After being an employee for as long as I can remember, a few years back I gave that up and started my own law practice. The result was I have now seen literally over a thousand resumes and have interviewed countless people from assistants to actual attorneys. I just finished attending a law school job fair where students constantly approached me for potential jobs, so I thought this would be a good time to share some of my thoughts.
There are millions of articles out there on how to prepare a resume, get ready for an interview, send follow-up notes and so forth. Some of the following will overlap, but hopefully the rest will be advice you don’t normally hear. In any event, since I don’t give a shit about appeasing any editor or worrying about what my legal counterparts may think, here are five tips on presenting yourself as a legitimate candidate:
1. Know Your Target
The desired employee of one field of work can be completely different than another field. Take for example, an attractive girl applying for a job as a hostess at a top end restaurant versus the same attractive girl applying to be a pharmaceutical sales rep. For the former, aside from her looks she has to be extremely nice, understanding, pleasant, and able to handle complaints and concerns gracefully. A pharma girl on the other hand has to be able to flirt, sell, schmooze, and make the doctors want her around. If the same girl is applying to these two jobs, she better put on two very different personalities in the interview.
Even within the same field of work, specific areas vary. I litigate for a living – I’m constantly in court, in depositions, arguing with people and writing a lot. When looking for potential law students to hire, if they (1) cannot keep a conversation, (2) have me bored within seconds, (3) struggle to form sentences, (4) seem overly timid [but see below, nerves are not necessarily bad], or (5) have a ridiculous accent, I’m passing. Yet for a tax attorney or other transactional attorney that doesn’t engage in much client or court interactions, these “deficiencies” can be overlooked especially if they possess absurdly high intellectual skills.
At my old firm, there was a Vietnamese attorney who had the thickest accent one can imagine. So much so that I understood less than 20% of what he said. The result? As a litigator he was never sent to court whereas even though I had no idea what I was doing as a first-year attorney, I was sent to court. Say what you will, but if the Judge can’t understand what you are saying on behalf of your clients, then the firm you work for has no desire (or right, frankly) to send you out as the face of a client’s case.
When I meet potential candidates for the first time, I judge them immediately. How was their handshake? Can they keep eye contact? Do they speak eloquently? How does the suit look on them? These are important to me as a law firm employer. If you are applying to be a fireman, that’s a different set of traits the employer will be looking for. Same for doctor, bank teller, valet, and so on. Know your field and play up the characteristics of a successful employee in that field, even if you have to fake it.
One more thing – have different resumes for different employers. Applying to someone that focuses on minority legal aid in California? Better mention you can speak Spanish. All the hiring partners attend the local synagogue? Probably a good time to note you worked at the Law Offices of Schlomo Hebrewberg last summer. I had several versions of my same resume depending on who was going to be reading it.
2. Be Genuine
At this job fair I spoke to probably over 100 students. The one that stood out provided the most genuine and honest response to my initial question of anyone there.
I greeted everyone with “How’s it going?” Responses varied from “I’m doing great” to “Just loving every second of my torts class!” In other words, at best it was a standard retort to at worst a feeble attempt at displaying fervor for a field few actually desire. However, one young lad had the following response:
To be honest, I’m scared shitless. We have finals coming up, then the bar exam this summer which I’m not sure what to make of. I can’t wait for this all to be over.
It was so refreshing to hear an honest answer after hearing the same script over and over again. Another girl, after two sentences stopped and said this was her first real interview of any kind and she was very nervous and asked if she was doing alright. I appreciated her honesty, we joked and had a great conversation.
This relates to #1, so know how to dress for what you are seeking. Nobody wants an attorney that shows up in jeans for an interview. Make sure your suit fits, have your hair in check, no bad breath and so on. If you can’t spend some time and effort into presenting yourself as best you can for your potential employer, why would you do the same for a big court hearing or client meeting? There’s literally thousands of you out there and unless you have some sort of unrivaled skill or talent that is so desirable everything else can be overlooked (and guess what, 99% of you don’t), then I’m passing on you.
Also, I prefer attractive people. It’s the cold truth. Jurors, clients, and even judges subconsciously tend to give more credence to attractive people. I almost hired an intern on her looks alone, because she was tall, blonde and downright beautiful. I knew taking her to client meetings with me would seal the deal with various older businessmen. Unfortunately she was dumb as bricks, yet I almost justified the hire.
Also, the no fat chicks policy applies to my office. I refuse to hire someone I have no respect for and my business partner fully endorses that belief. If your aesthetics are lacking, maybe it’s time to stop being so lazy.
4. Know Something About The Company
See if you can tell which one of these law students I preferred.
Student 1: “So…what do you do at your firm?”
Student 2: “I just wanted to come by and say I think it’s very cool how you just left a big firm and started your own. I know many attorneys think about it but never do so. I’m hoping to do that myself. But let me ask you, do you think it helped that you worked for a firm for several years first?”
Student 1 was dismissed before he even said another word. He didn’t even know what type of law I practice, much less anything else. Student 2 on the other hand, presented himself nicely and I’ll admit it’s a little flattering to hear someone hold your actions in high regard. I realize that what Student 2 said was likely entirely bullshit. Does he really care that I undertook such “cool” actions and started my own firm? Fuck no, he just wants a job. But he put in the effort to bullshit, and guess what—as a litigator I applaud that.
I’m not saying you need to research my mother’s maiden name, know about my proclivities towards considerably thin women, or that my favorite cheese is goat. But know something, anything. Show me you care just a bit.
When I put an ad on craigslist for an assistant position, I got 300 resumes in one day. So I had to really filter through these things, and quickly. And realize this is common for many employers—they will get inundated with resumes for any position and you have maybe 5-10 seconds to get your resume in the next round. So what’s the result?
- Any mistake, no matter how small, and you’re done. If you can’t bother to proofread your resume a few times to ensure it is error-free then I don’t want you. As I mentioned above, there are thousands of you and you are easily replaceable.
- Be interesting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the same cover letter and resume bullshit, whether it be that you “are looking forward to being an integral part of the company” or that you “place teamwork and productivity ahead of your own personal goals” and whatever other standard template language you’ve stolen from monster.com. Congrats snowflake, so does every other candidate out there.
Here are some excerpts from an actual email I received today:
I particularly enjoyed your real world advice for me in stressing the importance of keeping things in perspective if I don’t get the particular firm job that I want.
Huh? My head hurt reading that. Plus I never gave him such advice, he confused me with someone else.
I was really intrigued by our conversation and have more questions especially concerning any advice you may have for me going forward.
First, this email contained no questions. Second, how can he have questions about future advice I have not given yet? Fatal flaw there Mr. Logic. I’m guessing this was a poor attempt at asking me if I had any more advice for him. I’m not going to sit around and try to decode this generic verbiage. On to the next guy.
Let’s go back to the resumes for a second. The first thing I look at before I check out the credentials are the skills/interests section at the bottom. I realize this is very subjective, but I want to see something interesting and frankly, a little out there. Show me you’re creative and that I’d actually enjoy being around you in an office. Give me something to talk to you about. Saying you like to travel doesn’t mean anything. Saying you spent a month in the favelas of Rio gives me glimpse of who you are.
Here’s an excerpt from one of the recent resumes: “Interested in animal psychology, aquatic life, and jigsaw puzzles.” Not exactly my cup of tea, but at least he’s interesting.
But there is a limit to everything. Don’t be that guy that provides a link in his cover letter to his own personal website, which discusses all his achievements in the third person as a musical ensemble plays and his name dances across the screen in florescent colors (true story).
* Bonus Tip For Employers
I unintentionally developed a great date routine from having to hire an assistant. I had a date scheduled and was falling behind going through so many resumes. So I asked my date if she wanted to just come over and help me sift through the resumes and find a good candidate. She jumped at the chance, we sat on my couch together and it was a great date. Made for easy chats, playful flirting all over a few glasses of wine. Simple, fun, cheap and you don’t even have to leave your home. Let’s just say I’ve reviewed the same set of resumes on first dates many, many times.
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