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July 09, 2013 Articles

Judging Your Job Search

How a job search is like litigating a trial

By Kathy Morris

Some say there is nothing like litigation. That may be true in terms of going head-to- head to out-strategize opposing counsel pretrial or appearing in court before a jury. But I contend that a job search is like certain aspects of litigation and, to be more specific, akin in many ways to arguing a motion or representing a client in a bench trial.

For a motion hearing or a bench trial, you need to present a succinct theory of the case. In a job search, you also need to have a cogent theory of the search. Are you changing jobs to transition your efforts to another sector, to find more opportunity for advancement, or to take on more responsibility? You need to be able to set your search in context, just the way you focus the claim or defense in your case.

For a motion hearing or a bench trial, you need to choose your language thoughtfully. In a job search, you need your words and phrasing to be just as well planned, both as to what you want to convey and what you don’t want to say. Are you moving on or moving forward? Was your previous workplace dysfunctional or, better said, challenging? I once defended a case in which the charge was illegal possession of a firearm. The theory of the case was that the items seized, which could no longer be assembled or be shot, did not fit the definition of a “firearm.” I had to avoid all use of the word “gun” in referring to the evidence. In a job search, you need to be equally conscious of staying consistent in the language you use.

For a motion hearing or a bench trial, you need not, in fact you should not, be overly dramatic. In a job search, you also need to remain calm, avoid argumentativeness, and explain your strengths clearly. At my first evidentiary hearing on a motion to suppress, I can still recall snidely questioning the government witness, who was not being the least bit difficult, and moving about the courtroom when addressing the judge in closing as if I was starring in a made-for-TV movie. Afterward, he kindly gave me a few memorable pointers . . . including to have more than one gear and to just stand still! You also need to calibrate your demeanor in an interview to be respectful and appropriate while advocating your cause.

For a motion hearing or a bench trial, you need to be prepared to be pointedly responsive to questions the judge may pose. In a job search, you also need to blend truth with advocacy in response to potential employers’ questions, from traditional inquiries to the more recently popularized behavioral interviewing. You need to be able, for example, to admit to a weakness, just as you may need to stipulate to or concede a lesser point in court.

For a motion hearing or a bench trial, you need to avoid irritating the judge. In a job search, you also need a rapport with those who will reach a verdict about helping or hiring you. I vividly remember a judge very unhappily telling me to speak up, when I mumbled a response I was unsure of to a series of her questions. Match and mirror the professional pace and tone of those with whom you network in a job search. Don’t ask questions that are answered on an employer website or wear out your welcome by unnecessarily prolonging a conversation. There’s no need to be apologetic or arrogant about your case or your career; either extreme gives people a bad impression.

For a motion hearing or a bench trial, you need to be ready to overcome the objections of opposing counsel. In a job search, you also need to address the concerns stated or indicated by your interviewers, being responsive yet avoiding defensiveness about your grades, your goals, or your experience. I often had a hard time with hearsay, and I always hated being interrupted by a prosecutor. With time, I learned how to listen patiently and speak effectively, whether in a courtroom or an interview room.

For a motion hearing or a bench trial, you need to sum up concisely and explain why you seek the desired decision. In a job search, you also need to ask for the opportunity you seek, showing professional enthusiasm for the role. Applying these skills in a courtroom, I once asked the judge for, and got, probation for my client at the sentencing hearing for an armed robbery. In the job-search realm, people also find networking connections or jobs they don’t think they can get.

Be your own best advocate during your job search, and never give up on having the outcome or the career you want.

Keywords: litigation, trial practice, advocacy, bench trial, behavioral interviewing, interview, motion hearing, networking

Copyright © 2013, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).