As the legal market inches forward, young lawyers seeking employment are faced with the challenging task of standing out in a crowd. As an attorney and recruiter for the world’s largest specialized staffing company, Robert Half Legal, a division of Robert Half International, my team and I meet many anxious and driven young attorneys attempting to stand out every day. In meeting so many candidates, however, recruiters have to assess the professional value of each and every attorney that we meet.
Marketers, in the true marketing context, often think of an item’s value proposition, or customer value, to refer to the unique factors associated with a product or service that convince someone to buy it. This concept is a great guide for young lawyers to follow in marketing themselves as they conduct their job search.
For young lawyers who are starting to test the waters of an improving job market, an essential first step is to clarify what their “selling points” as candidates are and prepare some plans for self-marketing. Their ability to get hired will depend largely on how well they communicate what they have to offer and why prospective employers should select them over other candidates.
Here are some tips to help young lawyers identify and convey their unique professional value in an up-and-coming market:
Professional soul searching. When it comes to self-marketing, the ability to recognize one’s strengths is half the battle. Young lawyers should begin with an honest assessment of their skills, experience and accomplishments, pinpointing what differentiates them from other candidates. It’s key to take into consideration everything from work history to qualities such as strong interpersonal abilities.
Young lawyers should also comb through their record of accomplishments to identify career and educational highlights. This entails recalling specific ways in which they published a unique and timely legal article, spearheaded a case, brought in a client, wrote a winning motion, etc. It’s a good idea to enlist former colleagues and even family members for help in recalling top accomplishments and identifying professional strengths. Former colleagues, in particular, may be able to single out strong points or success stories that one overlooked or took for granted.
‘Translating’ unique attributes into a resume and pitch. Young lawyers can compile a list of key accomplishments, qualifications and strengths to use as the foundation of self-marketing efforts. Although the master list may be lengthy, key elements of one’s background, skills and attributes can be summarized into a brief statement or pitch. This information might be used as a summary statement on a resume or as the basis of a response when a hiring manager asks the inevitable question, “Tell me a little about yourself.”
As marketing materials are crafted—in this case, a cover letter, resume and in-person pitch—it’s important to quantify accomplishments as much as possible. Did your actions save the department time, money or result in quality improvements? If so, quantifying what was achieved will make these accomplishments more tangible. Matching specific elements of a value assessment to the skills and attributes sought by an employer is also advantageous.
When it comes to self-marketing, it’s best to put modesty aside. Prospective employers want to be presented with a persuasive case for why an attorney should be hired.
Reinforcing the message in person. The interview provides an opportunity to reinforce and expand on one’s professional value as conveyed in the cover letter and resume. By the interview stage, the employer has already decided the candidate looks great “on paper.” To ensure no one is disappointed when it’s time for the in-person meeting, the young lawyer will need to properly prepare.
Young lawyers should make sure they are comfortable discussing their past accomplishments and describing what they can bring to the position for which they are interviewing. The key is to be as specific as possible and make sure that each accomplishment can be conveyed in a way that assures the potential employer that that same success can be re-accomplished if given that position. This can be aided by rehearsing the self-marketing pitch as well as answers to likely questions so that the individual will come across as self-assured and articulate. Interview behavior should also convey confidence, including such subtleties as extending a firm handshake when greeting the interviewer, listening to the interviewer, asking poignant questions, maintaining eye contact and avoiding nervous tics or verbal crutches. And, let’s not forget the importance of dressing for success. Young lawyers who have arrived at this point by selling themselves as accomplished professionals don’t want their attire or personal appearance to send a different message. A dark, professional, sharp suit is key.
The job hunt for young lawyers will be much more effective by simply applying some basic marketing principles to advance their careers. By making a focused effort to identify, communicate and reinforce what makes them stand out as a worthy candidates, young lawyers will have an edge in getting hired. ■