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3 job-search mistakes you’re making – and how to correct them

Everybody has an opinion on how to get a job. But the best advice is often not shared with the masses.

In a recent ABA Career Development Series webinar, “Non-Obvious but Important Job Search Tips for Lawyers,” two seasoned legal recruiters reveal useful job-search “dos” and “don’ts” that can make the difference between a pass and an offer.

Among tips, Dan Binstock of Garrison & Sisson in Washington, D.C., and Liz Stone of Stone Legal Search in San Francisco share the common errors that job seekers make – and the ways to fix them.

Networking mistake: Asking to connect over lunch – “When networking, keep it short,” advises Binstock, who regularly receives requests from job seekers to meet for a meal.

“If you don’t know someone, don’t ask them to lunch,” he emphasizes. Few have enough free time to devote even an hour to you and your job search. 

Instead, always start with a very small request. Asking for just a five- to 10-minute call is a much better way to get the ball rolling.

Binstock even suggests using the phrase, “I was wondering if you may be able to provide a bit of help and advice.” The simple sentence can be a very effective door-opener. “Help” and “advice” are magic words, he says, explaining that most people instinctively want to assist others.

And, be as specific as you can be about what you’d like to discuss.

Finally, while your ultimate goal may be a new position, it isn’t always the best idea to just ask about one at the outset. “When you ask for a job, you get advice,” Binstock says. But “when you ask for advice, you get a job.”

Resume mistake: Using the same resume for every job prospect – Blasting out the same CV for every position you see? That won’t get you anywhere. “Think about how to make your resume look like you’re the perfect for that particular job,” Stone recommends.

Start with a template resume, but tailor it for each job you pursue. Focus on your most relevant experience for the particular job you seek, and remove irrelevant skills.

In fact, with recruiters spending just seconds on each resume, you may even want to mirror the language used in the job description to better ensure your material gets noticed.

And, contrary to what most people believe, your resume can exceed one page. It “should be long enough to explain your relevant experience,” says Binstock.

Cover letter mistake: Rehashing your resume – Your cover letter shouldn’t just repeat the information in your resume. Instead, it should answer the questions that a recruiter might have when reading it, says Binstock. Ask yourself, “What would an employer want to know based on my resume?”

“Think of the cover letter as your personal narrative, as opposed to your experience,” he says.

Proactively address the questions a recruiter might have about you: Why is this person leaving his or her job? Why is this person relocating to our city? Why is this person interested in this position? If you think you’ll be able to answer these questions during the interview, you may not get that chance. “Sometimes the absence of information, to the contrary, makes people assume the worst,” he says. “Your job is to rebut any negative presumptions people could have about your resume.”

Finally, if you have strong performance reviews, mention it, the recruiters say.

Binstock and Stone agree that above all else, be honest. “Honesty and trust are critical commodities,” says Binstock, noting that too many job seekers lie about potential negatives, such as being laid off.

“Being a good lawyer means being able to do good things with adverse facts,” he says. “So, if you handle [the negatives] in a mature, self-reflective way, that says a lot about your character.”

Employers usually do find out the truth. “It’s bad to be laid off, but it’s worse to be laid off and a liar.”

The ABA Career Development Series is a monthly webinar series that contains practical tips on job search and professional development issues for seasoned and newer lawyers alike. Webinars take place on the second Friday of every month.

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