The fourth most important candidate attribute on the “Hierarchy of Legal Employer Needs” is being a quick study. This trait is highly valued by legal employers because time is money.
Why Is This Important?
If you can come up learning curve quickly, you will earn a great deal of credit for that at a time when corporate clients rigorously question outside counsel invoices and force price cuts and alternative billing methods on their outside law firms. At the same time, corporate in-house counsel offices are under increasing pressure to limit legal spending.
You will also gain a reputation for indispensability and being the “go-to” person in your organization whenever a case of first impression arises. This is not a bad thing to have in your corner in a volatile economy where employment security is always an issue.
One of my legal career counseling candidates developed a reputation within her law firm for being the person to see for new projects that no one had any expertise in and that needed to be accomplished in a hurry. These capabilities gave her some protection from periodic downsizings that the firm endured. She very much needed this protection because she was raising three young children and had to miss considerable work time as a consequence. Moreover, her billable hours were nowhere near what were expected of associates at her level.
When she eventually left the firm to raise her children, she was able to do so on her own terms, with a promise that she could come back at the same senior associate level.
Preliminaries—Getting the Point Across Before the Interview
You don’t have to wait for a job interview in order to imprint this trait on a prospective employer. In fact, it is important that you do so as early as you can.
You can do this via your resume, elaborate on it in a (preferably one-page) resume addendum (a narrative explanation of how you solved a particular problem), and emphasize it with specific examples in a cover letter or transmittal email.
At the Interview
Having laid the groundwork in your application documents, you can elaborate on this attribute at the interview. Reference your resume addendum demonstrating your quick study prowess, then expand on it with additional examples.
Another benefit of having this trait in your arsenal is the impression you leave with the interviewer, namely that you eagerly seek new challenges that others may recoil from.
Improving the Quick Study Trait
Put yourself into situations at work or in your volunteer activities where you are forced to deal with something new and come up a learning curve quickly. The more experience you have tackling and mastering new and unfamiliar subject matter, the better you will be at it and the more you will be able to say about it to a prospective employer in your resume and interview.