Lost your job? Here’s how to move forward

July 2015 | Around the ABA

Losing a job in the legal profession is a common experience. In fact, most lawyers have either lost a job or fear that it may happen at any time. Regardless of the profession, losing a job is a tough situation for anyone to face.

 “Moving Forward after a Job Loss,” a free webinar presented by the  ABA Free Career Advice Series, offers tips on strengthening your job search and what to say and not say during the interview process. Kathy M. Morris, a former criminal defense attorney who now does career counseling, moderates the panel. She is joined by Carol Kanarek, of Kanarek & Brady, a New York-based group that has provided career-related services to law firms for more than 20 years; and Mark Weber, assistant dean for career services at Harvard Law School.

Searching for a job after a job loss

“You really need to understand what happened,” Weber says, “If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable.” Consider whether it was a result of a performance-based issue or simply bad luck. Understanding why you were let go will assist you in your next search, not only to ensure that you not make the same mistake but also to be ready for the right opportunity.

Looking for a job after a job loss should be approached differently than seeking regular new employment. Instead of immediately contacting headhunters, Kanarek advises being in the “right frame of mind….develop a strategy for your job search.” Refrain from discussing the situation with negative people. Rather, Kanarek suggests surrounding yourself with people who will help you feel more positive, such as parents or partners from your former firm. Having the right frame of mind will help you formulate your story before reaching out to potential employers.

How to strengthen your job search

Do some soul-searching before moving forward. Ask yourself questions such as: “What did I learn?” “What can I improve on from here on out in my work?” When seeking new opportunities, the panelists recommend looking more broadly than you did in your last job search.

“You don’t want to waste any of these precious resources only to end up in a job that isn’t any better than the one you already had,” Weber says. Consider all the ways and all the industries that can use your skills.

What to say and not say during your job search

The panelists offered three key points. The first is keep a professional demeanor “When you are speaking to a potential employer or a networking contact or you’re in an interview, you want to never say anything….that person would be unhappy to hear,” Kanarek says.

Stay positive. The legal profession can be a small world and you never know who knows what about your prior employment. “Once you say something that you shouldn’t have, you can’t take it back,” Weber says. “And people will pick up on your cues even if you don’t come right out and say something.”

In addition, exercise good judgment. When picking references, choose people you know really well and who appreciate the best in you. These can be anyone from colleagues or bosses from your last job to those you volunteer with to old friends.

“You want to be moving forward,” Weber advises, “You want to show a perspective employer the type of person you are and the type of lawyer that you will be.”

Other quick tips:

  • Be strategic. Think about what might be a better environment, sector or workplace for you.

  • Have talking points that you are comfortable with. Talking points will help you stay on message about what happened and what kinds of opportunities you are seeking. Otherwise, you may say things that you will regret. An interview is not a confessional, but it does need preparation.

  • Show your professional maturity. When you speak to prospective employers, briefly explain the situation, whether your availability is due to a downsizing or a merger, and move on to your skills and strengths.

  • Look at what you have done and functionalize your experience. Expressing your experience in different ways on your resume and cover letter can make you stand out. So instead of listing your experience chronologically, list it by skill and experience. It will help you see your strengths and let a potential employer easily see how you fit their needs.

Those who take the webinar receive materials that contain more detailed strategies, including “How to Survive Those ‘Pink Slip Blues’” and “Job Search Strategies for Lawyers in the New Millennium.”