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Job Search Do's and Dont's

Kiren Jahangeer

The ABA Free Career Advice Series recently presented “Job Search Do’s and Dont’s” for law students and others embarking on the daunting task of finding a job.

Faculty included Liz Stone, managing director of The Dubin Group, a legal search firm based in the Bay Area; Dan Binstock, Partner at Garrison & Sisson, a DC-based attorney search firm; and Stephanie M. Cabrera Esenwa, a professional development specialist and certified career coach.

Preparing For Your Search

The panelists emphasized the importance of determining your career interests before starting your job search. One way to accomplish this is to complete self-assessment exercises that organizations such as The Five O’Clock Club provides. These organizations use targeted, strategic approaches to career development and job searching. A career coach can help analyze your results.


Take advantage of every opportunity to meet a potential employer. Set up informational interviews to gain information and potential “advocates” in your search. During the informational interview, ask about the individual’s background, how they got their start, and what advice they can pass on to you. Follow up with a thank you note that explains how the interview helped you. Hopefully these contacts will become invested in your success and will inform you of job openings that they hear about. A lot of jobs are filled before they are even posted, so having inside information will help tremendously. Recruiters are very rarely used for government positions, so avoid going this route.

Join a group or committee to hone your networking skills. Get involved in your community and volunteer — people will get to know you in a relaxed setting, and will feel more comfortable letting you know about job openings or recommending you to others in your desired field. Attend CLE programs to learn new skills. Seek out pro bono work. All of these are opportunities to network. Use them wisely.

Resume Tips

Create multiple resumes tailored to different types of jobs you are seeking. Send your resume to others to critique before you start the application process.

Generally a summary header on your resume looks unprofessional. It’s duplicative and can weaken your application. The panelists pointed out, however, that if you are switching careers or fields, summary headers can be helpful, as your current duties may not accurately reflect the culmination of your experience. Also, it’s not necessary to distinguish between paid and unpaid experience — both illustrate your skills.

The panelists cautioned that employers will not read a wordy resume. Indent and use headings and subheadings. If your resume contains six or seven sentences under each position title, or more than three bullet points, it is too detailed. Each bullet should be no more than one sentence long. Avoid the words “dedicated, action oriented, and team player.” These terms are over-used and will turn off employers. Nowadays, employers use scanning devices, so be sure to use words that are in the job posting. This will make it more likely that your application is seen by a person. Recruiters read resumes quickly, so put important information at the top of the page.

Cover Letter

Make an impression with additional information not contained in your resume. Read your cover letter out loud to hear how it flows. Ask friends or colleagues to critique it. Find the right tone based on your research of the employer. An effective cover letter should include a strong pitch for the position, how your skills and experience mesh perfectly with the job, and allow the employer to envision you in the position. Explain why you are interested in the agency and job. Never assume you will get the chance to expound upon this further in an interview — you may not. Address your cover letter to a specific person, when possible. Always proofread and ensure there are no grammar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes. Be honest, direct, friendly and professional.

At this stage, let your references know someone may be contacting them about your application, and be sure to mention if your current employer knows you are job seeking. Stay organized by creating a folder for everything you’ve submitted.


Research the agency and the individual with whom you are interviewing. Review your resume and cover letter through the eyes of the employer. Demonstrate how you are the best fit and will add value to their office and mission. The panelists suggested asking substantive questions such as “Where do you need the most help and support right now?” This question demonstrates that you are interested in assisting them, and it’s not all about you. Other questions you should consider include: “Tell me about someone who has worked out very well here;” “How about someone who didn’t work out well? Why did they not work out?” and “What types of people fit best in this environment?”

Address any gaps in your resume in a positive manner. For example, explain how you used time to gain more experience through volunteering or taking classes. Try to focus the interview on the office, rather than on you personally. Ask how the interviewer got interested in their field. People generally enjoy talking about themselves, so this is a safe bet. It may seem old fashioned to some, but it is vital to send a thank you note to the interviewer.

Be patient after an interview. Employers must often cut through a lot of red tape before proceeding with a candidate. The panelists suggested viewing the process as one in which you are seeking an ideal match for both sides, rather than of “winning” or “losing.”

Offer Etiquette

When you receive an offer, your response is extremely important. Typically offers are extended by phone, or in person, as the employer will want to know firsthand how you respond and gauge your level of enthusiasm upon hearing the offer. If you are interested in the first offer you receive, but are still interviewing somewhere else and don’t want to offend the employer who wants to hire you, what do you say?

Stone, Binstock and Esenwa suggest a polite but noncommittal answer. “Thank you very much, I’m very flattered to receive this offer. I’m looking forward to receiving the paperwork and reviewing everything.” Honesty is the best policy. If it will be a couple weeks before the possibility of a second job offer comes through, let the hiring manager know that although you are very interested, you need a few weeks to decide. Obtain an assurance that a delay in your response is acceptable. Some employers may not be able to wait and will offer the position to the next candidate.

Once you have an offer and some negotiating power, you can ask any additional, more difficult questions. For example, mention that most people in this type of position have a certain amount of vacation, or receive a salary in a certain range. You can ask to push back your start date to get a couple weeks off in between jobs. Or inquire about training. The panelists assured the audience that employers are used to follow up questions after making an offer, so there is no need to hold back.

With these tips in mind, you will gain an advantage when job seeking. Looking for a job is a full time job on its own, so be patient, and prepared. Good luck!

Kiren Jahangeer is the Division’s senior program specialist.

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