Finding a new job
Finding a new job is never very easy – especially at present with few firms being able to afford to recruit. Increasingly, lawyers are finding that the job they thought was secure has ceased to exist, and more and more lawyers are finding themselves in the position of needing to find a new job.
Unfortunately the state of the market is such that this is not necessarily going to be an easy task, therefore the more prepared you are, and the more work that you put into the task, the more likely you will be to be successful.
This article looks at some of the things you can and should be doing to find work. It is not of course a guarantee that if you do them you will instantly find work. It is more the case that if you don?t do these things then you are less likely to be successful.
Know what you want to do
The most important first step for you to take is to think about what it is that you want to do ? because the simple fact is that unless you want to do something the chances of you persuading someone to employ you to do it are fairly remote.
Use the opportunity of being forced into finding work to ask yourself some basic questions:
- Do I want to be a solicitor/barrister/FILEX etc? Just because that is what you were doing does not necessarily mean that it is what you need to do in the future. Indeed, if you have other skills then it may actually be easier at present to utilise them rather than trying to remain in the legal sector where jobs continue to be scarce.
- Do I want to do what I was doing? Is there something else I have always wanted to do?
- What are the options that might be open to me? Do some research and you might find that there are jobs that you would rather be doing that you previously did not know about.
- Do I actually want to work at present? You might have no option, of course, depending upon your financial position, but if finances are not a problem, ask yourself whether now would be a good time to go around the world or do something different.
- What do I want from my job ? money, status, excitement, a challenge, a safe option, security, travel or a pleasant working environment?
- What kind of organisation do I want to work in ? a small firm, a major provincial firm, a large city firm ? and do I have the skills appropriate to that choice?
- Am I happy to take a lesser job just so that I have a salary ? you may be a solicitor, barrister or FILEX, but you may also need to consider applying for paralegal roles if there are no qualified ones. Bear in mind that if you are on a role or register you may need to come off it in order to take a paralegal role.
- What are my strengths and weaknesses and what can I do to capitalise on the former and improve on the latter?
- What could I personally bring to a new employer and why does that make me different from/better than the other candidates?
- What do I do outside of work that would improve my chances of getting a job and what could I be doing that I am not doing?
If you are really not sure what you want to do, contact one of the many career advice organisations. Prices vary and some of them are not cheap, but they are experts and they can give you advice and ideas that you may not be able to get elsewhere. A list of some career advice organisations can be found at the end of this article.
Alternatively, look around and see what jobs are on offer and what others have done. Check on the legal and other recruitment web sites to see what is on offer. Don?t limit your search to the obvious. Think laterally and be flexible.
Build up your network and reputation
Having decided what you want to do, the next step is to start to make yourself a saleable commodity and, if you are not already, get yourself well-known.
Put feelers out to friends and family and let them know that you are looking for a job ? you never know they might know someone who knows someone who wants what you have to offer. Get in touch with people that you have met in the past ? for example at conferences or through work – and make full use of all of the networks that you can ? both online and offline.
Build up your personal brand. Register with, or spruce up your LinkedIn profile.
If you already on LinkedIn, look through your contacts and see whether any of them are in the kind of company that you would like to work for and if so don?t be afraid to ask them if there are vacancies and whether they would feel able to recommend you for such a vacancy. Some firms encourage their staff to be on the lookout for new talent.
Check your Facebook or Myspace page and make sure that it does not contain anything embarrassing ? if it does, lose it. Try and build up an interesting profile for yourself and if there are friends that give a bad impression ? delete them.
If you Twitter, start to increase the quality of your Tweets and try and increase the number of your followers. Try and come up with Tweets that will be retweeted.
If you have a blog check what it says. Remove any items that could be embarrassing and add items that promote what you are trying to achieve. If you are an expert in a particular field then have a blog which promotes that expertise and register it with the various blog directories and search engines ? for example the UK Blog Directory and Britblog. A list of some of the influential blog directories can be found at the end of this article.
Look at all of the other social networking sites ? for example Xing and Ecademy and put profiles for yourself into those. A list of some business related social networking sies can be found at the end of this article.
Find out what is already out there about you by putting your own name into Google. If it comes up with too many references to people with similar names to your own try the advanced search. Think about trying to expand your Google profile in the right way by writing articles and blogs for sites that Google respects.
Improve your CV
The next step is to polish up your CV and do everything you can to make it stand out from the rest. It needs to be clear and concise, yet needs at the same time to say everything important about you in such a way that those reading it can get to the salient details immediately. Your CV is a way to sell yourself ? often it will be the only chance you get ? so it needs to say ?this is what I can bring to your firm/company and this is how you will benefit from having me as opposed to someone else.? It needs to be as good as it is possible to make it and then some more on top of that.
There are a host of web sites out there which will give you tips on what to put in your CV and how to write it. There are also many companies who will help you put a CV together and make sure that it is correct.
The following are some pointers to improving your CV:
- Ideally you should try and fit all of your CV on to two sides of A4 ? any more than that and the good stuff will get lost and the person receiving it will not bother to read it. Any less and it looks as if you don?t have enough experience. However, don?t cram things on to the page just to keep it down to two sides. Space things out well and make it look as if it will be easy to read. If you don?t have enough to fill two A4 sides then space it out or use slightly larger headings;
- Don?t make it too complicated ? keep it simple but highlight the parts that you believe are important and that you want to stand out. If you phrase things correctly it can make the prospective want to know more and therefore more likely to ask you to an interview;
- Avoid vague statements and flowery language. If you make a claim ? for example ?I am a team player? or ?I am good at working with the minimum of supervision? back it up and say why that is relevant;
- Use bullet points and avoid long discursive sentences;
- Tailor the CV to the audience ? go through the job description if there is one and make sure the CV addresses the points in the job description. If there is no job description, or you are sending it speculatively, make sure that it addresses the needs of the business to which you are you are sending it. Don?t just send out a mass-produced CV;
- Make sure it is truthful. There is nothing worse than getting caught out in lie during an interview;
- Promote yourself but don?t boast;
- Set it out in an attractive style, produce it on the computer and print it out onto reasonably good quality, uncoloured paper using a neat font. Your CV is not place to experiment with new fonts and avoid handwriting fonts and character fonts such as Comic Sans. Choose a design which is unfussy, clear, modern and clean looking. You will find templates for CVs on the internet and possibly in your word-processing package;
- Get a friend or colleague to read through it. They might spot something you missed.
Ideally your CV should address the following areas:
- Personal details ? remember you no longer have to include your date of birth
- Brief profile ? an overview of you, what you want to do achieve, your strengths and weaknesses and what you can especially bring to an employer
- Work history ? set out in reverse chronological order this should detail your recent relevant work history. Make sure that you set out:
- the name of the employer and the dates you were employed,
- positions of responsibility which you held,
- skills you acquired,
- projects you were involved in,
- major training undertaken,
- what you contributed to the employer,
- anything else out of the ordinary.
- Don?t leave unexplained gaps ? you must have been doing something so say something good about whatever it was.
- Education ? again starts with the most recent and work backwards. Don?t go into too much detail about early exams such as GCSEs and ?O? levels. Make sure you include any diplomas you have received since leaving college.
- Skills ? include all of your relevant skills, not just the ones directly relevant to the job ? they may come in useful. In particular language, management and business, computing and technology and other professional skills should all be included.
- Hobbies and interests ? be interesting but don?t be overly verbose. If you don?t have any interesting hobbies ? get one. ?I like reading and going to the pictures? doesn?t paint a picture of a dynamic addition to the team. ?I am an avid collector of first edition spy stories and I am making a study of cinematography in the 1950s and 1960s? is slightly better but will still probably be trumped by ?I fence and play lacrosse and badminton; I am a governor of my children?s school; I run a drop-in advice centre for single parents; I am a trustee of a local charity and I am currently climbing all of the Scottish Munroes in order of height?.
- References – it is usual to give two. The more senior the person the better ? provided they are likely to speak well of you. Pick them from two different backgrounds ? e.g. an employer and a colleague on a charitable body. Make sure you ask them first.
Write a covering letter
Whether or not the application has asked for covering letter you should still always send one. It tells the recipient why you are sending in your CV and will usually be the first bit they read. For that reason alone the covering letter should be the best letter you have ever written. If the covering letter is not good then they might not get to the CV.
Make sure it is a bespoke letter and not one that you have sent to a hundred other people. Address it to a particular person (either the one in an advertisement or, if you don?t know who to write to, ring up the firm or organisation and ask to whom the letter should be sent. If there is a reference, use it.
Take care over punctuation, spelling and grammar and get someone else to read over it when you have finished.
Keep the letter brief. Don?t go through everything in the CV ? just pull out some salient facts as to why you are ideal for a particular role.
Give your reasons for writing ? even if it is in response to an advertisement. Do some research; say why you want to work for that company in particular ? say something that shows you have looked into the firm.
End the letter positively.
Where to look for jobs
Aside from personal contacts and internal appointments where should you be looking for jobs? The answer is in two parts ? one in the kind of places where jobs are advertised but secondly in the kind of places where your skills may be valued even though no particular job has been advertised.
So far as the first is concerned, there are now more places where jobs are offered than ever before.
Recruitment agencies ? there are a number of specialist legal recruitment agencies and you should contact them with a view to ascertaining whether they have any jobs that are likely to be of interest to you. Bear in mind that the agencies are working on behalf of the employer and not on your behalf and they will not put you forward for an interview if they do not think that you are suitable.
Newspapers and journals ? most of the legal journals carry advertisements for jobs and it is an ideal starting point if only to give you an idea of the market that is out there. Additionally, some local jobs may be advertised in local newspapers.
Websites ? there are a wide range of web-based resources for jobs.
A list of some of these is included at the end of this item.
If you are still unsure which sector you want to work in or want to explore avenues other than the law, then there are also a couple of web-based resources which might assist you.
- Graduate Prospects is the UK’s leading provider of information, advice and opportunities to students and graduates. They publish a wide collection of journals and directories, as well as provide an extensive graduate careers website. They are an ideal first port of call to explore the type of jobs that are available – www.prospects.ac.uk/index.htm
- Totaljobs.com is the UK’s most visited commercial recruitment website holding the Number 1 market share position since January 2006. Typically totaljobs.com carries over 150,000 live vacancies at any one time; generating around 1 million online job applications from 2 million unique users that visit the website over 3.4 million times per month. – www.totaljobs.com
- Agency Central – The UK’s leading Recruitment Agencies and Job Sites Directory – www.agencycentral.co.uk/
If you are lucky and are offered an interview then it is vital that you put some thought and preparation into it before attending. Do not just arrive and hope for the best. An interview is competition between you and the other candidates for the job and you can be sure that many of them will have prepared fully. It is not just about being able to answer the questions of the interviewer – it is about being able to do so in a way that is better than everyone else.
Before the interview
Your first step is to find out as much as you can about the firm or organisation that is interviewing you and as much as you can about the role itself. Make sure that:
- you find out precisely what the firm does, how many people it employs, where it is based, its philosophy and if possible previous cases it has acted in. Fortunately much of this information can often be found on the firm’s web site so make sure that you go through that web site and read everything that is there and try and remember the most relevant parts;
- carry out a Google search against both the firm and its partners/members and senior staff members to find out any additional information that might be relevant;
- do some research into the competition. The Law Society’s “Find a solicitor” should help you here, as will other law firm directories and the internet. Don’t forget the directory of members of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, especially if you are applying for a property role;
- read the job description fully and make sure that you are fully aware of what your proposed role will involve. If there are parts to the role that you are less familiar with do some research or speak to someone whom you know who already performs those functions;
- think of some intelligent questions that you can ask at the interview but be aware of the answer emerging during the interview before you have had a chance to ask it. If you think you might forget the questions jot them down on a piece of paper and don’t be afraid to use the paper as a reminder – it will show that you have prepared for the interview;
At the interview
Be prompt when attending the interview. Allow yourself sufficient time to get to the interview and make sure that you know precisely where the venue for the interview is located. If you are early, find out first where the building is and then go and have a coffee – not the other way round. Arrive at least five minutes before the allotted time for the interview – they may have finished a previous interview early and will be impressed that you are ahead of schedule.
Immediately before going into the interview steady your nerves. This can best be done by taking a few deep breaths, thinking about something other than the interview and trying to remain calm. When you are called into the interview don’t leap out of your seat and charge for the room – take just a little time to compose yourself.
When you enter the interview, if you are offered a drink and there is no where to rest a cup or glass – for example because there is only a chair for you to sit on and no desk or side table – then you may be best politely declining the offer. If you do accept a drink, don’t rush it or try to speak whilst drinking.
If anyone wants to shake your hand then give a short, firm handshake slightly squeezing the hand of the other person. Three – four seconds is long enough. If they try and assert themselves by taking the over-grip don’t wrestle them for it. At the same time don’t do the limp hand and don’t just offer them a few fingers – shake the whole hand.
Keep your speech at a reasonable slow rate – don’t gabble out answers. If you are asked a question, pause for a moment to think about what you are going to say.
Be aware of interview techniques, whilst not necessarily designed to trick you they are there to see how you perform.
The initial questions may be around trivia, or the interviewers may decide to engage in some light-hearted chat. This may be to relax you – or it may be to see if you reveal anything whilst off your guard.
Be aware of spin-ball questions and if possible try and anticipate these before you go into the interview and have practised some responses. Questions such as:
- why do you want to do this job?
- what makes you think you would be good at this job?
- why do you want to leave your current job?
- what would you say are your main strengths/weaknesses?
- what weaknesses do you think this firm has?
- why do you think you are good at your job?
- what do you think is the most important aspect of this role?
- what made you become a solicitor/legal executive/conveyancer?
If you need time to think about an answer you can buy some time by asking them to clarify the question – it might even give you some clues as to the kind of answer they are expecting. It is also a good idea to have some general questions of your own based on any research you have undertaken to give the interviewers a chance to talk about the company.
You may find that one or more of the interviewers are fairly aggressive towards you. Do not assume that this is because they do not like you or because you are not doing well. It may simply be a ploy to see how you behave under pressure. The trick is to stay calm and professional and if they keep on pressurising you, as them a polite and professional question so that they are forced into the position of answering.
Be wary of the interviewers who try to draw you into criticising others – especially your former employer. Remember that the firm interviewing you could be your next ex-employer. Above all don’t give away any secrets about your former employers. Rather than impressing the interviewers they will simply wonder what you would say about them in the future.
Always tell the truth.
Never swear, even if an interviewer does.
Finally, how you goodbye can be just as important as the rest of the interview.
Make sure that you shake hands at the end, smile and find something positive to say. Perhaps try to summarise how well you felt the interview went without sounding too pushy, or pick up on one of the issues discussed and say how much you are looking forward to being able to deal with it in the future. remember that if they are scoring you immediately after the interview that the last impression you leave will count most.
And remember, if you are offered a second interview, redo your research and come up with some different points that you can raise.
Career advice organisations
- Career Balance
- Career Counselling Services
- Career Energy
- Law and More
- Blog Catalogue
- Google Blogs
- The UK Blog Dirctory
Business Social Networking Sites
Help with your CV
- Career Consultants
- Kent University
- Total Jobs
Legal Recruitment Resources
- Annakin Seal Legal Recruitment
- BCL Legal
- Garfield Robbins
- Law Society Gazette
- Legal Seek
- Reed Legal
- Simply Law Jobs
- The Lawyer
- Totally Legal
- UK Jobs Network