In a sea of candidates, how can you make your law firm application stand out? In what is undoubtedly one of the most frustrating legal job markets ever seen, there are very few things anyone can do to guarantee employment. There are, however, a few things that law school students and recent law school grads can do that will improve their chances of landing that coveted first job. Here are five tips:
If you’re still in school, work as hard as you can to put yourself at the top of the grade curve. This really can’t be stressed enough. Getting a job as an attorney is very much a numbers game, and those with the highest GPAs have the best shot at landing a job. For the top firms in large metro areas, many impose a GPA or class rank cutoff. At the top law schools, the competition is every bit as bright as you are, and hard work and discipline are your best weapons for getting ahead. This is because many employers regard good grades in law school as proof that a person has the right work ethic and aptitude to enable success in a very demanding profession.
Grades, of course, aren’t everything if you aren’t seeking employment at a big firm. For other, more specialized attorney positions, a demonstrated interest in the subject matter will be very helpful.
It’s not new advice, but it’s absolutely critical: Double- and triple-check your resume for typos. Your law school career guidance department will likely have good templates you can use, but it’s imperative that you draft your resume with care and proofread it. You’ll likely get very tired of reading your resume, but don’t send it out until you’ve taken a break, reviewed it with fresh eyes and are sure it is spotless.
Having someone else review it and provide comments is even better. A resume with an error will get tossed out on sight. Practicing law requires great attention to detail, and an error in your resume sends the message that you don’t have what it takes. Don’t worry too much about following every formatting rule there is. A clean, well-organized resume will serve your purpose just fine. (Creativity on your resume is generally not recommended; you’ll stand out, but likely not in the way you’re hoping.)
3. Cover Letter
Using a base form letter that you’ve written is fine, so long as you vary it for each employer. If you have a special interest in a practice area that the employer is active in, the cover letter is your chance to highlight it. If you have experience that sets you apart from other applicants, highlight it there. The cover letter, aside from addressing administrative issues, such as the position you’re looking for or what job posting you’re responding to, is your chance to humanize yourself a bit. Be authentic and brief — and, as with resumes, ensure that it is completely error free.
While some employers have specialized interviews, interviews in general are mainly tests to see if your personality will fit well with the culture of your employer and to see how well you perform in person. To some extent, there is nothing you can do about whether you fit in with a particular employer or not. It’s simply a matter of whether you and your interviewer relate well to one another.
Aside from often-repeated interview tips about sitting up straight, wearing a freshly pressed suit and shaking hands firmly, our advice is be yourself — or rather, be a highly professional version of yourself. Be personable, get engaged in the conversation and stay away from fakery. Eventually, you’ll find the place where you fit in.
You’ve been given a shot? That’s great! Give yourself a pat on the back … and then get ready to buckle down and earn your spot. Firms have varying degrees of patience with new attorneys, but how quickly you pick up the subject matter will likely not be as important as your work ethic and attitude.
Think of yourself as the ultimate helper. Make your bosses’ lives easier to the greatest extent possible, and be ready to stick around for long hours, sometimes when you don’t have anything to do. It may sound silly, but nothing will irritate your colleagues quicker than hearing you whistle out the door at five or six while they’re hunkering down for yet another sleepless night. Ask for ways to help and work hard.
Most importantly, try to appreciate the opportunity you’ve got, even when the pressures of the job have you at your wit’s end — or else someone else will be reading this article and angling for your spot!
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