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Law Practice Today

February 2024

How to Survive and Even Thrive in a Job Search

Rachelle J Canter


  • Changing jobs can be challenging. Reviewing past positions can be a good first step in finding the right next job.
  • Identifying your accomplishments and areas in which you want to grow can help you build a targeted resume.
  • Considering factors other than salary can lead to a more satisfying career.
How to Survive and Even Thrive in a Job Search SVETLICHNYI

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A job search is a serious test of well-being. Having coached hundreds of attorneys through successful job searches, I’ve learned about ways to survive and even thrive in a job search. It’s not easy, especially when your firm or organization fires you. It can also be challenging if you initiate the change. No matter the impetus of a job search, it is also an opportunity for reinvention and greater well-being. Here are some tips to help you make the most of this major life challenge.

Tip #1: Look Back to Look Forward

When you lose a job, it’s easy to sink into anger or despair, both of which can paralyze you. Instead, take an objective look back at your career, especially your most recent job. When a job doesn’t work out, there is some element of misfit.

Step outside yourself and consider the ways in which the job, the firm or organization, your specific role and responsibilities, etc. were not a good fit. Instead of assigning blame or feeling victimized, pinpoint the specific things that were a misfit and make a list of things that would be a better fit in the next job. Defining what you want is critical to getting it.

Specificity is essential. Wanting more money, a better culture, a team environment, and the like is not going to define a next job. A greater focus on drafting motions, working with business partners on deal sheets, or getting the chance to gain trial experience sooner rather than later could be goals for the next job. The idea is to take an objective look at how to correct areas of misfit in the next job. Look back only to look forward.

Tip #2: Make a List of Your Accomplishments

Create a list of specific things you have done at your most recent job and earlier ones and link them to measurable results or contributions. This serves several purposes. It reminds you of your successes and your objective contributions. This is a mood-booster but also serves a very practical purpose: your quantified accomplishments are the building blocks of a powerful resume.

Job descriptions tell what you were paid to do; accomplishments show what results you got in your job. The results you accomplished or how well or how fast you achieved them differentiates you from the competition and makes your most powerful case for a new job. The key difference is doing something well vs. doing something. That difference is essential to landing the job you want.

Accomplishments are challenging to pinpoint but worth every ounce of effort in creating a successful resume and job search, and they will boost your confidence in the process.

Tip #3: Identify the Gaps in Your Portfolio of Accomplishments and Skills

Another way to boost spirits and look forward is to take stock of where you are versus where you want to go and to identify the specific accomplishments, experiences, and skills you need to acquire to get there.

This facilitates the identification of opportunities to help you fill in the gaps. It’s up to you to define the skills and experience you need because it’s a fact of the work world that when you do something well, you keep getting asked to do it again and again. That doesn’t help you expand your skills or professional assets. You must drive the process if you want to build your portfolio and close career gaps.

One corporate associate from a top-tier firm had done tons of corporate financing work but virtually no licensing work, which was essential to becoming the Silicon Valley GC he aspired to be. Knowing this, I helped him negotiate a deal with a new employer where he would do 2/3 financing and 1/3 licensing to help him move to his ultimate career goal.

Use the job search transition as a time to reconsider your goals instead of just moving along at your current employer doing the same thing. This is another way to find inspiration in the job search.

Tip #4: Give Back

Use this time to get outside yourself and your challenges and look for ways to give back. Maybe you have a little time to volunteer with a legal or other nonprofit. Maybe you can tutor a child or adult who is struggling to read. Perhaps this is the time to contribute more than money to registering people to vote. Whatever it is, many of my clients have found that using some newlyfound free time is a way to make a contribution and feel the satisfaction of helping someone else.

Tip #5: Look for Satisfaction, Not Just Money

Speaking of satisfaction, my clients and the research evidence show that a job search propelled by money alone is not likely to yield a satisfying career. I have often thought that if happy careers and attorneys depended on money alone, there would not be so many unhappily employed lawyers. Firms have often over-employed compensation to recruit and retain lawyers, but I have personally worked with countless well-compensated but unhappy lawyers. Well-being depends on a sense of meaning and contribution. Law is a demanding profession, and money alone is unlikely to promote well-being over the long term. Look at more.

Tip #6: Try Something New

Maybe for the first time in a long time you have some free time. Volunteering or helping is one important way to spend that time, but another fruitful way to spend the time is to do something you have not had time to do. Train for and run a marathon? Try out a side hustle? Take a Chinese cooking class? Take an intensive two-week Spanish immersion class in Mexico City? Getting out of your rut and into something new is a way to expand your horizons.

Job searches can be hard and scary, but they are also great opportunities to find more meaningful work, look beyond the parameters of your life to date, and increase your well-being in the process. Many of my clients said they wished they’d lost their jobs earlier because it pushed them to find work they love and happier lives in the process. Happy job hunting!