I recently shared on instagram about the worst job interview I ever had (and how traumatized I am still from it). Without ~naming names~ the position was for a summer counselor role for pre-law students. I was excited for the opportunity to get to be around other Latinx interested in law, but quickly during the interview I realized I was not going to be selected. The interviewer kept pushing back against each answer, making me rephrase or offer up another example; often interrupting saying my answer wasn’t good enough. At the end of interview, I felt like my experience as a Latina weren’t valid and I felt like shit. It took me a while to realize how weird the interview had been…
Anyway, all that to say: job searching is tough. It can be hard to get a foot in the door and harder still to do well enough in the interview so that you receive an offer. So, I want to offer some steps to keep in mind when actively job searching. Many of these suggestions are small steps–you still have to deliver during the interview, but the goal here is that in ensuring these “small” steps are airtight will make you a stronger candidate overall so that when it comes down to you and someone else, you are selected because you presented yourself as the stronger candidate.
One. Match your skills to job description. It is sooooo easy to just send your regular resume and cover letter to a company that’s hiring. But doing that makes it harder for the interviewer to know if you’re someone they should invite in for a talk. I really recommend that you edit your resume so that your skills match the job duties/experience needed. This means adding relevant things even if they aren’t your overall duties and being judicious in what to exclude. If the decision maker can see you’re a strong candidate for their specific role just by glancing at your resume, that will help you get much further.
Two. Keep resume tight. You have to be meticulous with your resume and cover letter. I’ve seen people stop considering someone for an interview because of typos. Does that mean a simple mistake will stop you from advancing? Not always, but why risk it? Review, edit, have others review. Read your cover letter backwards (it’ll help break up the sentences and allow you to catch typos easier). And, if you’re less than eight years out of law school, your resume should be one page. PLEASE edit it to one page. I know there are schools of thought that differ, but again why risk it? Having it go longer when you’re a young professional shows that you either can’t determine what’s relevant or you didn’t want to edit. Neither is a good assumption.
Three. Pick the right references. This is so important and I really want to stress the importance of having confidence in who your references are–they need to be able to speak to the skills your prospective job is looking for and they need to speak HIGHLY of you. Try to cultivate references in every new experience so that you have legal professionals who can speak to your budding skills, which will go further than a former supervisor from a non-legal job. Also, you better be confident that your reference will go to bat for you. Don’t pick a professor just because they are experts in their field–you don’t need the mero mero of law to say you’ll be good, a regular staff attorney will do just fine, as long as they can speak clearly about your skills and enthusiastically praise your potential. I can’t emphasize how important it is for you to pick people who are cheering you on as references. Sometimes the reference is what makes or breaks offers and you don’t want to hurt yourself just because you pick a prof who is at the top of their game, but can only speak about you in mild terms.
Four. No gimmicks. The law continues to be a conservative field and we are not as open to gimmicky, creative, artsy approaches for jobs. And in many places there are lots of procedures that dictates how interviews take place. So when a person tries to circumvent those processes by messaging people on linkedin or cold calling or sending gifts (?) etc it jeopardizes your chances of getting called in for an interview. Not only does it make people question your judgement, but you may accidentally exclude yourself from the process. A solid cover letter and resume are the tried and true tools to use when hunting for your next attorney/intern position.
I know job searching is emotionally hard and it’s easy to just have a general resume, or to skip on editing. And it can be awkward to ask for references or feel tempted to try something big to get noticed. All of those approaches make sense. But being a little more strategic in your search can result in better options for you going forward and that is the ultimate goal—you want to land a job that is a good fit for you, your skills, and career goals. That deserves the extra work and time needed to make yourself the stronger candidate.