The Next Tier of the Hierarchy
There is a lot more to the Hierarchy of Legal Employer Needs than just the “Big Six” most important attributes employers seek in job candidates. While they are farther down on legal employer lists of key candidate traits, this does not mean that you can safely ignore them. While they do not qualify for the same elaboration I gave the Big Six in the prior blogs in this series, they are very important to legal employers. Consequently, they merit serious applicant consideration. The more of them you are able to demonstrate that you possess, the more competitive you will appear to prospective employers.
What follows is a brief synopsis of the next group of candidate qualities that employers value:
Accountability means taking responsibility for your actions. Unfortunately, some of society’s most visible role models—political leaders, celebrities, sports figures—are not exactly paragons of accountability these days. Moreover, society does not appear to value accountability very highly. However, within the context of the legal community, accountability still has high value.
The best way for an employer to determine if a job candidate is accountable is to speak to the latter’s references, provided that they tell the employer the truth. Accountability is almost impossible to document on a resume, and it is unrealistic to expect candidates to admit to any less than responsible behavior during a job interview. Perhaps the only way to get across the point that you are a responsible person is to develop one or more anecdotes that demonstrate this quality and that you can inject into your responses to questions at the job interview.
Career progression in its purest form means that each successive move depicted on your resume shows career advancement. Employers place a pretty high premium on career progression. However, the volatility of the legal job market makes this characteristic somewhat less significant with respect to hiring decisions than it used to be.
Nevertheless, you will earn points with prospective employers if you can demonstrate that the job changes that you made were motivated by the opportunity to advance your legal career; plus, it always looks good if other employers sought fit to promote you.
For most of my career running a legal career transition company, I would have viewed with concern an attorney resume that indicated that the candidate had held three jobs in only ten years. I would have labeled such an attorney a “job-hopper,” which probably would have been the kiss of death to a job campaign. Today, that kind of career history is commonplace. In a complete attitudinal reversal, I might question the ambition of an attorney who remained with the same employer for a decade!
Despite an increasingly volatile job market (the ABA’s legal employment gurus say that a 21st century law school graduate will change jobs seven times during his or her career), employers still like to see applicants who have had a stable career. The one positive for candidates whose careers have been less than stable is that this attribute now takes a back seat to many of the other attributes that employers seek. This should not, however, be viewed as a license to bounce around from job-to-job with disturbing frequency. That makes it difficult for an employer to feel good about a candidate’s staying power.
Two candidate anecdotes are relevant to this discussion:
One of our legal career counseling clients had the misfortune of having worked for four successive law firms in ten years that went out of business for various reasons. Despite his very plausible and compelling explanations of each firm failure, he was perceived as “damaged goods” by many prospective employers and was not invited to interviews where he might have had an opportunity to explain the circumstances.
Our “solution” was to recommend that he add a very brief italicized statement under each job description in his resume stating why he moved on to another position, e.g.:
Associate, Smith Jones & Brown LLC, Philadelphia, PA, 2006-2008. [Reason for Leaving: firm declared bankruptcy]
Once he did this, he landed a new position fairly quickly. This is a subtle way of letting the prospective employer know you didn’t leave any jobs due to poor performance.
Another counseling client held no fewer than seven jobs in 12 years, aggravating the situation by relocating from city-to-city five times. There was no obvious solution for her problem and she had an extremely difficult time finding a new position, despite being employed in secure jobs where she had performed well in each position. Employers don’t want to hire individuals, train them, and then lose that time and money a year later when they decide to move on.
Organizational skills are highly valued because they are central to strong performance in any organization.
There are many ways to get your “organizational skills” prowess across to a prospective employer. All of them should be utilized, given the importance of the message.
A Reader Friendly and Logically Constructed Resume. This is the first opportunity you have to impress an employer with your organizational skills. This means plenty of white space, bullets, and a less-than-overwhelming amount of type. You do not want the employer’s first impression of your resume to be that slogging through it is going to be an unpleasant experience.
An Impressive Reference List. “Impressive” does not mean celebrity references. Rather, it means a reference list that contains information about (1) your relationship to your references, (2) when and how the employer should contact them, and (3) something that you did of which you are proud and that the reference can address with your employer, thus affording you the opportunity to “control” their conversation.
A Writing Sample Cover Sheet. A cover sheet placing your writing sample in context wins you a great many points with employers. Without one, they may spend most of their reading time wondering what your writing sample is all about and paying little attention to your writing and advocacy style.
Asking Great Questions at the Interview. This is where you “lock in” the message about your organizational skills. Employers like to hear great questions and award points for the forethought (read: organization) that went into preparing them.
Does your resume show or imply that you are a drone who spent all your time in a law library carrel studying, or did you get involved in a variety of outside activities in law school? If you are an experienced attorney, does it indicate that all you do is work? If that is the case, then you are sending a regrettable message – that you are quite limited – to prospective employers.
Legal employers like to see that you have a life outside of the law, no matter how difficult that may be for you to attain. They have a good reason for wanting to see that you have more than one facet to your career personality. One of the ways you are likely to be judged is your capacity or potential to go out and develop business, keep clients satisfied, and/or interact comfortably with internal clients if you aspire to work for a company or government agency. A resume that contains some indication of a community life and a life outside of the law is one very good indicator of such potential.