question.

11. Don't Fret. Don't not be too concerned about the question that generates wildly different opinions about the substantive issues tested. Every bar exam has one of those questions, and you will have the rest of your professional life to speculate about the answers. (Note from the July 1984 test: Was it privacy or some kind of criminal question? We still don't know.)

12. Eat. Go out for dinner after the first test day. Eat well, have a small glass of wine, go home (or back to your hotel), flip through your flash cards or your outline, and go to sleep.

13. Take a break after the exam. Go somewhere. Sit by a lake. See a movie. Have some fun.