Network Your Way into a New Job

Network Your Way into a New Job

The Art of the Informal Interview
 
You've certainly noticed that some law firms have weathered the Great Recession better than others. Mid-level associates at firms that have gone through rounds of layoffs and even salary cuts must be wondering what/who will be cut next. There is nothing wrong with staying at a troubled firm, but it is useful to bear in mind that there is disturbing evidence surfacing now that fired attorneys have few options in terms of re-employment. Firms seem to be putting up Do Not Apply signs to the laid off cadres of other firms. This is sad, but it’s one reason to think way ahead in terms of preparing your exit if you are already unhappy.
 
Through the data on LawShucks.com you will be able to see how firms have done. You might be tempted to make a move to a more stable firm or small to mid-sized firms that have done well in this market. You might wish to switch to another area of legal practice altogether if your current one has done badly. You might also be tempted to move to the nonprofit and government sectors even though the latter are more competitive than ever. But what if you do not know anyone at any of these places? The answer is: get to know them.
 
Traditional job search guides often miss one key component of any job search, which might be called “pre-searching” (feeling the vibe, if you will) through informal interviews. In career-advice parlance, this is called informational interviewing, a process that requires a different set of skills than formal job-application interviewing.
 
In informal interviewing, the process does not start with an application; rather, it starts with your aggressively seeking contacts that you never had before. Here are some steps towards that end:
 
  1. Build your database/excel sheet/Google Doc of all of the contacts you have in the world. This sounds daunting, but it will allow you to see in one big picture to what industries/practices/worlds your connections extend. Send a mass email to friends and ask whether they have contacts at x type of firm or y type of practice or z government office. For people you do not know that well, send individualized emails. If you do not feel comfortable asking for contacts, just send emails asking for advice about what to do in your situation. Chances are, they will offer to have you talk to a friend or two.
 
  1. Once you’ve collected some names of people to talk to, start contacting them. Be persistent. If you do not hear back by email, start calling. Ask them if you can have 15 minutes on their calendar so that you can seek some advice about your career, tell them that you are very interested in the kind of work that they do and that you want to learn more about it. This is how an informational interview is initiated.
 
  1. Set up a meeting time, and make sure it’s one you can make without being late. If the people you want to talk to are in a different city, then it’s best to actually plan a trip there to see them in person. Communication experts have long taught us that more than half of all communication is non-verbal. Body language, presentation, style, and eye contact are altogether more important than the words coming out of your mouth. A phone date simply won’t do.
 
  1. On the day of your 15-minute appointment, block out a good two hours on your calendar for this occasion. Remember your goal is not simply to get a job from this contact you have never met before, but rather to impress them enough with your enthusiasm and interest that they will help you in your job search even if they cannot offer you a job. Get there one hour ahead of time. Go to a coffee shop and prepare your 1-minute introduction of yourself. Remember to arrive at the lobby of the office 5 minutes ahead of time – no more, no less (because 5 minutes is the perfect window for them to be notified and for them to get ready for you).
 
  1. This is a person whom you have never met before—remember that. Here we learn again from the communication experts: it takes seven seconds to make a first impression. And that means that you should have by now figured out the appropriate dress code for the particular office you are entering.
 
  1. He/she works at a place you would want to work, but it is not appropriate to ask them for a job. Instead, give a one-minute introduction of your personal and professional background as the starting point of conversation, and ask them whether they can talk a little bit about their practice area and whether they have advice on your job search. The sensible person will go ahead and offer you at least one contact that will be useful to you. And the process starts over again.
 
  1. Remember to hand-write a thank-you card the night of that informal interview. Send it the next day so that it gets to them quickly. And move on to the next interview.
 
If you do this a couple of times, you will find that you get to meet people you would have never imagined meeting through the normal application process, in which you are still free to engage. Good luck!
 
Written by members of "Building a Better Legal Profession,"  a grassroots Law Student organization at Stanford University Law School