There are few things stranger in this world than job hunting. The problem with job hunting is that no two people end up in the same place in the same manner. Almost all my jobs from my computer consulting days in high school through my current job at the University of Connecticut have been primarily the result of people asking me to work for them because I had a skill they desired. In college my job search process for summer internships largely involved sitting at my desk and deciding which of the multiple offers to take. Unfortunately things are not quite that easy post law school.
The focus of many online websites and consultations with career services is a resume. I’m not entirely sure why. I have a resume and I am proud of it but even at two pages it is rather brief. I’m not completely sure how someone pulls a full story from it. In fact I do not believe I have ever seen a resume that I would deem useful. On a resume you can look for certain benchmarks like whether people have experience doing certain types of things and if their grades are decent but that is not going to tell you if the person is enjoyable to be around, a good team player, or has the ability to quickly learn new skills. Some people will try to fill these gaps by writing that they are a team player on their resume. I am not sure how helpful that is considering I have never seen a resume where someone says they are a bad team player. Suffice to say that if I was hiring someone I do not think resume searching would seem like an efficient method to find a good employee. That’s why I try not to blame employers for not getting back to me after I cold send them my resume from a job site.
From the perspective of a job searcher it is also difficult to ascertain whether a job or internship will be good. I have had both extremely promising internships turn into duds and seemingly boring internships turn into the most valuable experiences of my professional career. Some things are simple like you can see if the job falls into your field of interest or is the type of role you might enjoy. However you cannot tell whether the people at the workplace are good to work with, whether the employer treats the employees with respect, or how much opportunity you might have to grow there. If you want to learn these things you have to conduct rather extensive background research. Even then the people you talk to might be biased or interact in the environment differently than you. Law firms solved this problem by bringing on associates the summer of their second year to take them for a test drive. Then the economy collapsed and this model sort of died. I think it would be a good idea to have more of this, not less.
Another problem is that now all companies want are people with experience. This is code for not wanting to train the employee so they will basically only hire someone who is currently doing the same thing for their competitors. This means that if you have a job you have a lot of leverage because if you have a valuable skill there are people trying to poach you on a daily basis. This is most famously rampant in Silicon Valley but I have also heard stories of it in the legal field as well. When I search for legal job postings there are plenty of jobs for people with 2-5 years of experience but not for fresh graduates. I think eventually companies and law firms will realize that it is cheaper to train new employees than paying higher and higher salaries for employees they poach from competitors. Until then new graduates are at a huge disadvantage.
This is why job searching is all about networking and who you know. It is much easier to have someone vouch for a person and trust they will work out then to do the cold job hunting thing. This means that the networkers are at a huge advantage and it is difficult to get jobs entirely based on your skill. Sometimes career services offices try to teach networking or hold networking events, but I only know of one person who has gotten a job from them. Real networking is usually accomplished through your internships or when a parent or uncle knows someone who knows someone who has an opening. Yet in law school they don’t teach us how to effectively leverage that.
So far my takeaways from job searching post-law school are the following: be open to new experiences, first impressions can be wrong, do not be afraid to talk to people about your job search, and never give-up hope. If I was career services I would probably spend less time focusing on resume editing and more time helping students connect with groups and organizations in their area of interest so they can get more of the valuable type of networking. I would also encourage them to develop a portfolio of work or projects they can use in their applications or interviews. One of my cold interviews was with the State Elections Enforcement Commission and one reason I was able to successfully interview was that my senior project at WPI was on the efficacy of the Citizens’ Election Program. These not so small things make a huge difference.