July 31, 2008

Resume Quick Tip (References)

Note the phrase "References available on request" is outdated and should not be written on your resume. It is assumed a) you have references and b) you will provide them to your potential employer when asked.

For more information, see Kimm Walton's Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams, page 4.


June 1, 2008

May recommenders call employers directly?

Yes. Whether your reference knows someone in the organization or is willing to call a stranger, you should count yourself fortunate to have such a zealous advocate. In most situations, unsolicited reference calls are appreciated.

What does the recommender need? This depends on how close you are with your recommender. Be willing to provide your current resume, a job description and a very detailed explanation of your reasons for applying for the job.

When should they make the calls? Calls may be made just before or just after the interview.

CAVEAT Federal Clerkships This process is now governed by strict timelines, so before you unleash your recommenders on the Federal judiciary, strategize with the Clerkships Committee and the CPDC.

What do I do about a bad reference?

If you know that your former boss may be less than glowing about you and your work, preparing the interviewer can often remove the sting. Whether the bad reference is linked to a long-ago former employer or to your 1L or 2L summer from whom you received no offer, preparing yourself by knowing the actual, articulated reasons for the bad reference is crucial to the enterprise.

Attempting to run your jobs search on the premise that "they were jerks," "they were unfair," or anything harsher is self-defeating. You must determine exactly who will speak for your former employer and what will be said about you. Some employers keep a tight reign on potential recommenders; others allow you to recruit recommenders beyond the Hiring Committee. Work closely with your career office every step of the way.

Five reasons for bad references -- and what to do about them:

1. A weak performance review from one lawyer about a single project. You can often inoculate yourself against a weak performance review by explaining (not whining) about the single event that caused it.

If there was one terrible misunderstanding from which you have learned the importance of getting clear and unambiguous instructions, you may strike a chord. Most people have been in this situation at least once. Make clear that you understand your employer’s frustration, and that you know how a single event can color an otherwise favorable impression of your work. Be very sure that the incident you believe caused the problem will be the incident that the reference will discuss. This explanation dies a painful death if there is more than one incident to discuss.

2. Not a good fit. Sometimes the office or the practice was just not right for you. It might have been the practice, or the pace or the people. You might have been unhappy in the city where you worked. If you made your unhappiness known, you probably created a bad situation for yourself because you were perceived as having a bad attitude, for which the code words are "bad fit."

If you can articulate the problem and you are not applying to an employer with a similar culture, you may be able to overcome the “fit? issue. If you were perceived as a whiner or complainer and there is any connection between your former employer and your future employers (including classmates), you may have created a roadblock. Ask the CPDC for help. In an uncertain economy, anyone who hints that he doesn’t want to be hired won’t get an offer.

3. Offers to fewer than 100% of the summer associates. If a large number of summer associates did not receive offers, a prospective employer may be persuaded that the firm had financial problems which should not reflect on you. You may need to drill down to the department level, but if your first choice group is a drag in a troubled economy because it has lost business, and shed partners and associates, your “no offer" may be explained. Note that employers may be curious, if not skeptical if they learn that you had an option to join a viable and growing practice group.

4. Offers to everyone but you in the summer program. This is not good, but it is not the end of the world. Find lawyers who will say good things about your work and who will agree to serve as references for you. Ideally, at least one person will say that if it were up to her, you would have been hired. Establish in your own mind whether the office was really not a good fit for you because of its culture or style, or whether there were geographic or other factors involved. You must be calm and professional in your conversations with your employer to get the very best spin put on this immediately.

5. Your work was utterly unsatisfactory. If you have had poor reviews throughout your employment, and your supervisors were adamant that your work product did not meet the firm’s standards, a bad reference and not receiving an offer should not be a surprise. Whether the firm wanted a more scholarly approach to research, wanted you to work at an uncomfortably fast pace or adhered to grammatical and stylistic standards that you were unable or unwilling to master, you need to know why your performance was unacceptable. Then, you must do two things. Identify and put a good spin on the reason for the mismatch, and find lawyers who will say how much they liked you as a person. It does not hurt to have been the “favorite? law clerk who everyone liked, and whose “no offer? caused great pain.

STRATEGY Consult the CPDC within 24 hours of learning that you have not received a summer offer or that you will get a bad reference from a previous employer. You need to work out a strategy for your job search, and you must start right away.

CAVEAT Summer 2008 The summer of 2008 is not the time to whine, complain or to make clear that you don’t like the city, the work, the practice or the people with whom you work. Tell your friends, don’t tell your colleagues, and, please don’t whine about your employer on your blog. (Don’t laugh, it’s been done.) In an uncertain economy, anyone who hints that he doesn’t want to be hired won’t get an offer.

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.

April 8, 2008

Best Selling Legal Career Guide Updated and Expanded

Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams, 2nd Edition, by Kimm Walton, 2008.

* The long-awaited second edition of this bestseller has finally arrived! This essential and very readable handbook is now significantly expanded to over 1,300 pages. Kimm Walton's informal and infectious style, wit, and humor remain, however. She covers every aspect of the job search, from exploring practice areas to conquering the large firm without stellar grades.

Note that we have copies of this comprehensive text in the CPDC.

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Secret to Being Happily Employed for the Rest of your life
Chapter 2: Figuring Out What the Heck the Job of Your Dream Is
Chapter 3: Getting the Most Out of Your Career Services Office
Chapter 4: The Most Important Element of Your Image

Continue reading "Best Selling Legal Career Guide Updated and Expanded" »

March 3, 2008

Now that it is "reference and recommendation season..."

Review the rules of asking for references and recommendations.

1. Letters of recommendation -- actual, written, paper or email letters -- are rarely required of law students except for applications for judicial clerkships and for fellowships.

2. Reference calls -- make sure that your recommenders expect phone calls and that they are prepared to answer questions about you and about why you are well-suited to the job for which you are applying. Ideally, you will provide a copy of your resume and a job description, if one exists.

You may also find info about recommendations in CAREER FILES under the heading "References and Recommendations"

April 16, 2007

What if my reference has changed jobs?

My manager from my last job before law school just informed me that she is leaving the company. Can I still put her as a reference for that job?

Yes. Just keep in touch with her. And the more nice things she's willing to say about you from her position in another context, the more opportunities that more people have to hear good things about you.

As a side note, just as you are asking her to "invest" in your career with a reference, you should offer to do the same for her. Often prospective employers are interested in checking references from subordinates -- it helps to prevent hiring the "Nightmare Boss from Hell" who causes angst and the ever-more-expensive employee turnover.

What about faculty recommenders? This applies as well to faculty references. While GI Generation and Boomer faculty tended to stay put at their institutions, Gen X and Millennial faculty will be mobile. Just because your faculty recommender has left the building doesn't mean that the relationship that you forged is over.

Did you not "forge a relationship" sufficient for the person to write a meaningful letter for you? Just as you have friends around the country and around the world, you can have references from other time zones. Your responsibility is to keep connected. Report in annually and check in on their careers, as well.

To read more about recommendations and recommenders, go to Career Files at "References and Recommendations."

November 26, 2006

Turning a "connection" into a "reference"

How NOT to do it:

Email From Kimm Walton, the Job Goddess: There was a student I talked to at one school who attended a black-tie awards dinner and sat next to an alum who was a stranger to her. After their dinner conversation she asked him to be a reference for her. She was offended when he said no, and asked me "Why was he so cold?"

This student (not from the U of Minnesota) had no idea about the difference between a "connection" and a "reference." In her defense, with offering the opportunity to amass hundred of "friends" in cyberspace with to share life's most intimate details, these nuances might have escaped her notice.

A connection may say:

1. "In our single meeting, she was well-behaved and used the correct fork."

2. "When we met in my office once, her questions were very well phrased."

3. "Throughout our limited email correspondence, she has refrained from using the smiley face."

A reference, may say "I am delighted to serve as a reference because...:

"of the splendid contribution she made during class and in follow-up discussions with her and her classmates."

"of the persistance she showed in after-class discussions as she was determined to understand the material and to learn to apply it outside of class..."

"her approach to being a student member of the Bar Committee that I chair was thoroughly professional and her contributions were thoughtful and substantial...."

"of her contributions as a research assistant to my most recent article..."

Continue reading "Turning a "connection" into a "reference"" »

September 14, 2006

References -- Who to ask, how to ask and what to ask for...

Based on in-person and email FAQs:

1. Your recommenders should be people who know you and know your work. Many legal employers want to hear from professors, so it is impossible to overstate the importance of class participation and conversations with professors outside of class. Don't even think about getting to the end of three years of law school with no one to ask for a reference.

2. What about a recommendation from an employer? Again, this should be someone who knows you and knows your work. The direct supervisor who regularly reviewed your work trumps the Czar of the Summer Program you barely met.

3. Is there are form that they can fill out? Recommenders can deposit generic letters of rec in many undergraduate career centers. Legal employers who ask for letters want to hear from someone who knows you and understands the specific position for which you are applying. Generic won't do.

4. Must recommenders always write letters? No. In fact, other than in the application for judicial clerkships, written letters of rec are rarely required. Most employers checking references will ask you for a list of names with contact information. You should always add a tag line, describing your relationship and indicating what the recommender will be able to discuss. (Prof. Jones was my Torts Professor and he supervised my journal article.)

Continue reading "References -- Who to ask, how to ask and what to ask for..." »

March 17, 2006

Selecting and Prepping Your References

You will be asked to provide a list of references and their contact information either at an interview or shortly thereafter. It is best to think strategically when deciding whom to place on that list. You will want to select people who can represent you well from the following perspectives: Academic | Professional | Personal. They could be faculty members, past or present employers, colleagues , friends or friends of the family who you respect. This mix will provide potential employers insight into what your skills and abilities are as well as what it will be like working with you.

Remember, it is extremely important that you ensure your references know that you will be putting their name on your list. Imagine how frustrating it is to be caught off guard by someone who is seeking professional and personal information. First, ask if you can use him or her as a reference. You must get their permission. Also ask someone who can speak to your strengths and abilities. Second, provide your references a copy of your resume. This will help them speak accurately about you in context of your background. Next, send them a copy of the job posting for which you are applying and let them know where you are submitting your resume. And finally, keep your references up-to-date as you progress. They are all pulling for you and want you to succeed.

For more information regarding references and recommendations, visit the CPDC's CareerFiles

February 1, 2006

Asking faculty for references

Faculty really do want to support your job searches, and they are more than willing to write letters of rec for students they know (get to know them!) and for students who give them the tools they need to write good letters (name and address of the prospective employer, the job description & your resume).

Don't make it hard for them to help you...One professor, well known for supporting students and grads, PLEADS for the right info at the right time. At the end of a long chain of emails:

"Aiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! Why do I bother? [instead of spending time to draft a really supportive letter] I had to take time to email her to find out the information necessary to prepare and send the letter." He diminishes his efforts -- it was a long chain of email.

For more about References and Recommendations, go to CareerFiles