Job Hunting

Resumes

Q: After seven years with the same company, I recently lost my position as an in-house attorney as a result of corporate downsizing and consolidation. Do you have any up-to-date advice on preparing a resume as I get ready to re-enter the job market?

A: When it comes to crafting a resume, one thing that hasn't changed is the need to be succinct. Hiring managers may spend less than a minute reviewing your resume, so the most compelling details about your professional abilities and experience must really jump off the page. One newer trend that may be a change since you last updated your resume is the use of a professional summary in place of a career "objective." In this two- to five-sentence statement, capture what makes you distinctive as a candidate and the value you can bring to your next employer. In addition, consider these tips:

  • A chronological presentation of your job history is still the preferred format (over a functional one) and should work well for you because you were in your last position for seven years. Be sure to highlight your most notable achievements, not just your job duties (e.g., "oversaw the development of an ethics policy and implemented a firmwide ethics training program").

  • Because many companies first scan resumes digitally, incorporate keywords from job postings into your resume and cover letter or e-mail, assuming you possess the specific qualifications described. This can help your resume make the first cut.

  • Emphasize key education and career details: where you've worked, where you went to law school, the state or states where you're admitted to practice law and any professional affiliations or recognitions.

Finally, although cover letters have evolved and often consist of a short message in the body of an e-mail or field in an online form, don't neglect the opportunity to provide a quick overview of your unique qualifications. Doing so could make the difference in whether your resume makes it further than the first cut.

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Q: It's been a while since I've conducted a job search but now I need to update my resume. What are the current guidelines on resumes and the best ways to submit them?

A: Many of the guidelines for resumes have remained consistent over the years and continue to be pertinent; other trends are gaining acceptance to the degree that they are worthy of consideration.

Use terms from the job description. Because many resumes are first scanned by computer programs nowadays, you can help yours rise to the top by incorporating key words from the job description, assuming these terms accurately describe your skills and experiences. For example, if the job advertisement seeks a lawyer with experience in hazardous material compliance and in-depth knowledge of the Toxic Substances Control Act, consider changing your working from "experienced in all aspects of environmental law" to mention these specific areas.

The 'one-page' rule may be on its way out. While more than half (52 percent) of respondents in a recent Robert Half survey said a single page is the ideal length for a staff-level resume, 44 percent preferred two pages. That compares to 25 percent a decade ago who cited two pages as the optimal resume length versus 73 percent of respondents who preferred a single page. Moreover, respondents also seemed more receptive to three-page resumes for executive roles, with nearly one-third (31 percent) citing this as the ideal length, compared to only 7 percent in the previous survey.

Make the document visually appealing. Even if the content of your resume is highly impressive, you might eliminate yourself from consideration if the document is not well organized and formatted. Visual appeal still matters. Avoid cramming too much type on a page, using long blocks of text or overly small type. Also, be equally conscious of how your document looks in electronic format as well as in printed form. A document with complicated formatting may not translate well in the electronic environment.

Don't use complete sentences. Short bulleted statements describing your key accomplishments are preferable to complete sentences. Not only do they make it easier for a hiring manager to scan your resume, but they allow information to be conveyed more clearly and concisely.

Don't use an unprofessional email address. If necessary, set up a new personal e-mail box that uses your real name, rather than listing an existing account if the address is something like catlover@xyz.com. And, of course, don't give prospective employers your e-mail address at your current job.

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Cover Letters

Q: Many companies ask candidates to e-mail or upload a resume.Sshould I still include a cover letter when applying for legal positions?

A: Yes. This introductory document can be instrumental in helping your resume stand out. In a recent Robert Half International survey, 86 percent of executives polled said cover letters are valuable when evaluating job candidates. Because the cover letter is usually the first thing a hiring manager sees, it serves as the primary enticement for him or her to read your resume. For this reason, you should spend as much time perfecting your cover letter as you would your resume. Consider the following pointers to ensure yours has maximum impact:

Make it specific to the job. You've probably heard this advice before, but it's so important that it bears repeating. If your cover letter reads like it could accompany an application for any job, you are unlikely to win an interview. Hiring managers are looking to understand why you would be right for their position and company, so demonstrate how your strengths and accomplishments match the job requirements.

Avoid rehashing your resume in the cover letter. Look at your letter and resume as separate but related documents. They should complement one another without being overly repetitive. Although you will undoubtedly need to mention past positions, employers or experiences in your introductory note, use slightly different wording and a more conversational style than you would typically use in a resume.

Keep it brief. Cover letters should always be concise. Your letter doesn't have to be lengthy to be compelling enough to interest the hiring manager in studying your resume in more detail and, ultimately, inviting you for an interview. A good rule of thumb is to keep them to two to three paragraphs for e-mail and three to five paragraphs for a letter in print form.

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Networking

Q. I'll put it simply: I really hate the idea of networking. I read over and over how important it is to your job search, but I'm basically an introvert. Any ideas on how to network painlessly?

A. Many people view networking as something that inspires fear or dread, the business world's equivalent of going to the dentist. Although this perception may be understandable — considering that many people's image of networking is walking into a room full of strangers and being expected to make sparkling conversation — it is also outdated.

A more modern take on networking is that it's an ongoing career management strategy that should be comfortably integrated into everyday work life, much like managing e-mail. If it remains an unfamiliar or uncomfortable activity to you, here are some tips to help you change how you think about and approach networking:

Embrace continuous networking. Try to avoid the practice of networking only when you need to. Although you may have heard this advice before, many people don't take it to heart. Sure, there are times when you become more conscious of the need to network. But rather than networking only when you're at a career crossroads, aim to reach out to your existing contacts and make new ones on a continuous basis.

Take the "work" out of networking. Another reason many people dread networking is they approach it as something they feel that they have to do — a necessary means to an end. Although there is often a distinct career-related goal behind networking, such as finding a new position or identifying a contact at a prospective employer, you shouldn't approach it as though it's a work obligation.

Venture outside your comfort zone. Because many people are uncomfortable with networking, they tend to seek out others who are similar to themselves as networking contacts. But especially if you're looking to make a significant career transition, you should focus on cultivating contacts outside your comfort zone. While you may want to find another in-house position, for example, don't discount the possibility of working for a law firm.

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Better "Branding"

Q. As an active job seeker, I've occasionally received advice about the need to better "brand" myself. Although I understand the general idea, I'm still not sure how to apply the concept of branding to my job search. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?

A. It's true that positioning yourself as a must-have product — in much the same way that a strong consumer brand does — can help you stand out in a crowded job market and advance your career over time.

But how does a job seeker do this? Try thinking of yourself in terms of these attributes that are associated with successful brands:

Distinctiveness. What makes you distinctive? What results have you achieved or initiatives have you overseen that are noteworthy? What is unique about your educational or professional background? What are the benefits of working with you? You have to know why you're different and better than the other products on the market if you're to persuade someone to hire you.

Consistency. A strong brand presents a consistent identity. Just think of how many brands you know by a single image, color, logo or typography (e.g., Apple, Mercedes and Coca-Cola, to name a few). Are there ways you can present a more consistent and memorable image through your marketing materials?

Career experts often suggest that professionals apply branding principles to communication tools such as their business cards, thank-you notes, Twitter handles and e-mail signatures. This might involve using a consistent typography, color or phrase on all your printed materials. The reasoning behind this approach? Through consistent branding, hiring managers and other business contacts will start to associate certain qualities with you, helping to reinforce the messages you're trying to convey.

Communication. All professionals should have a personal branding statement that allows them to succinctly express their strengths and career goals. Try to describe yourself in a way that is memorable and easy-to-grasp and avoid overused or empty words, such as "proven track record" or "detail-oriented." Think instead of what words or phrases you can offer to illustrate these attributes.

Brand awareness. Your personal brand can also be thought of as your reputation, and you need to safeguard it by controlling how it's presented. In today's transparent online environment, it's especially important to realize that your virtual persona can easily undermine your personal brand if you're not careful.

Although it can be helpful to have a presence on sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, be sure the information out there about you bolsters the image and reputation you're trying to cultivate. From your posts to your bio to your contacts, every aspect of your virtual identity should bolster your personal brand.

As you move through your career, it can be helpful to think of yourself not in an isolated capacity — e.g., a legal professional trying to land a specific type of job — but as a unique brand that is the sum of these various attributes. With this in mind, do what is needed to ensure that each facet of your brand reinforces the central message you're trying to convey about yourself. If you can do this, you can market yourself more successfully, which should lead to better results in your job search and career.

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Interview Strategies and Preparation

Q. I have a job interview coming up soon and it's been awhile since I've been down this road, so I'd like to brush up on what to expect during the meeting. Can you help?

A. Use these key interview strategies to make the best possible impression and land the position you're looking for:

Understand the importance of the first minutes. When it comes to interviewing, the first minutes are often the most decisive, according to a recent survey by our company. Hiring managers polled said it takes them just 10 minutes to form an opinion of job seekers, despite meeting with staff-level applicants for 55 minutes and management-level candidates for 86 minutes, on average. This finding underscores the importance of getting the interview off to a good start. From the moment you meet your interviewer, project enthusiasm, professionalism and confidence, both in your appearance and demeanor.

Demonstrate a beyond-the-basics knowledge of your employer. Develop a broad understanding of the prospective employer by looking beyond its website and other standard marketing materials for information. Conduct an online search for articles and other public mentions of the firm. Legal publications, professional associations and your networking contacts also may be able to provide details about its culture, history, competitors and any recent challenges or controversies. Your research will enable you to ask more insightful questions.

Help the employer understand the value you bring. You can stand out from other candidates by giving answers that explicitly outline why you have the right qualifications for the job.

Be yourself. This is easier said than done, since an interview is not an entirely natural situation. Although you should never let your guard down and risk coming across as unprofessional, take care not to seem overly programmed. Remember that an interview is really a two-way conversation and should allow for some spontaneity. Let your personality come through in your responses by conveying a sense of humor when appropriate, as well as your individual strengths and interests as they relate to your work. Interviewers want to get a sense of how you would fit into the office culture.

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Interview Questions

Q. After losing my job some time ago, I now have several interviews lined up. It has been awhile since I interviewed for a job, though. Can you offer any must-do advice?

A. Your ability to schedule interviews is in line with the positive employment market for legal professionals reflected in our most recent Robert Half Legal Hiring Index: A net 22 percent of lawyers interviewed said they plan to add staff in the second quarter of 2012. Still, employers are cautious when making hiring decisions, and the in-person interview remains critical to landing a job. Despite the amount of interview advice that's out there, many candidates still stumble over basic aspects of the meeting. Here's a refresher:

Be ready for the inevitable. Hiring managers frequently begin interviews with straightforward, yet important, queries, such as:

  • "Tell me a little about yourself."
  • "Why are you interested in this position/our firm?"
  • "Why are you looking to leave your current job (or why did you leave your last one)?"
  • "What is your most significant professional achievement?"

Even though candidates know they're likely to hear these types of questions, many aren't ready with a strong answer. Think through these types of questions in advance and practice them, almost like you're cramming for a test. Don't count on pulling a great response out of thin air.

Look sharp. You should be at your sartorial best for an interview, and it never hurts to dress a little more professionally than you think is necessary. Don't overlook minor details, such as making sure your shoes are in good condition, jewelry is appropriate and your nails are well groomed.

Don't be a downer. Even if you're frustrated by a run of bad professional luck, don't give hiring managers an earful about your misfortunes. Keep the focus on why you're a strong candidate and what you can do for a prospective employer. If it's necessary to explain a period of unemployment, turn the situation around by highlighting how the experience has helped you refine what you're looking for in your next opportunity.

Get inside information. Try to go beyond just learning the minimum about a prospective employer from its website and other public information. Reach out to your network to uncover more substantive information. This will help you speak more directly to the opportunity you're interviewing for.

Have your own questions. The interviewer doesn't have to be the only one to ask questions. Interjecting smart, thought-provoking questions will demonstrate your preparation and help you stand out. In addition to the firm's goals and direction, see if you can find out about the history of the position you're interviewing for and what it will take to be successful in the job. This signals that you're envisioning yourself in the role and eager to understand what it will take to excel.

If the interview goes well and you're genuinely interested in the position, end the meeting by expressing your strong interest in the job and reiterating why you think you're a good fit for the position. Ask if the hiring manager has any concerns about your qualifications or suitability for the job. This allows you to address any possible misgivings on the spot.

Q. Soon, I'm going on my first job interview in 10 years. What are some common questions I'm likely to get these days? I'd like to at least be able to handle the predictable questions.

A. You can't always predict what employers will ask — in fact, some managers choose to use off-the-wall questions just to see how candidates handle them — but there are some basics that you are likely to hear. Here are some common questions and strategies for answering them effectively:

Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Employers frequently use this question as an icebreaker. While the question seems personal, it's usually not. Most employers want a brief summary of your professional strengths, achievements and career goals. Keep your response concise. The interviewer's objective is simply to learn a little more about you and your work experience.

What interests you about this job, and what skills and strengths can you bring to it?

The top mistake job seekers make during interviews is having little or no knowledge of a company, according to a recent survey of executives by our firm. Employers ask this question to find out just how interested you really are in the position and how well you have prepared for the interview. So, be sure you have researched the organization thoroughly before you arrive at the meeting.

Tie your skills to the specific job requirements. For example: "For the past seven years, I have specialized in intellectual property, so I was attracted to your opening because of the opportunity to serve your firm's top-tier clients in the high-tech field. I really enjoy the complexity of developing strategies at this level and helping clients with their business needs. I also have a solid track record of revenue generation."

What are your weaknesses?

The best response is to be honest but brief. You don't want to detail shortcomings that could affect your ability to succeed in the position. Try to focus on minor issues that aren't in the job description, for instance, the fact that you aren't the best public speaker when addressing a large audience. If possible, discuss ways you're working on overcoming your weaknesses, such as taking classes or working with a mentor.

Interview Appearance

Q. I haven't been in the job market in some time and am wondering what to wear to an upcoming interview. My current office has relaxed its dress guidelines in recent years. Does this relaxed attire apply to the job interview, too?

A. Dress codes may be more relaxed today, but professional attire remains crucial to landing a job in a legal setting. How you present yourself is a reflection of your judgment, so it's important to make the effort to look your best. As a general rule, always dress up a little more than you may think may be necessary and be conservative with clothing and grooming.

Both men and women can usually benefit from new wardrobe pieces that reflect current styles without being too trendy. Don't be reluctant to ask others — a trusted friend, your spouse or a knowledgeable salesperson — for advice about what to wear to make the most favorable impression. Women, in particular, should also consider whether their hair style or make-up might need updating. Maybe a "make-under" — that is, a less flashy look — is in order. Avoid clingy or revealing wardrobe items, worn-looking shoes and excessive jewelry or fragrance. Keep in mind that you rarely hear of someone losing out on a job for looking too professional or conservative.

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Interview Etiquette

Q. I'm going soon for a job interview in the legal department of a new company. I feel comfortable with the basics of interviewing for a new position, but I'm not sure I've mastered the art of making the best possible impression. Can you help?

A. Even accomplished candidates have been known to make gaffes during the interview stage. According to a survey commissioned by Robert Half International (RHI), 32 percent of executives polled said the interview is where professionals make the most mistakes. To avoid becoming an interview casualty, take note of these important but sometimes overlooked rules:

Turn off the technology. In today's hyper-connected world, many people think they should always be reachable. But an interview is one time when you shouldn't be available to the outside world. Some hiring managers and recruiters have reported experiences with candidates who glance at incoming e-mails during an interview or ask to be excused to take a phone call. Needless to say, these candidates don't get very far. The hiring manager expects — and deserves — your full attention.

Don't be too candid. Although interviewers are looking for candor and a glimpse into your personality, be careful not to go overboard, especially in offering personal details. Anxiety or its opposite — feeling extremely comfortable with the interviewer — can lead you to become too chatty, especially about issues outside the scope of the interview. Maybe your desire to find a job in a new city stems from your recent divorce, but it's unwise to share this information. Not only do you risk making the interviewer feel uncomfortable, but divulging such personal information could raise doubts about your judgment and ability to concentrate on work if hired.

Don't be too full of yourself. Although your qualifications may be exceptional, take care to strike the right balance between presenting your accomplishments in a positive light and coming across as overconfident. In another RHI survey, 50 percent of executives polled said that being arrogant was the worst mistake a candidate can make when interviewing.

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Resume and Interview Follow-up

Q. I'm looking for a new position as associate counsel in a telecommunications firm and I've applied for some interesting opportunities. After submitting a resume, how long do you suggest I wait before following up with a prospective employer? Also, do you have any tips on how to follow up after an interview?

A. Many job seekers are reticent to contact prospective employers after submitting their application materials because they don't want to be a nuisance. But research shows that businesses appreciate the follow-through.

The method you use for contacting a company also seems to be less important than the fact that you're following up on your application, according to hiring managers we surveyed. Asked how job seekers should check back with hiring managers, the top three responses given were e-mail (38 percent), telephone (33 percent) and handwritten note (23 percent). Whichever communication method you choose, be sure to reiterate why you're interested in the prospective employer and your qualifications for the open position.

Many of the same tips apply when following up after an interview. Most important is that you communicate with the employer soon after your initial meeting. A handwritten note sent immediately after the interview, an e-mail or voicemail are all acceptable options.

One additional benefit of following up: You will get a chance to convey any additional information you wish you had mentioned during the interview. Refer to specific details that emerged. For instance, if the prospective employer mentioned that a new associate would need to manage several legal staff members, reiterate your management experience. And, assuming you're genuinely interested in the position, express your eagerness to take the next step in the hiring process.

Q. Is it still a best practice to send a thank-you letter after a job interview?

A. Every communication you have with a prospective employer is a key step on your way to landing the job you're targeting. This, of course, includes your resume and cover letter, but also the often-overlooked thank-you note. In a recent survey conducted by our company, 88 percent of executives said that sending a post-interview thank-you letter elevates an applicant's chances of getting the job. However, survey respondents also noted that nearly half (49 percent) of interviewees fail to express their gratitude in this way. Here are some tips to consider:

Strike while the iron is hot. When vying for a position, any action you take to distinguish yourself and keep a prospective employer's attention is well worth the effort. Write and send your note within a day or two of your interview while your conversation is still fresh in the hiring manager's mind.

Make it personal. Despite the wonders of modern-day technology, there's nothing quite as effective as the personal touch of an old-fashioned handwritten note. In fact, a majority (52 percent) of the executives we surveyed prefer a handwritten note over an e-mail. (However, a thank-you e-mail is better than sending nothing at all.)

Proofread, proofread, proofread. Carefully check your letter and the envelope before dropping it in the mail. Is the person's name spelled correctly? Are you sure you used his or her correct job title? Don't shoot yourself in the foot with an easy-to-prevent slip-up.

Q. I am currently looking for a corporate counsel position and have applied for some promising opportunities but have yet to land anything. One thing I'm unsure about is whether to follow up with companies after submitting my resume. Do you have any advice?

A. Companies often conceal the names of hiring managers or only accept applications through automated systems, which makes it difficult to follow up on your resume. Still, making an effort to do so may help you break through the pack, and in light of the many candidates on the market, both qualified and unqualified, that's important.

Don't worry that you'll be perceived as pushy or desperate if you follow up on a resume. Most hiring managers won't fault strong candidates who demonstrate initiative and enthusiasm by pursuing a position that's of genuine interest to them. In fact, 82 percent of executives polled in a Robert Half survey said job seekers should contact hiring managers within two weeks of submitting application materials. Only 5 percent said professionals should refrain from further contact. The survey also asked hiring managers for their opinion on how job seekers should follow up. The top responses were: e-mail (38 percent), telephone (33 percent) and handwritten note (23 percent).

Since you're applying for a corporate counsel position, you might have an easier time identifying the hiring manager than would other job seekers. Even if the general counsel is not initially involved in screening resumes, he or she will likely play a major role in the hiring process, so try contacting him or her. It may be less intrusive to follow up by e-mail. You can probably obtain the person's address through your professional network or by searching LinkedIn. You might even try contacting the hiring manager through LinkedIn and include a link to your profile. Keep your message brief, but reiterate why you believe you're the ideal person for the job and be sure to include a few memorable details about your background. Alternatively, if you know someone within the company or your professional network who has a relationship with the hiring manager, this person may be able to act as your advocate and possibly help you get your foot in the door.

Even if you fail to get a response from your follow-up contact, try not to be discouraged. It's essential to make the effort and, as long as you conduct yourself in a professional manner, you may be able to give the hiring manager a compelling reason to pluck your resume out of the pile and give it a closer look.

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Resume Writing

Q.It's been years since I polished my resume and now I need to start from scratch. Frankly, I don't really know how best to organize it for current employers. Is there a basic framework that makes more sense than the Word template?

A. Microsoft Word is still one of the most widely used programs for creating resumes. But how you create, save and send your resume should really depend on how a prospective employer wants to receive it or where you plan to post it.

Employers may want you to send your resume as a Word or PDF attachment, while many of the online job boards advise candidates to copy and paste their resume in plain-text (also known as ASCII) format to ensure that it is readable by any browser. Because you may need to submit your resume in various formats, consider having several versions at the ready: a Word file, one in plain-text format and a PDF version, which will preserve the look and formatting of your resume as originally created.

As for the structure and content of your resume, aim to make a big impact while being as succinct as possible. Hiring managers may spend less than a minute reviewing your resume, so you need to grab their attention quickly. Having a compelling professional summary at the top of your resume can help. This two- to three-sentence statement should capture what makes you distinctive as a candidate and the value you can bring to an employer.

In addition, review your work history with a critical eye, making sure to emphasize recent accomplishments and positions while downplaying or omitting outdated or less relevant experience. Be sure to describe your achievements in quantifiable terms, rather than just listing job responsibilities. And since many companies first scan resumes digitally, incorporate keywords from job postings into your resume and cover letter or e-mail, assuming you possess the sought-after qualifications. This can help your resume make the first cut.

You can find many helpful resources on the Web for more detailed resume advice such as on the ACC or Robert Half Legal websites (http://www.roberthalflegal.com/ResumeWriting), or one of popular job boards. They typically have career tips sections as well.

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